Sahlman was bone weary, winded, beaten and filthy. His attitude was eroded to a dangerous level by the events of the evening. When the strange, shadowy man with his feathers and beads materialized to bring down the fleeing thief, the traveller was nearly unable to remain standing. He wished for nothing so much as to be able to fall to the cobblestones and lie there forever. By main force of will, the desert man did not do so. As he would have done while defending his oasis against marauding raiders, he tapped heretofore unknown resources and wiped the streaming sweat from his eyes with the long tail of his kheffiya.
The newcomer's question evoked renewed rage in Sahlman, both at the scurrilous woman who'd been so elusive for the last hour, and at the man in green and brown for so easily accomplishing that which Sahl had been unable to do.
Ziedon was as angry as ever, and hardly glanced at the helpful man who stopped the little thief. Moving forward, and taking care to avoid the thief's kicking legs, Ziedon snatched at her hand, intending to grab the scroll and do away with the pest before him, only to find the hand empty. The scroll was nowhere to be seen. The thought struck Ardith, who was watching Ziedon to see what he was going to do, that the newcomer may himself have been in posession of the scroll.
Ziedon's ire was still infused in him but a voice in the back of his mind sounded an alarm. His thoughts rushed about him like a roaring river around a stiff boulder. He looked upon the thief and let the words that had been on the forefront of his mind spew forth. The necromancer's hands glowed an eerie blue.
Kay stared open-mouthed at the events so quickly passed. As Ziedon's hands began to glow, she grabbed Ardith's left elbow and tried to hide behind the priestess. In the face of the magic, she felt like a little girl, and turned to the priestess who was hardly older than herself.
“Ziedon, no!” Ardith shouted. “We must question her!”
“I am only going to ask once,” Ziedon said, completely ignoring the priestess' words as he lifted his hands and let their glow light up the thief's face. “Where is the scroll and where is the pouch that you stole.” Ziedon's eyes seemed to light up with anger, illuminated by what could only be described as the color of death.
The newcomer struggled with the thief. “No, quick fingers, hold still! You will not be harmed while I hold you.” He then looked at Ziedon, and his eyes opened in awe. His mind whirled as the power of the oft spoken of but never witnessed magic was performed in front of him. “By the Four!” he whispered.
The wolfhound began to bark and growl loudly as he sensed his master's fear. He bared his teeth and the hair bristled along his grey back. The hound looked almost as heavy as its master, and was nearly three feet high at the shoulder.
The thief stopped kicking and stared at Ziedon's hands. “Please don't hurt me!” Ziedon merely pushed his hands closer to the woman's face.
In mid-thought, Sahl realized that Ziedon was preparing to kill the thief. The need for action overrode all other considerations. Even in his blackest thoughts, Sahlman was still able to feel the wrongness of what the mage was ready to do. Without thinking, Sahl exclaimed “No!” and interposed himself between Ziedon and his prey, nearly knocking the spindly mage from his feet in the process. Between heavy breaths, Sahl spoke. “No. It is for the leaders to make the death on this woman. Not you or me, even if Sahlman would be so happy to do it!”
The magic flowed through Ziedon's body and pulsated at his hands. As soon as Sahlman touched Ziedon, the necromancer reflexively released the magic into Sahlman's body. His subconcious mind recognized a threat, and from there, could not be stopped. The warrior flew six feet through the air, as if struck by lightning, and landed on his back. He laid on the ground, barely able to move. “No!” cried Kay. She ran out from behind Ardith to assist the desert man, or to wail at his death.
Ziedon drew back his hood to let his angered skull-like visage be seen by the thief as well as by the rest of the party. He quickly looked over the congregation. “Fool!” he yelled to the much weakened warrior, “do not meddle in such matters; you were lucky this time!” Ziedon pulled his anger at Sahl and the thief into himself, forming it into a tight ball and using it to fuel his already exhausted body. The endless run had brought him to the brink of exhaustion, and his magic had drained him still more.
Galgewe had been unmoving since Ziedon began to recite his incantation. He slowly took a few steps back in the most intense fear he had ever experienced. He had heard Ziedon's fantastic story of his travels, but may not have believed them entirely. The servant of Grenzig had known since birth that magic was real, but there was quite a difference between hearing unverified stories, and seeing the vile look of death on Ziedon's face as his hands glowed with an unnatural light. It was all that Galgewe could manage not to run. Ziedon turned his head sharply and gazed with piercing eyes at the servant. “Be very afraid.”
