Game Thread Chapter 2: Over Rock and Sand - RPG Crossing
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Old Aug 4th, 2023, 08:03 AM
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Chapter 2: Over Rock and Sand

Scout meets Scout
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alia was the perfect scout. Okay, that sounded a tiny bit conceited, she had to admit, but she was definitely the best scout she had ever encountered. That only included herself and Aric and she was much, much better than Aric in this “scouting business”, even if she said so herself. She was small, agile, and her senses rivaled that of a dragon. Nothing could remain hidden from her, even as she skimmed the sands from dune to dune and rock to rock, leaving behind almost no trace of her passage. No beetle, lizard or desert snake was safe from the kender and she often giggled behind her hand when she saw the critters emerging from their hideouts, thinking that there was no one around.


Had her ankle not been aching every time she put weight on it and her forehead not turned an interesting shade of blue, she would have been perfectly happy. Well, okay, she wouldn’t have minded a few nice, thick rain clouds blocking the sun and she often wished that the temperature would plummet to an acceptable level and not resemble that found inside the maw of a red dragon, but other than that she was having a truly excellent time. Looking around for hidden dangers was incredibly exciting only… there were not so many hidden dangers around. No Dark Knights and no hatori, no giant scorpions and no mounted nomads screaming for their blood. Just a pair of giant eagles soaring in the sky above her, probably looking for a non-kender-sized snack, and sand. A great, great deal of hot sand that Talia just couldn’t seem to be able to keep from getting inside her brand new boots. The kender upturned the boot she was holding in her hand and shook it free of the very last vestiges of sand, giving it a stern look. She was mighty disappointed, what with it being magical and of elven make and such. It was clearly not made for Khur. Then again elves didn’t usually go traipsing in the desert unless they really, really had to.


By evening Talia was thirsty, tired and headachy. And above all else she was bored. Acting as the party’s scout meant that one couldn’t talk to one’s friends -or make fun of them, according to the mood, but had to keep on going over dunes and around huge boulders hoping that at some time one would encounter something exciting - to no avail. Just sand and rocks and hard packed ground and a lot of nothing. She no longer cared about the beetles, the lizards and the desert snakes and would have welcomed one of the giant eagles swooping down at her, if it meant that she wouldn’t have to spend another hour in silence and boredom. She would have even preferred a chat with Aric than this isolation, she admitted to herself and even though she initially trembled at the thought, she soon found the prospect attractive. So she decided to go look for him.


Locating the lanky youth proved no more challenging than finding the way to a big, delicious apple pie left at the windowsill to cool. Talia used to be a champion at “pie finding” when she was little and she was certain that she would have no trouble becoming a champion at “Aric finding” too, if she put her mind to it. The cranky youth was not so enjoyable as a still warm slice of pie with a crunchy crust and large, juicy pieces of apple inside, but the world wasn’t always as it should have been. Aric would have to do for the time being, though he definitely owed her an apple pie as far as the kender was concerned.


She started moving towards him as fast as her swollen ankle would allow, but suddenly stopped. What was that? Two horns, a muzzle, a steel breastplate - a minotaur! And not just one. Talia started counting, a wide grin on her face. Two, three, four, five, six. Six minotaurs walking through the desert as stealthily as their bulky bodies would allow them. A scouting party, she realized excitedly, [/I]one heading straight towards our group![/I] The kender giggled a little, picturing the surprise in the faces of both groups when they ran face to face with each other - or… face to horn perhaps? Aric, though closer to the minotaurs than Talia, was still unaware of them, though he was soon about to be discovered. This could have proved funny to watch, but it was unlikely that the youth would have survived the experience, so Talia decided to follow the advice her mind gave her and warn the Abanasinian.


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A group of imposing minotaur scouts


Raising her hoopak high, she started spinning it over her head, which gave birth to a strange whistling noise. Aric heard the sound and he immediately turned to look for its source. Waving to catch his attention, Talia scowled as fiercely as she could and after planting the pointed end of her hoopak in the ground, put her hands on top of her head and pretended to have horns. Then she raised six fingers and after making sure that the youth had understood what she was trying to say to him, pointed at the minotaur party, before hobbling her way back to the main group. If they were quick -and lucky- they might be able to evade them completely with the bull-men none the wiser. If not, they might have to fight them - or come to terms with them, though Isandril would not be particularly fond of that last option. In any case, after the tediousness of the day, the evening proved to be much more exciting!


What more could a kender want?



Calendar12th Day of Aelmont (Winter) 422 AC / 38 SC, Evening

Solinari: 6/36 (Waxing)
Lunitari: 15/28 (High Sanction) - conjunction with Nuitari
Nuitari: 4/8 (High Sanction) - conjunction with Lunitari

Boons/Penalties:
White Robes - | Red Robes +2 spell DC, ADV on spell attack rolls | Black Robes +2 spell DC, ADV on spell attack rolls


 


 


 
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Old Aug 5th, 2023, 12:57 PM
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Talia Dawnstar
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Talia was a kender… short… insatiably curious… hopelessly fearless. She had offered to scout for her friends because in her mind, she was the best suited for the task. No matter what happened, what she came across, the group could rest easy knowing that she would do whatever she thought was best… even if that did not exactly jive with her own personal wishes.

So it was now as Talia crouched low and peeked out into the distance. It was the sun glistening off of some frivolous ornamentation on one of the minotaur’s horns that first betrayed the cows’ location. She sucked in her breath as she knew that Aric would most likely… no… check that… definitely stumble headlong into the murderous group. The boy had guts for sure… it was the skill that was lacking for now. If he survived, Talia was sure he would one day be a force to reckon with.

Luckily Talia had envisioned this exact scenario and she knew that a mode of communication over distance would be needed. Her hoopak provided just such a function and she had worked out a series of notes she could create by spinning her staff that could convey basic information to Aric. Now… with the minotaurs approaching, Talia did just that.

A quick spin, a low eerie moan and Aric knew without a doubt that danger lay ahead. Talia then dashed as fast as she could back to the main group, wincing with every step on her bum ankle. The shifting sands of the desert certainly didn’t help stabilize her injury and she cursed with every step she took as she sank ankle deep over and over again.

“Okay!” she announced in a huff when she reached Isandril, Teagan, and Xihue. “We have trouble… bovine trouble… cow trouble… Minotaurs!” For added effect, the kender held her hands above her head like horns as she pawed the ground like a charging bull.

“Yup… a bunch of them coming! Aric was going to be eaten but I let him know so hopefully he is hiding somewhere. But yeah… we need to move fast. I wouldn’t mind knocking their heads in but I think minotaur heads are pretty thick. Actually… do they eat meat? I mean… cows only eat grass which is weird because usually grass eaters are pretty non-violent?”


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Old Aug 5th, 2023, 09:45 PM
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Aric Armitage
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Had it not been for Talia and her whistling hoopak, it was a sure bet that Aric Armitage would have died alone in the desert, a victim of a sextet of minotaurs. The annoying whine of the strange, sling-like weapon drew him out of the quagmire of his thoughts, and he realized that for the last ten minutes or so he hadn't really been focusing on scouting at all.

It was not his fault, not entirely. So much had been revealed in just a few short hours, and he had not had time to process each strange new development. First, there was the expected return of two of his former companions - an occasion which should have been happy. Instead, Veralyne turned out to be a person named Devari, and Blainneth turned out to be gone. Worse still, the people who Devari had traveled with had made their way to the wreckage of the bandit camp and then, despite being only a half-day's ride from the city of Pashin and the legion of Nerakans who had made it their base, they had gathered the bodies of the dead and lit a funeral pyre. Now, anyone with eyes and a nose and a modicum of curiosity could come wandering toward the smoke - and if Ryshan and the others could track Aric and his friends, it was a sure bet that someone else could as well. A reunion which should have been a cause for celebration instead incited panic in the young man, as he had begun frantically gathering his gear and breaking down tents, securing waterskins and preparing to flee into the wilds.

Of course, things might have been alright if that were the only cause for concern. The fact that Isandril had revealed - by proxy of the young boy Hashem - that the earthquake which had occurred shortly before was not only unnatural, but that its epicenter lay directly in their path, would have been of greater concern. Fortunately, that revelation was one which could be set aside for the present moment, as wherever the source of the strange tremor lay, they had not reached it yet. No, the biggest concern - aside from the Nerakans - were these new members of the party. Or, as Ilhem had breathlessly revealed to him - the old member. Aric had been mildly curious of the mystic woman Blyne, but she was a stranger to him. The merchant woman Besimeh, however... her, she did know. He just hadn't quite remembered. When he did, the puzzle pieces - those which he had - began to fall into place. There was Besimeh, and through her, Blainneth. Now there was Besimeh, and with her, Blyne. Blainneth was gone, and Blyne was here - and why was that? What had happened to their elven companion? The pull of the mystery outweighed the affection he had for the missing elf. They had spoken a few times since the festival, but there was no bond there like there had been between Aric and Kaylen, or between he and Tegan.*

His initial misgivings about Besimeh and the other newcomers had turned into outright suspicions by the time that Tegan had made his introductions and brought up their missing companion. Pulling him aside, he’d laid down his thoughts for the Solamnic, quietly, and in private – or at least, that had been the intent. When he’d loped away into the desert, backlit by the rapid decay of night into day, he had been approached by Ilhem, who began to breathlessly spill out a tale that was equal parts concern for Besimeh and vitriol toward Blainneth – “I mean Blyne!” Aric listened to her words, wanting to doubt the claims of a stranger, but
Dice * Insight vs Ilhem:
1d20+1 (8)+1 Total = 9
finding himself unable to do so. The pieces were coming together, but the picture they revealed didn’t make any sense.

He'd had nothing to say to the strange girl, who soon departed with the scout, the pyromancer, and the boy, and while there was a certain elation at seeing so many strange people make their exit, the questions he now faced outweighed any sort of relief. ”Don’t you see? Blainneth the elf, the young warrior, the old nomad, and Blyne the mystic-sorceress – they are all the same person!” Just who the hell were they traveling with? What the hell were they traveling with?



