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Sage of the Exiles - episode 5

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 6 months ago

”Come princeling”, spake King Zarothura, “raise thy sword. Or do you fear to cross your sword with that of a true man?” There was a flash of silver and a clash of blades. A pause. The King stepped back and gave his sword hand a rueful look. Blood dripped from where his thumb had been trapped against his opponent’s pommel. Then he threw back his head and roared with laughter. “Ahhh, Prince Xavier. How quickly you grow. Soon you will take your rightful place at the head of my armies and how the world will quiver at the sight of two warriors such as us riding down upon them.”

 

A pitiful line of slaves marched across the desert. Many fell beneath the whip of the slave master, Orafa, and were left to die upon the parched sand. For days they travelled without pause, without food and with only enough water to keep the strongest of them alive.

 

At last, on the third day of travel, a halt was called and the slaves slumped to the ground in exhaustion. Few eyes were lifted to see what had caused the slave master to grant them such precious rest. Those that did raise their heads saw Orafa and another slave driver ride ahead to meet a man who seemed to be waiting for them on the dry and dusty plain.

 

As Orafa and the stranger talked, Xavier – once a prince of Ophir and now simply a battered piece of human flesh destined for the slave markets of Zamora or Stygia – saw movement behind a dune. Suddenly, the guard standing next to him collapsed to the ground with a spear through his chest. In the next moment the air was full of war-cries, screams and flying javelins. Hundreds of lightly dressed savages leapt from the dunes and charged at the startled guards and their captives. Thinking quickly, Prince Xavier’s comrade Nesh-ar’ebra stooped and grabbed keys from the fallen guard. He set himself and his comrades free and then began freeing other slaves. In horror he and his companions watched as the savages finished off the last of the guards and began butchering those slaves held in place by their manacles.

 

While Nesh-ar’ebra and his friends Baron Arlus, Ultimius, Dargog and Husam-al'Karim helped free what slaves they could, Prince Xavier tried to buy them time by mounting a stolen horse and charging into the savages. His attack allowed a few more slaves time to slip away, including the merchant Artelios and his guide Kophthetu who had accompanied the companions into this arid land. Artelios, Kophethu, Dargog, Baron Arlus and Ultimius managed to snatch up a few precious waterskins and weapons before they called to Prince Xavier and began to flee the slaughter together.

 

In the heat of the noonday sun the companions jogged across the dunes. It took some hours before the screams still rising from the site of the massacre faded into the distance. The party travelled east, towards lands that maps had marked as lush and fertile. Nesh-ar’ebra and Husam-al'Karim separated from the party at one point, covering their companions’ tracks and leaving a false trail some miles in the wrong direction to mislead any pursuers. So effective were they in covering the tracks, that it was only through Nesh-ar’ebra’s magicks that they were able to rejoin their companions.

 

After two days the companions were forced to slay the horse Prince Xavier had taken from their captors. By the third day water was running low. Then, at last, they left the desert. To their horror, however, the land on the other side was barren and drought-stricken. A poor village was spotted, its people thin and weak. However, at the sight of the strangers these villagers threw off their hunger and thirst. Cries of “die foreign filth” filled the sky as the travellers were set upon. Great slaughter did the companions make. Killing all who came against them and then seeking out those who tried to flee. Dargog in particular was in no mood for dispensing mercy.

 

Once the voices of the villagers had been silenced, the tired companions drew muddy water from the village well and took what blankets and weapons they could find. Then they left the village and its people to the jackals and hyenas.

 

The next day the companions came to another village. Sharp eyes spotted that the people in this wore different markings to those in the previous village. A cautious approach was made and a villager raised his arm in a peaceful gesture of welcome. The companions entered the village and were given water and what little food the villagers could spare. Rough communication was established with the villagers and the companions learnt that some of the people of this land, the Yaraba, blamed the drought on the presence of foreigners and sought to appease the “Orisha” by killing all that they could find. The people of this village, who were of the Adja, blamed their leaders and had demanded that royal blood be spilt to appease the Orisha.

 

Artelios the merchant told the travellers that their journey had bought them close to the ancient temple marked on his map. He promised that great treasure was to be found.

 

The companions moved on, relying on the memory of Artelios and Kophthetu to lead them towards the temple. They were beset by hyenas and came across a bloodied battlefield. They crossed arid lands and narrowly avoided a stampede of water buffalo near a mosquito infested water-hole.

 

Almost a week had passed since the attack upon the slave caravan, and still the companions travelled east – further from their homes and from civilisation.

 

On the seventh day of travel a lone figure was seen in the distance ahead. The travellers watched her stumble and fall. Ultimius rushed to her side and put a water-skin to parched lips. Eyelids fluttered and then opened to reveal young and beautiful eyes. Once she had recovered, the traveller revealed herself to be a princess of the Adja, Erisha by name. Erisha said that she travelled to the ancient temple of Olorun to sacrifice herself and appease the Orisha. Erisha claimed with pride that her youth, royal blood and purity would make her the finest of sacrifices.

 

With some surprise Prince Xavier and Erisha realised that they sought the same temple. Erisha, aware that she was not capable of making it to the temple alone, offered to lead the adventurers there in exchange for their assistance. Prince Xavier accepted her offer with royal grace.

 

That day the last of the water ran out.

 

It was with blessed relief that the travellers came to a river the next day. Although brown and sluggish, the water tasted like the finest of wine to the weary companions. With their water-skins refilled, they crossed the river and moved into the foothills of a mountain range. Erisha said that the path to the temple was not far.

 

Nesh-ar’ebra and Husam-al'Karim spotted marks upon the ground. Others had been past recently. Three men and a horse by the markings. And they were close. Nesh-ar’ebra conducted an augury and determined that one of the men was Orafa, the slave master and that he carried Artelios’ treasure map.

 

Weapons were drawn and the party increased their speed to intercept Orafa. Ground was eaten up quickly and in minutes the travellers came across the slave master and his companions. On seeing the former slaves, Orafa drew two great Ghanata knives and advanced with one of his companions alongside. The third of the travellers, a man dressed in Zamoran silks, drew a long, slim blade but remained at a distance.

 

Orafa and his sidekick met the companions with a crash of arms. Orafa’s powerful muscles dripped sweat as he carved about him with brutal strokes. Prince Xavier fell unconscious before him and Ultimius was pressed backwards before the power of the Tibu warrior. Then Dargog, lightly stepped to one side of the advancing Orafa and, with both hands, thrust his broadsword under the ribs and into the slave master’s vital organs. Ultimius dealt with his companion as he tried to flee.

 

The companions turned to the Zamoran who claimed to be nothing more than a merchant. As he was questioned Nesh-ar’ebra took the unconscious body of Orafa to one side and began to perform some kind of occult ceremony. His companions shivered at the voices and cries that filled the air just a few feet away from the site they had chosen for their camp. The sounds filled the night and few of the companions managed much sleep. When dawn came, the cries died away and Nesh-ar’ebra returned to camp with a sour grin upon his lips and the smell of burning metal upon his clothes.

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