What Hazkiyahu Found at the Crescent Oasis
By CP Debugger
<h3>Chapter one: A little background or Seno's story</h3>
What indeed did old Malakai Hazkiyahu found in that forsaken place? Better question is what was he doing there in the first place? It has been known for years that no Water nor trees or even Grass ever grew there, having been grazed to oblivion by wild Herders or leeched to death by some defiler (Pick one of the above and cross the other). Well maybe the key to the question is not the what, but the how, and the whom. How did he got there and who had sponsored the strange exploration. A very few know the true answer of the secret. Hazkiyahu is of course one of them, but the last time I saw my old friend he was in no position for a chit chat. In fact, he wasn’t in the position of doing nothing much, which is quite normal for a dead stiff. There is Miriam Hazkiyahu, Malakai’s older sister, but it’s easier to find an honest Elf than to find Miriam this days. <p>So if talking to the dead isn’t your cup of Kank Honey, I’ll suggest you listen carefully to my tale. </p><p>Athasian tales usually begin with the Blazing sun above one’s head and perspiration that pours from forehead, chin and bodey. My tales never start like that. I like sitting in the shade. Better again, with a large skin of water at my side so I could take a swig whenever I feel the whim. That’s where I am right now, positioned in a secured cool place beneath the Howdah roof. The Howdah itself is swinging dreamily at the top of the Kantinyaki styled wagon pulled by a couple of house Shom’s strongest Mekillots. Here I’m perched with a nice hot breeze of the desert on my ugly face, happy I’m not one of the poor wretches occupying the levels below. Content with the privileges of being a caravan Master I’m surveying the endless sea of golden sand and the endless tracks left by our two wagons, looking very much like enormous snakes going on forever and ever, I cant help but to sink into one of my favorite daydreams. My dream takes me to the future, of times to come and of riches to be found. My imagination is quite good when it comes to material wealth, I imagine that the gold dunes are in fact made of gold which belongs to non other than my humble self. I see the grains of sand as numerous gold coins, my greedy bottom sitting at the top of the pile, and I’m counting myself to oblivion. I believe that this Idle non practical habit comes from my mother Elven side of the family, but I don’t really have nothing to compare too, since I never met my old man. Times have not always been so comfy, for me. I have tolled hard for to gain the reputation I now hold (well maybe not so hard since I always shunned tedious work). </p><p>Let me Introduce myself, I am known as Handsome Seno or Seno of the Dunes. My first name is a sham since I’m not really beautiful or even remotely attractive. I mean I should have been since I inherited my mother’s Hazel eyes and good looks (which is the maybe the only thing I inherited from the bitch), except that two scars running vertically at both sides of my face somewhat ruins the picture. My second name comes from being the best Caravan Master running the Tyr region. Well maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but exaggerating has always been a part of me and it’s good for business anyway. Caravan master life is not simple, I have to excel in many fields. I know the best Routs, I can navigate them with my eyes closed. I know the best places to camp how to get there, and most important how to get there safely. I know How to tend animals and men. I know the push and the pull. When and how to press the men to their limits and when to let go. I know how to organize and how to plan ahead. I can find water in the salt flats of the desert or in the Barren dunes. I know how to win a battle and more important, I know how to avoid it. My master and tutor for twenty years was the famous Golan Yahbas, whom I am honored to call a colleague and a friend. A harsh master much like the desert he loved, Golan taught me the tricks and the pulls of the trade. But I’m getting ahead of myself. </p><p>I was born to the running silver Elven tribe of the Athasian desert. My coming to exist is shrouded in uncertainty. Being part elf part human I can’t tell if my creation was an act of passion, violence or Financial benefit. The only thing I am sure of, is that my pregnancy was unplanned and unwanted. </p><p>My mother called me Seno which translates in the language of the desert runners to “One with a sturdy build”. I reckon my physical traits inherited from my father, distinguished me at an early age from the rest of the tribe. Soon as I was big enough though, it became obvious I am not fit for as the saying goes “running with the runners”. I was not able to keep up the pace of younglings half my age to say the least I would never be able to run the proper distance the adults were used to. My tribe, who was more tolerant of Half-Breeds as desert runners go, drew the line at that point. The next stop we had in Nibenay, my sweet mom sold me to the small merchant house of Artioch. That’s the last I ever seen