His head poked up at the sound, and for a moment he didn’t know where he was. He looked around in the direction, and eventually saw Talia’s head poking up over a dune. She was pointing in the direction of a ridge that Aric had been more than halfway up and about to crest over, and then she took her hands and put her two index fingers on each side of her forehead. Yes, yes, I know you’re the devil, and I’m proud of you for admitting it – that’s half the battle, he would have liked to shout, but something in her face didn’t look like a joke. She resumed pointing in the direction of the ridge, and Aric realized that she’d seen something. Worry spiked his heart, though it was tempered by his typical skepticism of all things Talia. She’d been the bane of his existence almost ever since he’d collapsed at the gate to the festival. Time and proximity had done little to soften her edges, though he had to stubbornly admit, she was one hell of a scout. If she’d spotted something, chances are it wasn’t a joke. Aric shrugged, poked his head slowly up over the dune, and sucked in his breath at the sight.

Not a devil. A cow.

Or, to be more precise, a minotaur. Six of them, and headed right toward him.

Aric scuttled his way down the hill, rolling and spitting sand from his mouth as he tried to get out of the immediate area. He had lapsed in his attention and had nearly died for it. He half looked over in the direction of Talia, but she had already set off at a hobbling pace toward the others. Aric, with his long legs, easily outpaced her once he’d gotten to his feet. Begrudging gratitude filled his heart for the little scamp, who was informing the rest of the group of the situation. The fact that they were not immediately turning and heading for cover was alarming. He had not stuck around to fully assess the minotaurs’ strength, but they had looked strong and well-armed, and Aric wanted no part of further conflict, especially when they were still so close to Pashin.

”Hide!” he hissed, and hurried toward a
Dice * Stealth v minotaurs (w adv):
2d20+5sch12kh1 (8, 19 (keeping 19) )+5 Total = 24
distant slope out of the path of the minotaur patrol. Maybe if I lie flat against the ground, I might blend in…

 
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Old Aug 6th, 2023, 12:24 PM
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The day passed in a miserable blur, with little thought or action to define the hours. Nothing was real. The aches and pains were no different from the blaze overhead. Shadows of sand dunes were turbulent rivers, and Amare was never far away. Devari felt like she had melded with Shari, that the two of them had become a single being, like a droplet of water rippling in the breeze, awaiting the fateful moment when it would plunge downward, never to be seen again.

When the group stopped at midday Devari simply slid off of her saddle and lay on the parched earth, basking in the shadow that Shari had gifted her. Somebody, she couldn't remember who, only their hands, had helped her to drink and eat, the actions occurring automatically when something was presented to her mouth. When it was time to mount up again she wanted to protest, to mutiny. She tried to shout and scream, but she did not have the energy to carry it out. Instead she stood, lay her forehead against Shari's, and whispered something ephemerally profound.

During some of the infrequent lucid spells she would uncover the tattoo which Klaudia had gifted her to see what the little faerie dragon was getting up to. It seemed to be living its own full life, sometimes soaring, sometimes sleeping, occasionally appearing to be staring right back at Devari with a knowing, mischievous look. Was it trying to communicate with her, she wondered. It didn't seem to be, instead it was like a passenger riding indifferently on her skin. She had a moment of vertigo as she thought of the dragon on her, her riding Shari, Shari on the desert, the desert riding around on Ansalon itself, and finally the continent driving Krynn through the universe. Where did the gods fit into all of that? Devari thought that they were just passengers too, but since they had got on first they had the best seats.

Shari had stopped moving. Devari blinked and looked around. Had she died? Had her spirit left her body behind and was now, finally, still? She saw the others gathering around Talia, and Aric bounding over with his long-legged strides. She thought she would float over to them to find out what they were so excited about, but when she tried to she discovered that she was still very much anchored to her body when she and it thumped down onto the ground. She shook her head clear and stood slowly, edging closer to the ruckus.

"…but I think minotaur heads are pretty thick," Talia was saying. "Actually… do they eat meat? I mean… cows only eat grass which is weird because usually grass eaters are pretty non-violent?"

"I met a pretty nasty goat once," Devari chipped in helpfully. "It rammed me right up my… wait… minotaurs?"

Suddenly she was starting to feel a little bit more awake.

"I thought… don't they live in the forest? What are they doing out here?"

She squinted her eyes and peered at the desert, turning all the way around. Just as she had suspected, they were in the middle of nowhere.

"The only thing out here is us," she said slowly. "How did they know we were here? What could they want with us?"

Her face went pale and she turned to look at Isandril.

"Hide," she told him. "All of us should hide."

"Hide," hissed Aric as he skidded to a halt.

"Mm-hmm," she nodded. "I was just telling 'em."

She turned back to Shari and took her reins, then looked around for somewhere to lay low. Nearby there was the shadow of a rocky outcrop, she led Shari over to it and pressed her back hard against the still-warm rock. Stealth roll: 10Shari snorted and swished some flies away with her tail, which was still very much in the light.

"Why couldn't you have been a cat?" she whispered. "They know how to hide."

 
 
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Old Aug 6th, 2023, 09:43 PM
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Zendra Zantir
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The parting with Cole and his new apprentice had been harder than Zendra had expected. She was painfully aware from the look in the young red haired sorcerer's eyes that she'd hurt him badly deciding to go with the adventurers and though she tried her best to show platonic, sisterly affection with many a hug and even a chaste kiss on the cheek she was aware how awkward this all was.

"Look for me in Port Balifor or Flotsam through Old Gregor or my cousin Khadar," Zendra instructed Cole, building up a smile she didn't quite feel. "They can help you and I'm sure we'll see each other again," she promised without knowing whether she could keep it or not. "Thank you Cole. I'll never forget how you saved me."

To Zendra it sounded feeble even as she said it, aware just how little Cole trusted the people she had effectively chosen over him. Still she felt she had to say something and as he took his leave she watched him dwindle into the distance until the heat haze of the desert rippled the distant figure away.

Had she made the right choice? Looking at her now comrades Zendra hesitated. The Solamniac, the white robed elf, the sullen and bitter young man, the strange foreigner from across the sea, the Kender... She'd met odder groups but not many. Then there were the three strange women who had ridden out of the desert and had some link with the others. Zendra burned with curiosity over what had happened but she also sensed the tensions there, lurking like goblins in a swamp. Maybe when they rested they could swap stories properly - in Zendra's experience nothing worked better for getting to know others and she had a few (mostly) true tales she could tell...

It would have to be this evening since the desert defeated any though of conversation before a tongue could stir and lips could part save to take a sip of water. Zendra was an experienced traveller but she'd been born and bred in a port town and the heat wore at her remorselessly. What it was doing to the wounded and the weary she could only imagine and the blonde artificer stuck close to Devari and Blyne in case either needed her magical care.

Zendra and just been daydreaming about cool breezes and the kiss of salt water on her skin (gods how long had it been since she'd swum in the ocean?) when first Talia and then Aric arrived bringing their message. The daydream burst like a bubble and the blonde paled as she listened in.

Minotaurs.

"The only thing out here is us. How did they know we were here? What could they want with us?" That was Devari speaking but she could have been echoing the thoughts in Zendra's own head.

"Yes, let's hide," Zendra said, trying to keep calm even as her her already large hazel eyes widened and she reached for her crossbow. Minotaurs.

"Isandril, do you have any magic to appear human just in case they find us?" Even if the minotaurs weren't looking for them Zendra couldn't imagine they'd greet a Silvanesti kindly - or his companions.

Minotaurs!

She looked around for somewhere, anywhere, she could hide without being seen. Stealth = 8(!)Alas long grass, bushes, even boulders seemed in short supply...




 


 


 

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Old Aug 8th, 2023, 11:52 PM
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Blyne
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Blyne was assessing her situation. Besimeh's friend Rishan had guided them back to the outlander party that the young Irda had faith was already sharing her fate. And for that at least she was thankful to him. Not for much else though, since his bond with Besimeh was otherwise his only redeemable quality.

Even though Blyne had developed a deep conviction about the path that those who remained would all walk together, she had sincere doubts that the other outlanders were suitable, both in the eyes of the gods and naturally in her own superior judgment.

It was probably well that the outlanders had made good on their ambition of slaying the bandits who had plagued the elven refugees. But the barbaric scene that Blyne had witnessed on that hill made her question the methods that her fated companions were favoring. Mishakal must cry for the violence that lingers within their human hearts. I must not become like them, even if I shall care for their destinies henceforth...

Arguably Talia and Isandril weren't human. But from what the high-ogre sorceress had seen of the kender's nature, Talia was just right there on the same level as Aric. Naturally Blyne's disapproval went beyond the tiny woman's chatter about cutting out Blainneth's tongue, but it was at least one more proof among a few others that had shaped her opinion.

The Irda would still have properly cared for the kender's wounds, but the mysterious inventor Zendra swiftly took care of them with true healing magic. After opening her eyes to the surrounding sorcerous auras, Blyne wondered if Zendra's arts related to her surprising amount of magic items. I thought artificers are gnomes. But she is something else. Maybe a mystic enchantress?

Blyne decided that she could solve the mysteries of this unexpected addition to the party at a later time. For the moment she was more interested in the mystery that she had inadvertently created by insisting on discarding her identity as Blainneth. Isandril once more rose in the young Irda's opinion as she noticed that he as seemingly the only one among her fated companions looked at her with skeptical intrigue. Finally it occurred to Blyne that the elven white robe was still the most likely to discern her own skills for what they were. He also must be at least twice my age. I will need to speak with him candidly, and soon.

Even though she was quite tired after the horribly taxing day and night that were now behind her, Blyne stayed keen as she judged her reception as a human mystic. She didn't mind being looked upon as a stranger, and the existence of Zendra gave her an easy excuse should Isandril take a greater offense at her unforthcoming approach than the young Irda suspected he would. Still, even though she simply wanted to be someone new, Blyne had to commend herself for creating this opportunity to also observe her companions' unmitigated reactions to Blainneth's absence. Even though she was tired, it was still quite illuminating for her.

