The hollowed rock where Josi told the motley group to meet had a smell of dry earth where no air would dare circulate without the motivation of sharp wind. Thieves would meet here for centuries to divide the spoils of their conquests and congregate for merrymaking, but now the Dagger of the Dunes owned it as a store house. The three gnolls felt like the property of Josi now, among glimmering trinkets and shimmering treasure acquired by her gang.
The fourth gnoll who was now sitting with them, was a pilgrim deciple of the Raven Queen named Zkath Ram’nahs. He held a massive hammer carrying the likeness of a crows beak on the sharp end and a mural of the Raven Queen on the flat, smashing end. He had simple regalia of the traditional Ohnayga priest. He saved the group while in transit to the rock from a roving band of zombies, through unleashing his holy wrath. He said that he was amazed that zombies where this far east and figured to stick with the group for their safety, but he was actually thankful to find some kinsmen that where not ravening wild-eyed marauders.
The lithe figure of Jossie appeared at the doorway. “Well, what a rush,” she breathed “Good to see my favorite scoundrels still alive.” As Illijaz’ eyes lit up with the prospect of her first step to the road to being a hired assassin, Yyxles face twisted to a shape of unadulterated fury for he valued his position in their society, which was now sullied to his status as a known and infamous wizard.
“Well it’s a miracle we still draw breath. I’ve risked my neck for an angsting has-been, and for what? I’m public enemy number one! The ganglords will have my neck…”
“Yes, your precious little neck. You’re always so good at looking out for number one aren’t you? It wasn’t my fault Skex was there, it wasn’t my fault it wasn’t in and out like planed.” Jossie said with apathetic breeze, picking dirt out from under her perfectly manicured nails.
It occurred to Yyxle that everything that Jossie did and said was deliberate, that everything she said would be taken by others the way she meant it to be. That everything was her doing,
even if she said it wasn’t. It was even her will that he make this revelation. With Jossie, there are no accidents.
“It has come to my attention, that there is a person within the walls of Hkokor, whom is willing to fix all of your problems, and make you very rich…” Jossie paused, looked from the hulking White Skarr to the comparatively petite Illijaz. “people.”
“What a day.” Illijaz thought was starting to reconsider he career choice. She thought maybe she could get a job with a caravan, working at a bazaar, or even marry a wealthy merchant and live a somewhat simple life, like what society viewed women. But then again, she didn’t give a damn about what society saw as what a woman should be. But this could be a bit to much. She was being smuggled into the city like some contraband drug. She was under a tarp with the other two fugitive gnolls, into the city where they would face the death penalty. The small (relatively)
spotted one was shaking nervously, eyes twitching tail whipping back and fourth, while the larger one was calm and collect, lying still on the cart on the verge of sleep. “Great warrior my ass.” she thought.
The cart was being pulled by the large, grey-furred priest, who was being led by a very enthusiastic Jossie, happy to collect the “finders fee” she was singing to herself about. The cart would bump and weave, the nervous chatter of the citizens of Hkokor could be heard whispering about savage killers loose as armored guards rushed here and there looking for signs of escape. Even from under the tarp, Illijaz could smell the roasting food from the various merchants intermingled with the dung of various beasts of burden.
Eventually they came to the upper class part of the city, with low hanging gardens, rough fabrics with vibrant dyes to create a myriad of shaded effects cast on the ground. Though the streets where almost vacant, the group got more than a few confused looks, but no matter, they where almost at their destination.
They came to a massive palace, that when seen from inside its high gate seemed it might encompass the entirety of the city in its size. Illijaz hadn’t seen anything like it. How could anyone afford to live in a hollow mountain of brick and stone like this? When the four gnolls
got to the door accompanied by Jossie, who knocked in a rhythmic pattern that might have been a code or just Jossie being Jossie, where met with a well dressed servant who was so shocked to see four mounds of furry flesh and muscle bristling with weapons and armour, that he dropped his plate carrying some food or another. “We’ll just let ourselves in. Your master wants to see us anyway.” The astonished servant blew to the side like a saloon door with the look of shocked death on his face. The priest came in glancing toward the sky first, with the largest one blinking several times, and then stammering inside, for he had never been allowed in anything that didn’t contain shackles. The spotted one looked at the shattered porcelain and smeared food on the floor and casually informed the servant “You should clean this up you know.” before galloping along after the others with a smirk on his muzzle. Illijaz did a crude curtsy and said “Sorry” before catching up with the others.