or heard of her (so much for motherly love). My next ten years were spent preparing for my next career, a Gladiator. You see, I got agility from my mother side and strength and stamina from my father. I stand over six ft tall and have enormous set of shoulders, including my two intimidating scars you can imagine the lovely picture. </p><p>My new master taking one look at me thought he had just bought the perfect next champion for the Nibenay’s arena. In the Gladiators school I have learned the use of weapons of the deadliest kind. A coward at the core, I have soon found out that my favorites weapons were those used from a long distance (the longest the better). Irony was I have come to excel in the long bow used by the nomad Elven tribes. Even today I can hit a Kank Eye from a hundred yards (remember exaggerating is in my soul). By all accounts, it looked like I had a great future in the arena. Those days I was really Handsome it was a deadly combination that went hand in hand with young and cocky, and the prospect of championship looked secure than ever . I became a part of a team, of Gladiators prepared to fight at special occasions. My partner was Jasaika, a strong Mul (May the desert rest her sweet soul), who taught me everything, from attacking to defending to love making. </p><p>My first match at the arena has also been my last. Although the team sent to do us battle was a pair of veterans, we were the crowed favorites. The bets had at some point reached six to one in our favor (twenty to one in the illegal market). To my surprise, and to the crowd dismay, it took twenty seconds for Jasaika to lay dying in her own pool of blood and vomit, and two more seconds for me to find myself weaponless, on the ground, chocking at the heavy foot on my neck, waiting for the strike that never came. It was only an amazing stroke of luck (I always had more than a fair share of luck), the Templar in-charge of the games that day felt quiet generous. Maybe the fact that he have just won a hefty sum gambling against us at twenty to one have helped to better his attitude. Anyway, he gave the thumbs up despite the crowd loud boo’s and shouts of a foul play. Before removing her smelly foot from my neck, the Mul standing over me gave me a farewell gift, she reached out and slashed me twice on both sides of my face. </p><p>As she leaned down, through the searing pain I could hear her whisper sweetly, “never play unless you sure of the rules”. </p><p>As I slowly got up and limped away not bothering even to dodge the dung thrown from the stadium high seats I took a last glimpse at my beloved Jasaika, swearing I would never end up like that. “Never play unless you sure of the rules”, the first and last battle in the arena I participated not from the viewers stand was rigged. My master and the Templar in charge of the games have pulled together a sting. </p><p> “Never play unless you know the rules” I never forget the lesson, I have my scars to remind me. </p><p>I ran away into the desert that same night killing three men in the process one of them a Templar. I had little on me and little hope for survival but staying would have meant sure death. Sooner or later one of the spectators having bet on me would have come for a payback. I wondered in the desert for almost a month. By all means I should have died, but then again my extraordinary luck saved me yet again. I found out I could locate water easily just by concentrating, I also found I could navigate to and from known locations using some wild mind talent that was hidden inside me and was awakened now to the call of the desert and my own dire needs. </p><p>Adopting the habits of a hermit I lived for the day, the prospect of tomorrow did not exist. The next time when I encountered “intelligent” life was when a band of Mantis People caught me, almost six month after I have settled down. I was to become main course of the night (Mantis men are known for their love of Elven flesh), but yet again luck intervened on my behalf. The band was traveling with my future master Golan Yahbas. He was famous and respected amongst the desert people even then. I can’t tell what potential he really saw in me being in the state I was that fateful day. But Golan was gifted by special eye sight. For him, normal people were like a glass, he could read them with the clarity one reads a book. A deal was struck and I traded the role of being part of a Mantis Man digestive system with the life of a slave, yet again. At the age of sixteen, my real education has only just begun. </p><p>Golan shared with me all the knowledge he has mastered through his forty or so years. He taught me the skill of surviving the desert, of hunting, finding water and shade, of handling beasts and foraging. He taught me of the tribes the people and their cultures. He taught me of the caravans, of the outs and the navigation. All the knowledge and then add some, one needs to become master of the trade. You might get the wrong impression at this point that Golan was a creature of the desert. I mean you would be right to some extent, but he was also master of the cities underworld. He knew all the names the