While Isandril notably never addressed the Blainneth situation and instead showed care for the pitiful Devari in a manner that Blyne approved, her current approach allowed the young Irda to observe how Tegan took a stance of turning back to Pashin to rescue the disappeared elven silk merchant. He would not abandon me a second time. Probably he considers that he never did the first time either. Is he kindhearted or just ignorant? He is a Solamnic after all...

For a moment Blyne considered revealing herself right then because returning to Pashin would of course have been folly. But then Xihue fortuitously interjected with a lesson about their shared fate. Although the two of them struck the young Irda as a bit irresponsible to write Blainneth off all that quickly, for once Blyne did not begrudge their decision. The fate of the unfocused may veer off. Within Pashin, Blainneth would have been out of our reach. I would choose the same if it were any one of them in the same position. We have a great duty to fulfill, and there are forces at work that we cannot oppose. This is for the better.



In the end, Besimeh sent Rishan and Ilhem away, just like Blyne had expected of her. The khurish merchant had looked a bit unhappy when the shapeshifter had approached their farewell from Rishan after the voices of the two humans had grown louder, so Blyne had taken her distance and not stood witness to the conclusion of their argument. But it didn't matter. The young Irda's relief was immense, because even what little she had been able to listen to had confirmed that Besimeh hadn't broken with the two of them forever. She had put them in their place, but without ripping apart the bonds that Blyne hadn't wished to come in between. The high-ogre swore to herself that she would reward Beismeh's choice with all of her heart in return. I will not be her ruin. We will be better after joining our paths together. And I can live up to what she sees in me. That must be what the gods would favor. It is what is best for both of us, I am sure!

As they were granted a mere hour of rest while the other outlanders situated themselves before their departure, Blyne made sure to preserve as much of her strength as possible, reducing her interactions with the others to a minimum, even with Besimeh. The nearing day would be harsh. The shapeshifter knew it would test her limits, but she was fully in support of their choice to not while any longer. She didn't share Aric's fears, but it was still prudent for them to leave earlier. Blyne felt something new rising up within herself. A zealous sentiment after overcoming all the trials that Pashin had been able to offer her, and now she would martyr herself on their journey through the desert. It seemed like such a pious thing to ask of herself. The gods would look at her favorably for her willingness.

Her fated companions for the most part seemed to have been under the assumption that Besimeh and Blyne would turn back with the others who chose to return to Pashin now that Devari had been delivered. While she was still conserving her strength, Blyne saw no good reason to give the outlanders any time to prepare any arguments to debate their choice. "I have my own prophecies to follow." The human-shaped mystic stated simply when it was time to depart. "My friend and I have chosen to follow you. We are prepared to uproot our lives to support your cause. Our four horses will accompany us as well. The lessened burden of baggage will serve all of you well. I recommend that we depart and weave our bonds once we were allowed some sleep. But for now we should depart, just as you had planned."



With the timing of revealing their intentions to follow the party well-chosen, none of her fated companions contested their choice. So Blyne relegated herself to another torturous march through the desert, continuing her journey on horseback. The proud Irda still refused to learn her mount's name, but she knew that she would pick it up eventually. Even though her current horse wasn't Startrail, it was accommodating her inexperienced rider well enough. And still, it took Blyne a continuous investment of channeling sorcery into her limbs to sustain herself in the saddle.

The unfamiliar motion of riding was one thing, the heat of the desert another. Blyne's physical strength was sapped, both from the injury that she had suffered when she had fallen off a roof and also from her lack of sleep. But the young Irda was at the height of her mental discipline. Besimeh was now by her side, Blyne had finally been able to settle for a path that was the right one for the last of the Irda, and even the only pupil she had ever taken was coming into her mystic powers due to the high-ogre's keen instructions. Blyne knew that she wasn't sound of body. But right now she felt like she was a bastion of strength. Even if another earthquake would hit her, she would still feel undeterred. Right now she was unbreakable. At least in her mind right then.

As awake as her mind was most of the time, Blyne still remembered how she had run herself ragged when she had been on her journey toward Pashin. This time she knew to do better. She employed every mental trick that would allow her to conserve strength, and although she probably seemed stony and unapproachable to an outside observer, from the Irda's vantage she was doing tremendously well. She was quite pleased with herself, even as she felt her condition worsening over the passage of time. But not substantially. Unbreakable. I embrace the thorns. They cannot thwart me.



The journey continued on its way as arduous as it was, but Blyne remained content, even in spite of her growing exhaustion. She also noticed that Devari seemed to be faring a lot worse. But still mostly a fledgling in her control of sorcery, the high-ogre orphan concluded with regret that she could do little for Devari right now. Eventually she would try to give her further lessons to draw from the power of the heart in more practical ways than providing her mount with an illusory hat. But Blyne knew that under the circumstances it was unlikely that any attempt at a lesson would take. Conserving her own strength was the better choice.

And just like that, Blyne kept shutting out all disturbances that could sap her power beyond what the desert was already doing passively. Once or twice Besimeh showed concern with how Blyne seemed to be closing herself off, but the young Irda looked at her with knowing eyes and tried to reassure her with minimal speech. Although she seemed withdrawn, Blyne was actually quite aware. So keenly aware. Besimeh looked tired, but she looked like she could persevere as well. They were together on this journey now. Even without acknowledging it outwardly, for the high-ogre this was a great well of strength.

This was how their track continued, and Blyne even went as far as relinquishing all active thoughts and concerns about finding their way through the desert, relying on Xihue to guide them well. He was quite the barbarian, it was obvious at a glance, but Blyne was willing to relent that a part of his disposition was better than the average human. She thought similarly about Tegan and was still withholding judgment on Zendra, who had curiously chosen to part ways with a red-headed man whom Blyne had never even bothered to learn the name of. Is she part of our fate? Or is she a distraction? Time will tell.

But thoughts like this were a rarity for Blyne during this leg of the journey, and she still focused mostly on conserving strength and supporting herself with her Irda sorcery. She idly wondered if it was to a degree that Isandril would pick up on it. But even though the sorcery of the moons was still quite alien to the young Irda, she also no longer cared how much of herself she revealed. They were already tied together by fate. In the shapeshifter's eyes, the truth of her identity was now only a matter of time.

Eventually, Blyne wished that she could do away with all pretense and force these fated companions to respect and accept her as her tall, blue, and truly beautiful self. The task ahead of them seemed great enough that Blyne believed it would come to that. The idea of being herself thrilled her more than it unnerved her. Yet the outlanders being who they were, Blyne reminded herself to stay cautious. Her heart was singing now. But that didn't mean the brilliance of her mind had grown dull. Even if her current thoughts felt a bit sluggish right now, she would recover. And then she would be able to approach the matter of her true identity slowly, forming bonds that would protect her from any of them who might wish to harass her. Blyne knew she would be able to carve out a corner for herself in this hostile world. After all, destiny was already on her side.



Although Blyne was convinced that her great fate awaited her and that from now on she could expect success from herself, she was certainly not blind to Ansalon's strife and that many of its inhabitants would seek to deny her to achieve neither her destiny nor happiness. As such, when Talia returned from her scouting and hastily gave a jumbled report about some minotaurs who appeared to be on a collision course, the young Irda naturally knew that they could pose as the kind of evil force that would unravel their fate if the companions allowed such villains to capsize them.

While Talia had been rather inexplicit in her description of these minotaurs and Aric was even less so when he continued with his unsightly lack of self-control in the face of a perceived threat, the first idea about minotaurs that popped into Blyne's head dwelled on the rumored soldiers of their empire, those dreaded forces of Sargonnas who had conquered the Silvanesti forest and uprooted the elves, forcing them to flee to the unwelcoming lands of Khur. This was the golden age of the minotaurs, and Blyne believed that the Dark Knights weren't baseless when they gave them as their reason for taking Pashin for themselves. Which meant meeting a bunch of minotaurs out here in the desert could only be very bad news.

Although she had been denying her current condition with all of her might, now that Blyne was trying to use her head to actively conceive an appropriate response, she felt like her ability to think was quite reduced from what it usually was. Devari voiced an emergent suspicion that the minotaurs would have no other business but to seek their particular group out here in the desert, but Blyne rejected that notion for herself rather quickly. "What did those minotaurs look like, Talia? Were they soldiers? I haven't heard of minotaurs who are desert merchants, but if they're soldiers, they might only be the first of many."

Blyne looked at Besimeh for a confirmation of her theory, only noticing then that Aric, Devari, and Zendra were already searching for cover, the latter after recommending to Isandril to disguise himself with magic. Xihue also offered his opinion, thankfully without any fretting and in a way that the tired shapeshifter could easily absorb his meaning. "If we can avoid attracting their attention, that would be best. Let them pass by. If they do see us, it would be best if Tegan and Isandril were not here. Both will be immediately considered to be potential hostiles. We could trade with them and I can speak their language. I know how to trade with the Empire."

As she was still sitting in the saddle of her horse, Blyne gave a slow nod while she was still slow to catch up with the urgency that some of the others displayed. She felt a great desire to avoid any measure of confrontation with these martially versed descendants of ogrekind, but the young Irda also felt that they needed to act prudently, and yet she was struggling to get her bearings. Before setting into motion to move toward the distant cover, Blyne responded to Xihue's considerations. "There will be no trading if these belong to the empire's army, except in blood maybe. I am worried that Khur is what they seek to conquer next. Then none who walk the desert would be safe from them..."



When Blyne moved to seek cover quite belatedly, it did not help her chances of getting herself out of sight before the minotaurs eventually arrived on one of the dunes that was still a few minutes away if one struck a forceful pace. The young Irda could see them at that distance, wielding threatening greataxes and starting to hurry in their direction upon sight, moving like a single unit. Blyne was deeply concerned and her injured ankle was aching, yet she refused to show either of those weaknesses on her face. Her eyes searched Besimeh's who had been cunning to hide both herself and her mount while Blyne and Devari had failed. Looking back at the advancing minotaurs, the sorceress called out to her party, giving voice to her first instinct.