Ziedon's face twisted into an evil parody as he smiled at the thief. Perhaps seing someone else suffer a fate meant for her was a better punishment than feeling the brunt of Ziedon's anger herself. 'Anticipation of death,' Ziedon thought.
“That is but a taste of what I will do to you … and your soul,” he said to the thief, anger still flowing from his eyes even though they were much darkened. “One last chance – where are the pouch and scroll?” Ziedon's smile grew larger and more obscene as he said, “Please, don't answer me. Give me the excuse.”
The thief was almost in tears from fear. “Don't hurt me! I'll tell you where they are!” She paused for a moment. “Just don't turn me in, and give me money enough for one night room and board.”
There was a buzzing numbness in Sahlman's head as awareness returned, or at least consciousness. Sahl remembered seeing the hateful look on the face of Ziedon, remembered the terrifyingly cold shock of the spell that the mage cast upon him, and must have passed out just after hearing the word “fool” screamed in his direction. He could only have been out for a matter of moments, though, because he came to as the thief was begging the uncontrollable necromancer to spare her life.
Sahl felt much better, though. He'd saved the woman from a maniacal madman, and the short rest could only have done him good as well. By lolling his head to one side, Sahlman was able to view the scene. Ardith, Kay and Galgewe were all cowering, and the woman thief was still held upright by the lanky newcomer, with Ziedon leaning over her like one of the carrion-eating vultures of the desert.
As he lay there, a righteous wrath overcame the warrior. Perhaps it was the subtle gift of some god, or the effect of the magic that was used on him, or perhaps it was the result of a strained mind of an overused body being subjected to that one final, intolerable thing. Sahlman did not think much on it. Not at all, if the truth were known. What Sahl did do, though, was to slowly, painfully, and with tremendous difficulty, climb that long and wearying path to his feet.
Sahlman still felt an unnatural weakness that came near to unnerving him. Once he was standing, Sahl tried to speak, and was greatly surprised when no sound issued forth. He swayed a bit and moistened his mouth, then tried again. “Ziedon,” he croaked, “you are a blasphemy. You are twisted and evil, and Sahlman will not make a part of it.” The warrior looked over at the others, his eyes asking them the question that his mouth could not.
The newcomer's face relaxed a bit, and he smiled in admiration at the warrior who was touched by magic and still had the courage to stand and fight with words. “Well said brother,” he whispered.
Ziedon did not look at Sahl. Instead he kept his attention focused on the thief. He pulled a small stone from his pouch with his right hand, and discreetly took out a coin with his left. “Where are they? Answer me now and I will not add your soul to those I have already collected.” Ziedon held the rock in both hands, deftly placing the stone on top of the coin. His features tightened and he burst into an eerie laughter as the rock took on a warm yellow glow. The thief smiled lightly at the soft glow of the stone, thinking such an object could not possibly hurt her, but remembered the last glowing light produced by this man. Until this day, she had never seen magic of any kind, let alone such an example of the Dark Arts.
Ziedon abruptly cut off his laughter and leaned close to the thief. “Where are they?!”
The thief shuddered with fear and shouted out. “The alley! They're in the alley, near the bar! The first one I ran through. Don't hurt me. Please, all I ask is one day's food and lodging.”
Ziedon straightened his body and quickly deposited the contents of his hands back into their respective pouches. “I shall recover them. Do with her as you will.” He turned his face away from all present, and walked back toward the inn with a satisfied smile on his face.
Sahlman had no energy to stop Ziedon, or to get the items himself, and was genuinely surprised that the other did. In the absence of any ability to stop the mage, Sahl resheathed his ghurka and sat down, content to rest while the others did what they would with the girl.
Ziedon kept walking until he had turned a few corners and was out of the party's sight. He looked back momentarily, and then stopped and placed his back up against a wall, using it to keep him upright. His body began to shake as Ziedon allowed himself to fully understand what he had been about to do, and had been _prepared_ to do.
“Have I fallen so far?” Ziedon asked himself. His actions were influenced by anger, but he had always been able to control his anger in the past. He was frightened at the thought of what he was becoming. Ziedon pulled out the message orb, given to him by his master, and looked down upon it, wondering if he was being influenced, and led down the dark path faster and further than he would normally tread alone.