She had never seen a place this big. The entrance parlor alone was three times the size of The Stumbling Camel. The furnishings where made of drift wood from the southern sea, and beautiful and vibrant plants from the north mountains in eloquently detailed pottery. Before she could see anymore of the house, they where led down a secret passage from behind the crawlspace under the double stairs. The passage held cold stone steps as the scent of a tomb creeped up from the dark depth, it seemed like it would go down into infinity, to the darkest depths. After what seemed like half a mile of hiking down the vault stairs, they saw a small candle light in a chilly room. When they entered they saw a chamber of books, towering high and far, so many books that they didn’t know what the walls looked like, only that the roof was low hanging for a gnoll and had very small stalactites of where the paint had dripped down while being dried.
At the edge of the hall, there sat a desk with an open book and an unoccupied chair. The glow
came from a candle entering its twilight as it had grown short and melted into a puddle of
liquid bone white colored wax. “Strange,” thought Illijaz “It’s as if the light was meant for us. The book is too far away from its fixed position on the opposite side of the room.”. She noticed this because of her training that earned her the back of her torso armour, The Test of The Paranoid, which taught to always suspect danger. But no amount of training could have prepared her to know there was a cloaked man behind her until he said “Greetings friends”.
To this the four gnolls and even Jossie turned to such a fright, that it rivaled that of the poor, unfortunate door man. He was in elegant yet simple robes with a hood which he did not wear now. On his left hand he had a sigil ring depicting a coiling serpentine beast. He was bald with dark, almost black eyes and skin so pale if could pass for sculpted dust. Although not a wrinkle beset his face, you could tell his years where upon him. Despite his somewhat frighting appearance he held a smile and seemed rather pleasant. Upon recognizing him, Jossie shifted from being startled to pleased, bowing graciously to greet her host.
“You might not know me, but I certainly know you all. You are all fitted to an expedition I’m
setting up, should you choose to accept, that will make you rich beyond all imagining.” Said
the Pale Man in a soft tone, one step above whispering. “There is an item of great worth to me, it lies in the ruins several clicks south east of Bast.”
To the uttering of the last word, Illijaz herd Yyxle utter a small cry, as all blood and courage drained from his face, and his knees began to buckle as the now shatered gnoll started slowly to edge out of the room. Illijaz thought “Not a moment ago this brash young boar was leting loose boastfull talks that had real merrit, as of just yesterday, he dove headfirst into an arena with a bloodthirsty beast to save another he didn’t even know. Now he’s gelatin. Where
is this Bast? What is it? By the Dark Maiden, do I even want to know?”
“Master Sorcerer, what makes you fret so?” the Pale Man weezed. “Four champions of such mastery and glamerous majesty such as yourselves. Nothing can stand in the way of the Gods of Battle.”
Yyxles face scrunched into the expresion of scepticism. “Look, I’m flatered, we all are but we are no gods. We are a slave, a savage, an atorney and…” glancing over to the grey pilgrim
he blinked twice and thought before stamering, “and a whatever. No mortal could trumph the horrors that skitter, glide and stalk there. Bask is Abyss on Eaden. I’d face the cold stockades before what madness awaits us there.” The Pale Man stroaked this chin and thought for a second. “Ah, so you knew that going there is a death sentence.” Illijaz said with contempt, thinking to herself that for once, the cynisism of another has saved her life and that she can just leave right now and get on with her life. But what would that mean? To pop kegs and serve mugs of thick caustic ale to whiskered slobs, pawwing her with their sleazed gaze? No.