"They've seen us, but I don't think they've seen everyone!" Verifying the cumbersome progress that they had made with what few opportunities to get out of sight the scarcity of cover had given them, Blyne noted that besides herself and Devari, only Zendra and Xihue were still out in the open. Immediately the young Irda felt torn. She knew what would be practical here, but while Besimeh had not been seen by the advancing scouts, Blyne couldn't imagine riding out without her. So she proposed her idea contritely. "They don't look faster than our horses! Those who have been seen could divert them! If they seek to murder all witnesses, our departure would deny them a chance to reach their objective!"

Although Blyne understood how weak her standing was in this party, the exhausted shapeshifter also didn't find herself able to navigate her own thoughts to seek out the most convincing words like she usually would have. When her eyes fell back on Xihue who had spoken out about his past trading relationship with the empire, she helplessly proposed her gambit despite the issues that she could see with it herself. "Do you think that they would come for you if we ride out? I believe the women who are slow and tired could divert their attention if we attempt to draw them away to follow us."

Blyne gave an impression of remaining collected in this emergency situation, but she was speaking fast, and she certainly seemed tense in a way that made clear that she wasn't unaffected by the threat they were all in. "Not to abandon you of course. If they ignore the fleeing horses and come for you, we can always turn back. I do have violent sorcery at my beck and call, if there is no other choice." Blyne didn't add how she had never found cause to direct it at a sentient creature before. She dreaded that it might come to that with the minotaurs.

The self-professed mystic pulled out the healing potion that Besimeh had bought for her at Pashin's bazaar. If we ride, I should leave this with Xihue. I would not be in reach to help administer it. The young Irda's heart was pounding. She didn't really know how to deal with this situation. She had never been assaulted by minotaur scouts before, or any sort of soldier for that matter. Looking into the faces of her fated companions, Blyne just knew that it couldn't be any of their destiny to die today. Only, against yet another evil army, the sorceress didn't know how to keep their group safe. Time was running out, and Blyne was unable to come up with any other plans. Mishakal, keep us safe!
 
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Old Aug 11th, 2023, 01:37 PM
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For the glory of Sargas!
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Torig de-Voros, Sergeant of the Imperial Scouts
Torig de-Voros hated the desert. Even his thick hide was unable to sufficiently protect him from the freezing temperatures of the night and the day’s intense heat sapped his considerable strength in a way that was worse than manning the oars of a minotaur galley for two whole shifts. It was not that he was not used to high temperatures. On the contrary, the climate of the minotaur isles was as hot during the winter as it was in summer. But the tropical temperatures and humidity of Mithas and Kothas could not compare in the slightest to the dry heat of the Khurish desert. Torig was used to the twin isles’ frequent downpours. Though violent and often destructive, they rejuvenated the land and its inhabitants, keeping them both alert and alive. Khur on the other hand was a land of the dead, barren of life and dominated only by sand and stone.


What was worse was that Torig missed the sea. His mother was a Sea Reaver, merchant and pirate alike, trading and raiding in the name of Sargas and the Minotaur Empire. It was on board the Dragon Turtle, her fine ship, that Torig slew his first opponent, a burly Saifhumi captain who was foolish enough to challenge the minotaurs’ dominance of the Blood Sea. It cost him an ear and almost his life, but the young minotaur managed to slay the human in the end. That gained him a proud look from his mother and his first taste of looted Saifhumi rum, a drink as fiery as the men and women that brewed and drank it.


When he joined the Imperial Legion and left for Ambeon to reinforce the army that had taken the former elven capital, Torig knew that he would not be smelling the salt in the breeze for a long time. Nevertheless he didn’t hesitate. His older siblings were already there, cutting down elves and the trees that hid them, as was his father, a decorated officer. The Voros patriarch’s loyalty first to Hotak de-Droka and then Hotak’s son, Ardnor, cost him his life when Faros es-Kalin took the Emperor’s head and with it the throne. The rebel-turned-Emperor pardoned the rest of the Voros clan, but those close to him still looked at its members with suspicion. Torig knew that it was up to him to restore his clan’s honor and this he accomplished with such distinction that he was soon promoted to sergeant and given his own men and women to command.


Few minotaurs were eager to join the scouts of the imperial army, believing that there was more glory in fighting the enemies of the Empire toe to toe than skulking in the woods and hiding behind rocks and bushes, but Torig knew that they were wrong. For the Legions to successfully advance and conquer their opponents someone had to gather information about enemy lines and the lay of the land - and that someone was him and those like him. Besides, every minotaur legionary had a whole army to back them up. He only had the men and women of his small group. The six of them had to venture alone in enemy territory and face dangers those fighting in the Legions could not even imagine. After Ambeon was fully secured and pacified, all pockets of resistance eliminated, the minotaurs’ gaze turned north. Once more it was Torig de-Voros’ duty to gather the necessary information. Yes, Torig hated the desert, but such personal preferences were immaterial when compared to duty. For the glory of the Minotaur Empire he would even venture into the Abyss - and he would never utter a word of complaint about it.


"Sergeant, look! Just below that ridge - in Kothian.Lixos, odan! Malin kot mor ipsath."


Torig looked at the large, soft, brown eyes turned upon him. They regarded him with respect, trust, and hopefully something else too? Merva was a fine soldier and scout and she would no doubt make an excellent companion and mother. Once their current mission was accomplished and they were awarded some time away from the front lines an official agreement between the two clans would be possible. The two would get a chance to get to know each other better, a chance for him to feel her strong hands on his body and her muscles pressed against his. But now was not the time to think about what could be. Now was the time for action!


********


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Merva es-Arman, Imperial Scout
The sergeant’s gaze followed her outstretched arm, pointing at the group of four humans, still some distance away from the scouting party, but not before lingering for a moment on Merva’s face. She was aware that the sergeant appreciated her in more ways than just as a scout and by Sargas she welcomed the attention. He was well-built with shiny black hide and the fact that he only had one ear didn’t make him any less attractive to her. Each scar was a testament to bravery and Torig de-Voros had many of these despite his youth. Besides, his one good ear was decorated with several gold earrings that more than made up for the stump on the other side of his head. The sergeant had told her that he had taken them from the bodies of the Saifhumi pirates he had slain in battle and Merva had no difficulty believing his claim. After all, what human could face a minotaur and prevail?


"Three females and a male - in KothianTris thalus mer na arasil", she continued, squinting to take a better look at the humans. Her eyes were especially sharp, but distinguishing between male and female humans wasn’t always easy. They all looked the same to her. "No one seems to be wearing heavy armor. They look like travelers - in KothianKatis fermen varo panolis. Atte fanin odeportoe"


The sergeant shaded his eyes with his large hand. "The male is approaching fast. Keep your crossbows at the ready! - in KothianAras palistem gorigal. Lavu te valestra etemin!"


Merva instantly complied, as did two more of the scouts, while those that remained took their positions each one on a different side of their sergeant. The non-minotaur races were deceitful, especially the elves and the humans, and despite appearances the man approaching might very well be an assassin. Though her gaze was focused on the human, calculating the moment he would enter the crossbow’s range, the scout kept glancing at the sergeant. He was holding his right hand raised and the moment he lowered it they would have to be ready to shoot. The order would be given any moment now…


But the sergeant never did give the order. The human was shouting something and Merva was utterly shocked when she realized that he was actually speaking Kothian, the language of the minotaurs! His puffy lips and short tongue mispronounced almost every single word, making it difficult to comprehend his speech, much like trying to understand the babblings of a toddler, but there could be no doubt about it. The human knew the minotaur tongue. Not only that, but he also knew how to properly address those of the horned race. The lesser races, all too eager to submit to the minotaurs’ superiority, usually bowed their heads before the inhabitants of the twin isles, even though the minotaurs found such servility disrespectful. This stranger, however, looked Torig de-Voros in the eye and struck his chest with his fist - a warrior’s greeting.


Never lowering her guard, Merva listened carefully to the dialogue between the human and the sergeant. He proved to be a native of Taladas, which was hard to imagine, since most humans were completely unaware of the existence of other continents besides Ansalon. He called himself it’s Merva’s interpretation of Xihue’s nameZeehue and claimed to belong to a people of Northern Hosk known as the Alan-Atu. The scout had never heard of them before and judging by the human’s unsophisticated clothing and lack of armor, it was no wonder.


Zeehue spoke almost in reverence about the great city of Kristophan and the honorable “Empire” of Ambeoutin XII, not noticing that the sergeant’s nostrils flared at their mention, as did Merva’s to a lesser degree. The “Empire” the human had mentioned was more properly called the “Imperial League” and it had been originally founded as a company of mercenaries and merchants to better exploit Taladas and the nearby islands. At some point not only had the League’s members sought independence from the Emperor back in Mithas, they had also usurped his title. Preoccupation with the events taking place in Ansalon had prevented the rightful Emperors from dealing with the usurpers and the situation remained unresolved for centuries. Still, with Faros es-Kalin on the imperial throne, fully backed by the returned Sargas, Merva foresaw that the days of Ambeoutin and his so-called Empire were numbered.


Two members of said League, the merchants Gladak and Flaria of unknown clans, had apparently escorted Zeehue to Ansalon, going so far as to invite him -a human!- to Sargas’ Gauntlet, which took place on the 8th day of the equivalent of OctoberHiddumont each year. The mightiest warriors of the Empire competed in the great arena of Nethosak for the favor of the minotaur god with the victor being named Sargas’ champion for the year. Due to unrest in the capital between the de-Droka and es-Kalin factions and in order to celebrate the renaming of Silvanost to Sargasanti, the Gauntlet took place in the recently conquered capital of the elves last year. The event was marred, however, by the assassination of Horam es-Berathis, first general of the Imperial army in Ambeon. Since one of the suspects was this year’s champion and enjoyed Sargas’ protection, things were especially complicated.


Merva eyed Zeehue suspiciously, but he didn’t seem to realize that he was talking about one of the greatest scandals of recent times. His patrons had probably only been interested in impressing the savage human by bringing him into contact with the superior minotaur civilization. Perhaps they viewed him as a pet. Could he sing, dance or make others laugh? He could certainly parrot the minotaurs’ tongue, which was amusing in its own right. But would a jester warrant an exception? Would the human’s pleading make Torig de-Voros forget about the orders of their superiors? They had insisted that the scouting party remained undetected. Those unfortunate ones who saw the minotaurs crossing the desert had to be eliminated.