Ziedon placed the stone back in its pouch and resolved to keep his emotions under control. “I control them; they do not control me,” he thought as he pushed off from the wall.
The newcomer coughed and spat off to one side as if to get rid of a foul taste in his mouth. The demonstration of magic he had just seen was certainly not to his taste. He released the thief, who fell frightened to the ground. “My apologies,” he said to the thief. “I know the feeling of hunger and the desperation that follows.”
He then turned to his dog, who was still barking madly. “Bork! Cease! Sit!”
Ardith was astounded at the turn of events. When she recovered, she looked at Sahlman. “My dear friend, I do not think Ziedon meant to harm you. You merely stepped into harm's way. I doubt he could have held back the spell.”
“He meant harm to me. This I saw in his eyes. No matter. This is not what gives Sahlman the bad guts. It was as if he … enjoyed causing the pain in Sahlman. It was some unholy light shining in his eyes. Sahlman will never forget.” The foreigner looked up at the priestess, his face pasty from exhaustion. “Arditta, if the mahjyk is so important, Sahlman understands. It is not so far back to the desert.”
Ardith paused to think. Indeed, Ziedon seemed to have changed. He was never a person to trust, yet in the beginning he seemed good, despite his detachment and aloofness. Since his trip “beyond,” however, he had become even more detached and – somehow abstracted.
“Sahl,” she said at last. “It may be that Ziedon has been taken by the dark side of his magic. If so, all the more important that those of us who know him – as well as anyone can – stay together and fight whatever evil has taken hold of him, if that is what has happened.”
She regarded Sahlman steadily. “Sahl, do you trust me? Trust Kay? That we wish to unravel the Gordian knot of these plots and bring forth Truth? If you do not, leave us in peace, and go with Andritha's protection. If you do, stay with us. We can use your strong arm and bright thoughts.
“It is your life. Use it as best fits your own dreams. Know, however, that we – need you.”
The words of Ardith disturbed Sahl greatly. On one side, he was faced with what he was certain was an evil – something to be combated. On the other, though, he was forced to answer to his secret affection for the young priestess.
What if Ziedon were to do something to her, or to Kay or Galgewe? Thinking this, Sahlman hung his head, shame bringing the color back into his cheeks. If those things were to happen, Sahl knew that the outcome would be a hundred times worse if he were not there to counter the mage; if he were to scamper back to the desert.
Ardith turned her face away from the gaze of the desert man to the attention of the thief. “If indeed you have told the truth, and our strange companion does recover our property where you have told us, then we will not harm you. You will come with us back to the inn, where we will see if you have spoken the truth. I am a priestess of Andritha. If you have told the truth, I will give you what you asked, in the name of Andritha the Mother, whose feast is the day after tomorrow.”
The rugged, prematurely aged face of Sahlman had an odd expression on it as he looked back up to where Ardith was dealing with the criminal. “Yes,” he said. When a puzzled Ardith glanced at him, Sahl said the word again, “Yes. I do trust you.”
All: Well, I suggested last turn that this one would be better, but I didn't expect this! I consider this the best turn so far, and no thanks to me. I added almost nothing to this one. Effortless perfection - I like that. :) Not only that, but the entire turn took only a week! Thanks for your quick responses, everyone!
I'd like to take some space here to compliment Shaun and Alex on their great role-playing. Both players sacrificed something to stay in character. Also, I thank Ardith for keeping the group together. You all helped to make this (IMHO) the best turn to date.
You may wonder why some of the most recent turn responses are not included in this turn. I was reading through the turn, and it looked like I was letting it go on for too long. This turn is clearly about Ziedon and Sahlman, and the additional parts just took away from that plot. Following this message, I'll send the beginning of turn 21.
There is an updated copy of the Rules Supplement on my web page. There is also a World Supplement, that has some information about races, moons, and other information about the world. A lot of what's in the World Supplement was previously in the Rules Supplement.
Ardith: Your fall holiday is in two days, on 9/1, the middle of fall.
Hit points: Sahlman: 10/14
Interesting… Sahlman and Ziedon get experience for breaking up the group, and Ardith gets it for keeping the group together. :)
Ardith - you raised a level. You get 3HP, bringing you up to 12.