“I’m in.” said she, turning to The White Skarr, knowing that he owes her his life. The large gnoll grunted and nodded his head, as the grey pilgrim agreed to acompany them, as it was part of his pilgrimage to vanquish evil where he could find it. “I could make all your problems vanish, all those who witnessed your talents will forget it even happened. Not to mention the enormous sum that I am prepared to pay you, complete with more than humble lodgings within Hkokor” the pale man assured the spotted gnoll. Yyxle looked at his companions. Without them to protect him, he would be at the mercy of bounty hunters, and without his help, they would be in worse danger than ever. “I will come along on one condition…” he said as a look of overconfidence came over his face, “that I am named leader of this expedition.” giving a vain smirk of conceit.
As the pack of gnolls, under the title “The Cipped Fang Adventure Guild”, to avoid suspision. The pale man told them little of their goal. All they know, is that it lies in a tomb, in the ruined city of Nifas. He said that they would know it when they see it.
They purchased five camels that held enough food for ten days of travel, and Yyxle’s implements of navigation. The gnolls adopted clothing suitable for traversing the searing heat of the dune sea. The fist day of travel was fairly uneventful, as they only touched the outside of the desert. When they rested for camp, Zkath began his prayer as he always did when the sun first touched the horizon, and Illijaz would sneak extra rations of wine, and Yyxle would teach Khomag how to read and write Wayhnee, the common script.
The next day a sandstorm of strange behavior whipped up, instead of going west, further away from the grasslands, it followed them south, and slowest down, and sped up according, staying just behind them, which worried them. When they made camp on the second day, Khomag kept whatch and just as he was about to doze off to sleep, he herd a blood curdling moan as one of the camels is lifted thirty feet in the air as a sandy gust of wind spirits it into the churning, wall of billowing sand, where crunching of bone and tearing of flesh could be heard, beyond what the eye could see.
The next morning, while the group was traveling, another cammel was dragged away, this time, by a tendril of sand, as if the thing that had been stalking them had grown stronger. They now had only six days of five days of food left and where one day from their destination, and knew they couldn’t afford to lose one more camel. “We must meet this unholy thing on its ground” suggested Zkath, twirling his mace, ready for action. “And end up like one of those beasts? The thing is made of sand and wind I recon, and that wall is sand and wind. It’s suicide to rush in, knives glinting.” Illijaz pointed. They looked to Khomag, who shrugged and said “let’s bring the bastard to us.”
Yyxle clenched his fist and shot a triffle of energy into the wall, as it groaned and condenced into a semi-humanoid form, with its legs blending into the sand floor, like a tree trunk. The thing had claws that seemed to drip with chunks of bloody sand. It was a sand horror, a malevolent spirit that haunted ground where significant amounts of bloodshed happened. The thing snarled and howled like a ravenous beast, thirsting for death.
Illijaz led the attack,tossing shurikens that where immediately shot back as the thing consumed them into it’s body. She narrowly dodged them, bewildered. Khomag stepped up, swinging his massive flail at the monster, splitting it in half, only to condense behind him, pushing him off his feet, and on his face. Yyxle tackled the gritty mass out of panic, and was grabed and thrown by a fist of salt, landing next to Khomag, half concous. Zkath whispered a holy prayer, illuminating his maul with holy energy, taking a mighty swing at the creature with a valiant roar, but only for his hammer to pass harmlessly through it. The sand spirit spit some dirt in his face, filling his mouth and eyes.
Yyxle climbed to his feet, filled with hate for the thing. It was toting with them. “Enough.” he muttered as he shot a lance of fire down the center of the monster, turning the sand shot with white hot fire to glass, malformed and amorphous. Khomag whitnessing this, jumped upon it, slicing at the glassy pillar in the center of the monster to shards with the razor tips of his shield. The thing wheelies as half of its body mass lay beyond it’s control, in an unmanageable form. Illijaz tossed her long noose round the things flailing arm and with a firm tug, ripped it from the main mass. The writhing thing, now struggling to keep it’s shape,trying to drag itself away, only to look upon the grey pilgrims feet. As the thing looked up in terror, as the golden meteor of his hammer rocketed down onto it’s head, and was finally obliterated.