A quick look at the sergeant’s expression justified Merva’s expectations. He knew what his duty was in this case and whether he liked it or not, he was ready to obey the chain of command. The human and his companions would be killed and their bodies buried beneath the sands. No one would ever find out what transpired in this place. For the good of the Empire…


"I wish I could spare you and your females, but I cannot." Torig was speaking in the common tongue now, desiring to honor the one he was about to condemn to death by addressing him in his human speech. "I have my orders, friend of the minotaurs. What I can and will gladly grant you is a quick death by my hand, a warrior’s death. I see that you lack a blade. Worry not, one will be provided for you. You may take a greataxe or a shortsword."


Instantly obeying the sergeant’s signal, Merva es-Arman attached her crossbow to her harness and presented the human with her own weapons: a heavy double-headed axe with a handle that was almost as long as the human and a short sword made of steel that could easily penetrate the thickest armor, if one had the strength to make each thrust count. Her muscular arms held the double-headed axelabrys aloft seemingly without any effort, while the shortswordgladius looked like a toy in her hand - a deadly toy. "Choose", she told him, almost pressing the sword against his chest, reasoning that the slight human would lack the strength to even pick up, much less wield the greataxe. "Your wives won’t suffer. I will make sure of that. You have my word."


No one understood what happened next. Torig’s and Merva’s eyes grew wide and they each took a step backwards, while the rest of the group were left staring at the human with something resembling awe. It was not the words that Zeehue had spoken, for those of his race often begged and pleaded for their lives, no better than gully dwarves. It was the way he had done so. The minotaurs realized that his words had been engraved in their hearts and for a moment the slight human appeared to be taller than the mightiest ogre.


"Is this what the vaunted minotaur honor is all about? Killing unarmed and unarmored merchants and women without cause? Where is the glory in that? How will Sargas judge such a cowardly deed?"


Merva tried to reply, but found out that she couldn’t. Where was indeed the honor in slaying these defenseless travelers? They presented no threat and sooner all later their scouting party would be detected. Despite their faults, it was unlikely that the Khurish people or the Knights of Neraka would remain unaware of the minotaurs’ actions for long. Besides, whether prepared or not, their enemies could never successfully resist the might of the Minotaur Empire.


"You are right, Xihue of the Alan-Atu. The decrees of the Destroyer are above the orders of his children. I will not appear before Sargas on the day of my passing with my honor sullied. I will allow him to decide both our fates."


Dropping all his weapons to the sandy ground, Torig de-Voros asked his second-in-command to help him doff his breastplate. She immediately complied, respectfully placing his armor next to the minotaur’s discarded arms. Even without his steel breastplate the bull-man was an impressive sight, his heavy muscles very much apparent even beneath his hairy hide. Taller than Xihue by a full head and at least twice as wide around the waist, he seemed to be able to break him in two with his bare hands.


"Let’s see if Sargas favors you, human. Fight me here and now. No weapons, no armor, just strength, speed and skill. If you succeed, we will allow you to continue your journey untouched, provided that you swear to the Destroyer not to reveal our presence to anyone. Fail and I will take your life, but will spare the others under the same conditions. Whatever happens one life will be lost and the rest spared." Torig de-Voros looked his opponent in the eye and struck his chest with his mighty fist in a warrior’s greeting. "To the death!", he cried out just before charging, his horns lowered and ready to skewer his opponent.



Calendar12th Day of Aelmont (Winter) 422 AC / 38 SC, Evening

Solinari: 6/36 (Waxing)
Lunitari: 15/28 (High Sanction) - conjunction with Nuitari
Nuitari: 4/8 (High Sanction) - conjunction with Lunitari

Boons/Penalties:
White Robes - | Red Robes +2 spell DC, ADV on spell attack rolls | Black Robes +2 spell DC, ADV on spell attack rolls


 


 


 
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Old Aug 16th, 2023, 09:31 AM
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Xihue of the Alan-Atu
AftermathMan and tiger looked at one another with full gazes of silent meaning. She had been in search of her mate, coming upon his broken body in the midst of it being disected and cleaned like some food animal, his hide, claws, teeth, liver, stomach, scrotum and heart all carved out and collected. The smell of the fresh kill still lingered in the air. At first, it had given her hope for a meaty meal to be shared with her two tiger cubs and hard bone upon which to sharpen fang and claw. Instead, the soft two legged human was there, butchering the once proud, powerful panther.

How had this scrawny being vanquished her mate? It didn't seem possible, yet, her eyes were witness to the reality of it. Nostrils inhaled the carnage and her blood began to boil with primal hatred when the faint, half purred growl of her nearby ambush reminded the tigress of the twins. They were fully dependent upon her. She took a full, final breath, committing the murderer's scent to memory before turning sadly away to abandon the crime scene to him. The cubs would grow. They would learn. Vengeance was patient.

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Xihue
Swollen, suffocating heat of the day hadn't faded yet. Xihue was excited to see minotaur again. They had always treated his tribe fairly and the monk held an idealized, romantic reverence for their graceful power, confidence and commitment to purpose. He was aware that the Alan-Atu were tolerated as insignificant yet useful denizens of undesirable mountain lands, that subjugation of the goat people would not be a valorous conquest, and that their clans posed little threat to the greatness of the Empire on Taladas. He had been adopted as a favorite of Gladak when he had traded the tiger paws, claws and teeth one winter and related the story of how they were won. It had earned him enough respect to gain patronage when it was time for the prophesies to be fulfilled by his departure from his mountain home. That respect, however, did not extend to this current situation. These minotaur were warriors, not traders, and they were on a mission that apparently demanded secrecy.

"I wish I could spare you and your females, but I cannot. I have my orders, friend of the minotaurs. What I can and will gladly grant you is a quick death by my hand, a warrior’s death. I see that you lack a blade. Worry not, one will be provided for you. You may take a greataxe or a shortsword." The leader stated dispassionately as his lieutenant offered her weapons to Xihue. The heads of the double axe were as wide as the monk's shoulders and its shaft as thick as his arm. "Your wives won’t suffer. I will make sure of that. You have my word."

THERE! That is something of value!, Xihue knew how honorbound minotaur were. They would slit their own children's throats and decapitate themselves before suffering the disgrace of lost valor or tarnished honor. I can use this to level the battlefield. If I am to overcome this trial and not face the long path upon the next turn of the wheel.

"Is this what the vaunted minotaur honor is all about? Killing unarmed and unarmored merchants and women without cause? Where is the glory in that? How will Sargas judge such a cowardly deed?""Aftor einai to themla ti perfumos tismisa toui Minotarvrous? Dolofondia aoplo emporon kai gyunoricon choris aitia? Poup einai ei doxa se aftor? Pos ta Krinai o Sargaas mia tetoia delli praxis!?

The words asaulted the reconnaissance party as though they had been struck by a strong wind. The squad recoiled at the shepherd's unexpected words spoken imperfectly in their own tongue, cloaked in a strange preternatural presence. Xihue had verbally thrown a gauntlet that could not be ignored.

"You are right, Zeehue of the Alan-Atu. The decrees of the Destroyer are above the orders of his children. I will not appear before Sargas on the day of my passing with my honor sullied. I will allow him to decide both our fates. Let’s see if Sargas favors you, human. Fight me here and now. No weapons, no armor, just strength, speed and skill. If you succeed, we will allow you to continue your journey untouched..." The bargain was more than Xihue had expected until the final qualification was uttered, "To the death." Hope of an outcome that did not involve fatality vanished.

He knew the minotaur ways. Clan survival had depended upon being useful and non-threatening, by behaving as the "lesser species" that the Alan-Atu were thought to be. The Kender were unassailable through stealth, speed and unpredictability. The Ansalon Solemnics had earned respect from the Minotaurs by being honorable, valiant warriors. Elves held the power arcane, mystical and vibrant, while the dwarves married their physical might to arms and armor exceptionally crafted and potent. Pnoah's gnomes invented gadgets through strange sciences and humans, short lived and adaptable, borrowed from them all. Only the lost powers of the gods, ascended beings, fully enlightened and universally aware, were worthy of minotaur obeisance.

As his opponent divested himself of his armor, Xihue waved back to his camp, signaling them that all was well, under control. Win or lose, they would be spared to fulfill the prophesies. He planted his crosier in the sand and hung his pack from it, rolled out the tiger skin and began to stretch. By the time the minotaur charged, Xihue was limber, focused and balanced, coiled like a viper. The massively muscled bull-man towered over the seemingly frail human in an obviously mismatched contest. Two glistening horns crowned Torig de-Voros like beastial royalty above bundled muscles, chorded in tremendous definition. Every aspect of the minotaur shouted lethality. With a burst of smoke-like, misty air from his snout, the captain grunted and charged.

Time dilated as Xihue unlocked his chakras to let the powerful flow of vitality suffuse him. He became one with the wind, the sand, the sun, and even with his opponent. Toes gripped the ground beneath him with such force that glass could have formed from the pressure as he lept skyward from the heat of the sun-soaked sand. For a moment, it appeared that this contest would be quickly ended as Torig had anticipated but, at the last moment, the monk launched himself to vault over the oncoming juggernaut. It would have been effective had the minotaur not leapt as well to intercept Xihue's move. A massive hand reached out for the monk's leg but missed it as the martial artist spun suddenly. The heels of each foot scissored together, one at the soldier's wrist, the other onto the smaller bones of the forearm. Even iron yields to the blow of the hammer when trapped upon the anvil. With a loud snap, the wrist dislocated and an even louder **CRACK** announced that Torig's arm had been broken.

A sheet of sand rolled like a cresting wave from the planted hooves as the minotaur slid to an abrupt halt, turning back toward Xihue. A look of utter incredulity flashed across his face as a roar of unexpected pain escaped him. The minotaur looked down at his now-useless left hand as it dangled at an unnatural angle then back at the tiny human. Resolve replaced shock and the seasoned veteran of the Empire realized that this brash, insignificant man was much more dangerous than he had anticipated. Torig had take Xihue for granted and paid a severe price. He wouldn't make that mistake again.

As gravity brought the Alan-Atu back to ground, he gracefully spun back to face the maimed minotaur. There was not pause. As soon as feet met sand, the Taladan was moving again. Xihue feignted to the right and then spun a kick at his opponent's right knee. He needed to disable the minotaur's mobility. The satisfying connection dislocated the patella but failed to damage the ligaments when the other leg missed. Torig had seen the blow coming and had been able to move his leg in time to save it from his left arm's fate. This allowed Xihue's double fisted attack to strike the other knee, this time, straining the insertion muscles of the quadriceps.

Training induced muscle memory took over for Torig and his good, mace-like right fist slammed into the monk's arm as he passed, separating the shoulder and cracking at least two ribs as the power translated through the arm and into the body. The shepherd tumbled up from the desert floor in obvious pain, realizing that he would need to avoid being hit. Even a glancing blow from this behemoth could kill him but there was no where to go. They were in close quarters and the minotaur was fast.

Using his size to advantage, Xihue dropped low, seeking places less protected by bone and muscle. First groin, then a knuckle punch to the bladder that might have burst it sent waves of pain to ascend the mountainous beast. The flurry of blows ended with a right fist to the solar plexus, just below the sternum, which doubled Torig in half.

Xihue realized the mistake too late. He had deprived his opponent of an arm and both legs. He had painfully administered disabling blows to the body but, in doing so, he had brought the two gleaming natural weapons, Torig's horns, down to him. The minotaur's head lanced forward, impaling Xihue upon the left, curving prominance of bone. The tip jutted out from Xihue's back as the minotaur gored him and fell back. Blood poured out upon the sands, painting them red beneath the combatant's feet. One more blow like that and Xihue would fall.

Turns Upon the WheelYellow spring blossoms lined the path and the meadow was full of violets, white daisies, and collumns of pink wildflowers. It was a time of renewed life, returned from the bleakness of winter when the Wretched Ones returned to their holes and the Alan-Atu ascended to their summer mountain pastures. The billygoats were rutting and the rams were tired. Half of the ewes were in heat and the two randy, curved horned males were exhausted from fulfilling their procreative imperatives. They lazily nibbled at the succulent plants to restore the energy they would need when the other half of the herd became fertile next week. A farming life often mirrored the seasons. Xihue's first son had been born three months ago in the winter camps. That mother was raising him well. MaiChen had chosen Xihue as the sire for this year's child and the monk looked forward to helping her to become a mother as he had done for AhMao last year. The world was good!

MaiChen was fond of flowers. Her table always displayed them to brighten her home and to perfume it with pleasant fragrances. The men's tents tended to smell more like the cattle, fields, feet and sweat. It was better to share warmth with the women when they wished it. Mindful of MaiChen's botanical predilections, Xihue began to collect a spectacular bouquet for her. He found himself in the same pasture where he had fought the tiger and the prettiest flowers abounded there.

Male goats and sheep contest for the favor of the best females by butting heads. The loud crack of skulls was a common sound at this time of year and Xihue's mind was elsewhere as he bent over to pluck another stem. The ram slammed into the shepherd's backside with unexpected force and sent Xihue sailing toward the cliff edge. The same edge that the tiger had fallen from. One hand grasped the root of a solitary tree and held fast as a shower of colored petals rained down to the rocks below him. He dangled there, without purchase for his feet, above a hundred foot drop.

Muscles strained and hand-over-hand the monk began to climb back to the cliff edge by strength of arms and hands. The roots were fresh with spring sap and were becoming slippery. The shepherd was able to get fingertips back onto the stone, the lip of the ledge was so close but he had no leverage to bring the other hand over and secure that tenuous purchase. Suddenly, a strong hand wrapped around Xihue's wrist and yanked the young man back to safety.

The Master stood before him with a disappointed look upon his face. "Have you completed this turn on the wheel already, Xihue?"

"No master, the ram..."

"Yes, I saw that. I had almost believed that I had wasted several years of my time and would need to find a new student."

"I am sorry master. I was distracted."

"Ah, there it is! Each turn on the wheel is short. No single life can learn what must be known to achieve Ascendence! But, do not seek to shorten the time you have in this life. It makes the path longer and much harder to travel. Always look for the way to survive. The next time you approach your death, I may not be there."

Minotaur and man clung together, eye-to-eye. They saw each other as they were. Brutal, violent, broken, wounded, proud, and honorable. There was both hatred and mutual respect but there was no fear. Both had come to terms with the reality that they would someday die. Xihue was a man of prophesy, the song-bearer, path walker, peace bringer. Torig de-Voros was a leader, commander, proud son of Sargas, and, he was a prophet.

Less than a minute had passed since the contest had begun and Sargas had, indeed, decided the outcome. But Sargas was not alone. There were other gods, other powers, of which Sargas was only one. Strong as he might be, the Minotaur god did not stand alone to write the final story.

Calling upon his Ki, Xihue pitted his soul against a desperate last attempt to end this fight. With lungs unable to draw breath, diaphragm still paralyzed from the solar plexis strike, Torig brought his head up as he fought to regain air. Xihue saw the opening and rigid fingers struck out between the bulging neck muscles to the small, open, unprotected place below the adam's apple. The punch contained as much of Xi's remaining strength as the monk could muster and it drove deeply into the minotaur's throat, crushing the trachea.

Both combatants fell backward, away from each other. Both appeared to be dead as five minotaur stood in stunned silence, surrounding the impossible scene. Then, slowly at first, Xihue rose while Torig's body convulsed, face down upon the Kuhrish desert sand. The gaping wound in Xihue's side bled profusely but the small human stood tall to confront the rest of the squad.

"What was his name? Pós ítan to ónomá tou?" This time, the accent was true and properly inflected as if some other voice, a minotaur voice, were speaking through Xihue.

Merva simply stated "Torig de-Voros"

Xihue nodded once and met her eyes. "He stands before Sargas with his honor unsullied!"

 
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Old Aug 17th, 2023, 02:18 PM
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Talia Dawnstar
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Talia had delivered her scouting report. She had done her job… admirably as usual and now it was up to her companions to decide what the next steps should be. She had made clear that she was in favor of a good noggin smash but there was lack of enthusiasm for that option from the group. Talia wasn’t going to push her ideas… bravery couldn’t be forced upon anyone… either you had it or you didn’t.

At least this was what Talia was thinking until she saw Xihue approaching the minotaurs. The kender did a quick double take… so fast as to almost give herself a case of self-induced whiplash. She pointed to the lanky weirdo and words failed to come to her lips.

“Whaa… huh? Why… uhhh?”

Talia looked around to see if anyone else had any idea what the strange foreigner was doing but everyone seemed as surprised as she was. The surprise grew as it turned out that Xihue spoke the language of the massive bulls.

“Well… that solves just about everything. We are going to have a minotaur escort. Xihue will probably have a cow girlfriend by the time we’re done… wait… uh… why is the big minotaur stripping? Wow… I bet you he is hung like… ummm… are they planning on mating? Is this a minotaur thing?"

Talia watched as Xihue and the minotaur circled each other and it immediately dawned on the kender what was happening… a duel! Xihue was certainly different… no doubt about that… but he was someone that Talia had come to trust and her trust did not come easily.

“Xihue is going to fight that guy?” Talia said in a panic. “Is he insane… we can’t let him! I’m going to…” she paused her incoming tirade as she saw that everyone was standing still… no one was running to the monk’s rescue.

“Oh…,” she said sadly as she watched the coming battle… a battle she was not allowed to be involved in. Her hands dropped uselessly to her sides and she clenched and unclenched her small fists as the drama unfolded. When the minotaur fell, Xihue grievously wounded, Talia was not sure how long it had been since her last breath.

She did not cry out in triumph… she could hardly breathe at all. All she could do was walk silently toward the wiry monk. She stood in front of him, looking up at the incredibly brave and foolish man. Reaching out she wrapped his leg in a deep hug. She stayed there, knowing the depths of the man’s sacrifice.


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Old Aug 17th, 2023, 03:38 PM
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Shari whinnied derisively as Devari struggled to get her rump into cover, but it was no use. She looked ahead and could see that the minotaurs had already spotted them… and that Xihue was trotting out to meet them!

"Is he betraying us?" she asked uncertainly, in response to Talia's 'why?'

She didn't know the shepherd all that well, but even so, that didn't seem particularly likely.

"Oh, he's not being heroic is he? That's so stupid, he'll get killed."

She blocked out the sun with one hand and watched the proceedings, taking it upon herself to narrate what was happening for those of the party who were still hidden.

"He's talking to them. Good start, I guess. Oh, uh, they're all looking at us. Just act natural. We're just passing through."

She turned back to Shari and pretended to be busy doing some important horse stuff, checking her eyes and nostrils for sand, or something like that. Surely that was important in the desert? Then Talia brought her attention back to the encounter like a cobra striking.

"…why is the big minotaur stripping?" the kender wondered. "Wow… I bet you he is hung like… ummm… are they planning on mating?"

With most of the group that would have been ridiculous, but Xihue had been particularly direct in expressing his carnal desires, and didn't seem particularly choosy either, so it was definitely possible. Devari found herself staring in a way that her mama would have described as 'tacky, m' dear', but it quickly became apparent that the duo had other things in mind.

"Uh, unless minotaurs have a particularly rough taste in foreplay, I think this is…" she trailed off as the minotaur charged and Xihue managed to jump unbelievably high and get off a couple of lightning kicks. Then she remembered that the others were counting on her to be their eyes. "No, they're fighting. It's a duel, and Xihue is doing well!"

No sooner had she said that, however, than the minotaur had struck back, his good fist knocking their friend dizzy for a second.

"Oh, damn. He's going to feel that one!" She was feeling a little bit out-of-breath now, and found herself swinging up onto Shari to get a better view. "Oh, yes! Take that! Right in the bullocks! Finish him! Noooo!"

She had to look away as the minotaur impaled Xihue on his horns, but she could still see the image of his blood spurting over the parched ground. With a tremendous effort she forced herself to look back.

"He's hurt. It… it's bad, but so is the minotaur. They're… oh no! They're both down! Come on, Xihue, come on!"

She spurred Shari forward, tears blurring her vision. She pawed them away and then saw one of the combatants climbing to their feet. It was Xihue! He was saying something to the other minotaurs! Could he be challenging another one to single combat? They had to stop him! Talia had obviously had the same thought as the kender tore past Shari and thudded into the Taladasian's leg. Devari grinned and dismounted, offering the horse to their new champion.

"You had me worried there," she said, still eyeing the other minotaurs worriedly. "Is that it over or are you going to try your luck with the next one? Because I would advise against that."

 
 
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Old Aug 17th, 2023, 06:40 PM
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Zendra Zantir
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A lifetime ago in Flotsam in a gambling den that had long since burnt to cinders Zendra had seen a prize fight between two grizzled old boxers. There had been history between the two men, a feud long and bitter and dark and mostly unspoken between the two men and as they circled each other in the cramped room preparing to fight Zendra had looked on, ale in hand. There had been no talk of honour that day or of duelling yet as the two greybeards had thrown their first punches and the onlookers roared Zendra had been caught up in the thrill of it all, a thrill only slightly lessened by betting on the wrong man and being all too light in the purse the rest of the week.

The stakes here were far higher, yet as she watched Xihue prepared to fight the minotaur officer it all came flooding back to Zendra, and seemingly not just to her. The archaeologist turned her head left and right, noting her companions were enraptured by the contest - as even were the minotaurs. It was as if for one tiny breath of time the desert paused and waited.

Then there was a victor... of a sort. "Dear gods..." Zendra said, turning pale as Solinari as she saw the minotaur seemingly die and Xihue stand - stand! - and speak to the other bullmen.

Zendra slipped from her saddle and walked towards the monk and the minotaurs, barely aware as Talia sped past her and Devari rode her horse up to the blood soaked sands.

(Zendra was a little ashamed that part of her mind was already trying to work out some joke involving bulls and the colour ed - but not so ashamed she didn't squirrel it away for later.)

"Let me through, I'm a healer!" Zendra exclaimed, invoking a bit of steel in her voice she'd learned growing up in Flotsam and honed in half the marketplaces of Ansalon. "I can help."

She meant she could help Xihue of course but, with a proud glance at the living minotaurs she paused by their fallen commander on the off chance he lived yet and her concoctions and powders could yet assist him. This close there was a certain grandeur to the horned warrior, much as she hated to admit it to herself.

Slipping a hand into her shoulder bag Zendra pulled out a tiny clay pot, it's surface inscribed with arcane writings. As she opened it a sharp and bitter scent filled the air. "My apologies for the assault on everyone's but believe me this ungent feels better than it smells. It will heal that wound at least in part."



 


 


 

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Old Aug 17th, 2023, 06:56 PM
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"Hold Woman! I bear these wounds with honor for the warrior who made me earn them." Xihue chastized Zendra harshly. She did not understand that her kind intentions could get them all killed. This wasn't over yet. The time for healing would come later, after the minotaur were gone.

Turning to the minotaur sargeant, Xihue said, "By Sargas's will, do you honor the word of Torig de-Voros? I shall keep my part and remain silent. We travel north, away from you. These three will hold their tongues as well or I shall be the one holding them! I swear this by the Destroyer!"
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Old Aug 17th, 2023, 08:15 PM
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Blyne
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Blyne tried her best not to panic. Not only would it have been tremendously unseemly, but also it would have put her on the same level as one such as Aric. So even as helplessness and fear were surging up within the young high-ogre, Blyne tried her very hardest to maintain her composure and remain in control of both her heart and all of her faculties. It was hard. She was sleep deprived, she was injured, and now a squadron of evil-hearted conquerors was already marching on them.

Submit or die... Only the high-ogre was convinced that the minions of Sargonnas weren't even going to give them the option to submit. Blyne did not believe that these scouts had invaded the desert to take any prisoners. So she stared at her companions, hoping that one of them knew of an alternative plan that wouldn't put Xihue in mortal danger when the sorceress wouldn't allow herself to consider riding out without Besimeh by her side. But only the man of the Alan-Atu responded in the end.

When Xihue approached Blyne's current position, he wasn't shouting like she had been, and his tone was so tempered and even as if his heart was as much as peace as the Irda's heart was supposed to be. Seeing as how spread out across the dunes their party was after the scarcity of hiding places had forced their numbers to disperse, Blyne wasn't surprised that Talia or Devari were too far to hear Xihue's calm words when he bid the human-shaped mystic to remain at peace and grant him a chance to parlay with the minotaurs all by himself.

The human warrior shepherd had already revealed that he could speak the minotaur language and that he had traded with their kind in the past. Now he further revealed to Blyne that he had even traveled with merchants from Taladas for an extended period of time, how they had taken him to the exterior of the Imperial Arena, and that appealing to the minotaurs' sense of honor should allow keeping a group of seemingly unarmored merchants and women safe from the martial might that the minotaurs could, and would unleash upon them if they gave the impression of posing a combat-capable force.

Blyne could not help but doubt that conquerors with renown such as the minotaur soldiers of their imperial army possessed would simply spare them if doing so could gravely hurt their military campaign. But then, since her own suggestion had been to ride out as a distraction while leaving the human male behind, she had no choice but to agree with his request, also deciding for herself that it wouldn't be pious of her to abandon hope. Xihue really seemed quite sure of himself, and otherwise, the young Irda had no other hope besides his confident words that she could cling to. "Majere shall guide you. And please. Impress upon them that we shall never reveal that we have seen them. Our lives may depend on it!"



While Blyne watched from afar as Xihue unimposingly hurried to meet the minotaurs ahead of their party all on his own, she couldn't help but be trapped in indecision about whether allowing this had been the right thing to do for her. He shares my fate. It would be a grave fallacy if I let him die. But what could I do? What would my sacrifice accomplish... All I can do is trust that he is more than a miserable fool! Blyne felt a wave of anger that she didn't want to allow herself to feel. But in her moment of helplessness, she couldn't preserve the control that had been so easy for her when she had ridden her high during today's track through the desert after conclusively joining her journey together with Besimeh's. If he is wrong about this, his mistakes will fall on me for allowing this folly! I should not have agreed!

But despite the lack of trust in Blyne's heart, she did not approach the minotaurs when Xihue confronted them and they apparently were willing to lend him their ears. Inadvertently, the high-ogre mystic's gaze coursed over the partially hidden group of companions, noting that they were all in awe of what was happening. Finally, Blyne's worried gaze came to rest on Besimeh within her hiding place. If he fails to negotiate with them, they will assault us, and Besimeh will suffer for having followed me. That cannot happen! I will not let that happen! The young Irda remained tense, awkwardly maneuvering her mount closer to the khurish merchant's position, but also not letting Xihue out of her sights. The dark one is losing his armor? What in the gods' names did he say to them??

The wave that Xihue gave to the party did little to calm the high-ogre's nerves, but in a way, Blyne had already entrusted his fate into the hands of the gods by allowing the barbaric human to strike out on his own to challenge the minotaurs about their honor. When Blyne arrived close enough to Besimeh that they could quietly converse, the khurish woman was the first to speak, trying to maintain her bravery in her own way as she insisted to Blyne that they should take any measure that they could to ensure that their group didn't clash with these ferocious soldiers. For now, Besimeh posed that it was better to remain patient, but she also hinted that they should take to the horses if Xihue's possible demises ended up inviting further aggression from the minotaurs. But Blyne only shook her head, visibly tense as she looked at the one human with a special place within her singing heart.

"I couldn't, Besimeh." There was a wealth of remorse in the shapeshifter's voice as she watched Xihue stretch and get into a fighting stance. Then her hazel eyes met those of the khurish merchant. "They are my fate. I cannot abandon them. I mustn't..." Blyne felt a lump in her throat. She couldn't bear the idea that Besimeh might not forgive her this, but she couldn't help but be honest with her. "But you. You should stay ready to flee. I cannot drag you to war with enemies such as these. Stay ready to mount. If battle ensues, or whatever happens next, I want you to think of your life first. Not mine." That's all that Blyne could tell her friend. The last of the Irda had tied herself to the path that the Gods of Good had in mind for her, and she no longer had the right to think of herself and Besimeh foremost. But at least Besimeh should. If I die, she can still return to Rishan and Ilhem. Yes...

There was no more time to exchange further words, because over on the dune ahead, the bulking minotaur charged at the warrior of the Alan-Atu, and just like any other of her companions Blyne was captivated by the duel that ensued. Just as soon as she had gleaned that it would be man-against-minotaur combat, the shrewd Irda sorceress had tried to conceive of a way to break the rules and aid Xihue with the use of her sorcery. But she had been forced to dismiss the idea as folly. Even just approaching the minotaur scouting party after the shepherd had left the women behind would raise a lot of suspicions, and Blyne easily believed that the punishment for interfering with the duel would be lethal. So all she could do was watch, observing the bout of brutality that Xihue had so easily and willingly agreed to. The physical clash surpassed anything that Blyne had believed he could do, even surpassing what she had thought to be humanly possible as well.

For the first time, the young Irda was made to realize how special Xihue actually was. Not because of how foreign he looked compared to any of the other humans that she had met across Ansalon, but due to how far he had been able to hone his martial arts. His physical prowess was a skill that Blyne would have dismissed as brutish, if right then she wasn't made to understand that it was also what protected all of their lives at that very moment. Sluggish and weakened as she was, Blyne was brilliant enough to grasp that the duel must have been a gesture that the minotaurs had made due to the honor that Xihue had insisted they possessed. But no human should have been able to win such a challenge. Only Xihue did so anyways, rising as the last one standing even after he had been brutally gorged. Blyne was in awe. She was too tired to realign everything that she had been convinced of before, but she was greatly relieved that Xihue had emerged as a victor rather than becoming an unwitting martyr. So then I made the right choice...

Watching Xihue's mannerisms after his victory from afar, Blyne got the sense that the outcome of the duel had settled whether the minotaurs would come after their lives. But just as the young Irda wanted to turn to Besimeh for a moment of sharing in their relief with each other, Blyne froze when she saw Talia abandoning the hiding place that she had maintained until then, storming across the sea of sand from more than a dune away as the kender lost all reason in the wake of her own relief. Blyne was dismayed. She noticed that Devari and Zendra also hurried toward Xihue and the empire's scouts, one taking her horse and the other rather walking without it. From Blyne's perspective, they were far too reckless to abandon all caution, and yet there was nothing she could do to correct their thoughtless behavior.

We are harmless merchants and women. Even Talia could be mistaken like that. It would stand to reason that we tried to hide as many as we could. Will they be able to guess that Talia warned us about their arrival? Blyne was tired. She didn't dismount, because bearing down on her ankle would have made thinking even more difficult. Still, her companions were provoking a threat that had not yet been disarmed. They clearly needed the high-ogre's superior mind and guidance. "Besimeh. Let us approach them as well. We must convince them that we are harmless merchants. I... I believe you will be safe. We can deceive them together, you and I." Hoping that Besimeh would not resent how Blyne was treating her, the sorcerous shapeshifter looked to her friend for the two of them to join Xihue and those who had run ahead. She and Besimeh, together.
 
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Old Aug 18th, 2023, 01:22 PM
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Duel of the Fates
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Tegan, crouching in cover, considered the situation. Xihue was moving to engage the minotaurs while half the party took shelter and half the party fled on horseback. He struggled internally if this was an act of cowardice and dismissed the thought. Their horned interceptors would never allow anyone showing patronage to the Knights of Solamnia to pass without bloodshed. By removing himself from the situation, Tegan granted the best chance for protecting his friends.

Yet this logical conclusion did not relieve his mind from the torrential downpour of what-ifs. What if they attacked anyways? What if Tegan needed to be there to protect them? Yet, with discipline gained from a lifetime of following orders, Tegan understood Xi’s need to handle it and treated it as an order to stay out of sight.

What ensued caused Tegan further turmoil, but he was committed to his orders. Xi was dueling one of the minotaurs. It should have been Tegan laying down his life to protect them all, but his presence alone would have likely removed all chances for a one-on-one combat resolution. Even if he wouldn't be a catalyst for destruction, Tegan understood the need for honor. If he were in a similar situation, he would want his companions to trust him. So the warrior did the difficult thing. He stayed. He trusted his companion to solve a problem that he could not, regardless of his desire to intervene.

As he tried to discreetly see what was going on, Tegan found that there was only one thing he could do. Pray. Xihue was standing for all that Kiri-Jolith cared for. In a way, he was a champion of Kiri-Jolith against Sargonnas. His courage stood in the way of Sargonnas’ wrath. Tegan began to pray that Kiri-Jolith would guide the Alan-Atu warriors movements, his agility, and his determination.

With a newfound focus, Tegan found himself on his knees, with the bison horn unexpectedly in his hand, and he silently cried out to Kiri-Jolith for favor. The horn granted him great comfort – a conduit to his god.

Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over. Tegan, with a veiled glance, could see that Xi, deeply wounded, was rising while the minotaur was not. Victory was not without a price, but he had overcome. Others rushed to Xi’s side, but Tegan knew this was only creating more risk. He drew his sword quietly and stayed where he was. His presence would only incite further violence, but if violence broke out, he would be ready to sprint to the battlefield.

For now, he would bide his time, intent on not wasting Xi’s effort.

 
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Old Aug 19th, 2023, 02:30 AM
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Xihue fighting against Torig de-Voros
A strange silence had enveloped the Khurish desert, so heavy and oppressive that it seemed to devour even the faintest of sounds. All that could be heard was Xihue’s soft panting as he laboriously rose from the ground. The minotaurs, who had formed a semicircle around Torig de-Voros’ now unmoving body, seemed too shocked by the result of the duel to act or speak. They merely stared at their broken companion in disbelief.


How was a barbaric human able to best a minotaur warrior?


The answer was clear: it was Sargas’ will. The human truly enjoyed the Destroyer’s favor. Though difficult to understand in this case, Sargas never backed the cowardly or the weak. If the god’s flames burnt fiercely inside the human’s heart, there was a reason for it.


One by one the minotaurs started striking their breastplates with their fists, first slowly, then faster, giving rise to an almost infectious rhythmic sound. Soon a single word was added to the din, a word the imperial scouts shouted with all the might of their powerful throats.


Ghuran! Ghuran! Ghuran! Ghuran!


Champion, Xihue realized. They hailed him just like they would a champion of the arena, impressed by his skill, precision and endurance.


Only one of the minotaurs remained silent, her eyes so angry that they appeared to be on fire. It was the female that had helped the fallen minotaur take off his breastplate, the one who had presented Xihue with her axe and sword. She had had a special connection with the deceased, the human realized. She was his second-in-command or perhaps even more than that. The Alan-Atu approached her and the scouts instantly stopped their chanting, though no one reached for a weapon. The human walked towards Merva es-Arman with his head held high, but there was no threat of violence in his movements. No further bloodshed was required. Sargas had already made his will known.


"What was his name?"


The female minotaur kept staring at him, the tension between the two almost palpable. For a few moments it seemed that Merva plunging her shortsword deeply in his body was just as likely as the minotaur actually replying to his question. But the moment of weakness passed. This was not Sargas’ way, nor that of his favored children.


"Torig de-Voros", she answered and though she tried to keep her voice neutral, there was a hint of pain in the way that she spoke the minotaur’s name.


"He stands before Sargas with his honor unsullied!" The phrase was repeated by the survivors, the minotaurs bowing their heads before the honored dead. Presenting themselves before the Destroyer with their honor intact was all they could hope for to achieve in life. That and the eternal glory only victory in battle could secure. It was the only kind of immortality a minotaur could achieve, his or her name surviving in song and tale as someone who had lived up to Sargas’ expectations.


Zeehue’s women slowly approached their champion, reassured by his victory and trusting the minotaurs to keep their word. First was a kender in Kothiankedir who was quick to hug the human’s leg. The scouts exchanged glances. Did the human truly couple with the kedir? They had heard of such instances, but they refused to believe that such an unnatural union could lead to offspring.


A dark skinned one with a shorn head approached next and offered Zeehue her horse, while a blonde healer was eager to use her skill to ease the human’s pain. Merva es-Arman glared at her when she came closer to Torig’s body. Did she seek to mock him? No healer’s hands could help the minotaur warrior now. Had she come to his aid sooner, he might still have… No. Merva shook her head sadly. Sargas had decreed his fate. One could only accept the god’s decision.


Finally, two Khurish women came to pay their respects to their protector, one of them strikingly beautiful, though she was less passionate in the way that she lauded her mate than the others, choosing to regard him silently rather than offering words of praise.


Five women claimed by a single man. Merva es-Arman scowled. Zeehue was a great warrior. To claim otherwise would be to belittle Torig’s death. But to mate with five females seemed excessive, even barbaric in her eyes. In minotaur society only the Emperor had the right to take many wives and Zeehue of the Alan-Atu was certainly no emperor.


right-aligned image
Torig de-Voros’ greataxe
"The arms and armor of the vanquished", an older minotaur bearing a horrible scar over his muzzle said, "The victor can claim them for his own." With his horned head he indicated Torig de-Voros’ steel breastplate, greataxe, shortsword and light crossbow. The other minotaurs nodded in agreement. It was the victor’s right to strip their fallen opponent’s body of everything of value. Torig had done the same to the Saifhumi captain as testified by the golden earrings he wore. Merva didn’t speak, she merely kept looking at Xihue judgingly. Xihue may claim some or all of Torig’s arms and armor or he may refuse to make use of his rightWhat would the savage human do?


"Enough!" Merva’s angry exclamation made the scouts immediately assume the position of attention. "Swear in Sargas’ name that you will not reveal our presence and leave. May the Destroyer cut up your flesh and brand your souls, if you break your vow."


Waiting for the humans and the kedir to swear in the name of the dark god, Merva es-Arman ordered her scouts to start digging a grave for the fallen minotaur. She would have preferred to have his body devoured by flames or given to the sea he had loved so much, but the minotaurs’ mission came first. They didn’t have the time to return to SilvanestiAmbeon, nor could she afford to seek out Torig’s siblings in SilvanostSargasanti or his mother aboard the Dragon Turtle. His body would have to be entrusted to this barren and hateful land. It was of no importance, she tried to convince herself. His soul was already standing before Sargas’ throne, bathed in the heat of his fiery presence.


"Go!", she ordered the travelers, taking a menacing step towards Xihue. "Pray to the lesser gods who are watching over humans and kedir that we never meet again, Zeehue of the Alan-Atu, or by Sargas I will take revenge for Torig's death as is my right."


With these final words she turned her back to all of them. They were dismissed. Through moist eyes she watched the four scouts digging through the earth. They had no spades, but their hands were so large and their arms so powerful that they made good progress despite the sandy ground. Merva es-Arman made a show of stoically waiting for Torig’s final resting place to be prepared, though in truth her heart and mind resembled an inferno. She wanted to strike at the Khurish earth with her fists and cry out to the heavens in anger. She wanted to wrap her arms around Torig’s body and let her tears fall on his black hide. She wanted to pick up her greataxe, pursue the travelers and cut them to bloody pieces. But all she did was watch in silence. Despite the intense pain she had to tame her heart.


It was the minotaurs’ way.



Calendar12th Day of Aelmont (Winter) 422 AC / 38 SC, Evening to Night

Solinari: 6/36 (Waxing)
Lunitari: 15/28 (High Sanction) - conjunction with Nuitari
Nuitari: 4/8 (High Sanction) - conjunction with Lunitari

Boons/Penalties:
White Robes - | Red Robes +2 spell DC, ADV on spell attack rolls | Black Robes +2 spell DC, ADV on spell attack rolls


 


 


 
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Running Dragons of a Broken World: A Dragonlance (Age of Mortals) 5e DnD campaign
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