who and the how’s. He knew whom to bribe and how much to spend. He knew how to squeeze a silver coin to its limits. He had a band of smugglers working for him all over the Tablelands and beyond. Shady people, dealers of illegal materials in every city. This small crime empire was a major part of what I called “My new life”. Golan tutored me the rules of life under the shadows, and although he used me not once and not twice (forcing me to take extreme risks), I have nothing but gratitude for his education. Last and most important of all, Golan taught me to think, how to take full advantage of the gray stuff between my pointy ears. He educated me in the forbidden skill of reading and writing, he instructed me in the way of the Mind benders (for which I had showed only limited skill), and in languages I did not even know to exist. </p><p>Nobody really can elucidate why he chose me. For all his years as a major player in the Tyr region he had never been known to take an apprentice. Some people thought he took me as a lover, though I can assure you his carnal interests have been elsewhere. A friend of mine once opinioned that Golan saw me maybe as the son he never had. If Golan ever thought of me as a son, he had a strange way of showing it. The truth is that imagining the man with a family is not a pleasant thought. Knowing him he would have sold his wife for slavery, his daughters for whores and his sons to the Halfling stewpot if he would have seen ceramic coins in it. No, Golan wouldn’t recognize kindness, if it kicked his bottom in broad daylight. The only theory I keep about the man is not to try and attach him any theories of any kind as none will stick. He will always remain an individualist, a free spirit of the desert, and enigma even to me, whom have been his shadow for almost twenty years. This is how I got my third name, “Golan’s shadow” which I still carry with pride even after having made a reputation on account of myself. </p><p>After twenty years or so, Golan decided he have accumulated enough wealth and simply disappeared from the face of the Athas. His empire crumbled with the man departure. He took everything he owned (and some stuff he didn’t) with him, when he left. I have found myself at the end of our relationship with the exact amount of possessions I had at it’s beginning. But there was a great difference, I was now equipped with skills to deal with my new situation and I had at last what was taken from me so many years ago. I had my freedom back. </p><p>I started working as a freelance, hiring myself with the merchant houses of the Tyr region, building a reputation, first as a guide and then went up the ladder (double meaning) I became a caravan master and captain for hire. All this time I kept my old connections with the underworld, doing nice profits on the side. Nothing on the scale of Golan’s network, but nice profits nonetheless. Even now as I ride the Howdah looking at the golden sand rolling steadily beneath the wagon wheels, I smile as I think of the stashed Matela weeds I have resting comfortably in the lower deck hold. Matela being highly addictive and the new rage in Urik (for that is our destination). I am familiar with quite a few dealers, more than willing to make the purchase. Knowing that some Aristo is going to blow his mind using my contraband is just an added bonus. I have a fourth name as well, some people call me “Seno black heart”. They don’t know half of it. </p>
<h3>Chapter Two: What happened on the way from Balic</h3>
The profit from the Matela should be more than enough to compensate for the current messed up trip. And that's Messed up with a capital M.
Things have gone down the dune since day one. It began before we even started when my contractors, the merchant house of Shom, forced me to add Odieve and Faday of Shom to the Caravan. As a senior house member, Odieve has managed to push herself into a position of the Caravan Master thus lowering me to the status of Captain in-charge of security and the Caravan welfare. I would retain all my usual duties but Odieve will be able to Veto any of my decisions. If this would have been a regular situation I would have cancelled the contract immediately, I like being my own boss, having a superior authority makes me sour, Especially if that Authority is a city goof, and especially if the involving party is Odieve, whom can make a Kank go crazy on one of her good days. But as you might expect, this was not a regular contract. First there was my reputation to keep. Next the Matela price in Urik was at its pick. A Templar named Talok decided, the illegal weed trade was shriveling his share of Rounge Cacti Dust business (another addictive drug that causes strong hallucinations). Thus he declared a campaign for rooting out the weed trade. This has made the Matela price in Urik jump to its pick. knowing after such a rise, there will be a downfall of prices, I needed to get rid of the stuff as soon as I possible. There were other important reasons for my being on the caravan, but Ill keep those reasons for myself for the time being.
From the moment we hit the road, Odieve have been true to her reputation. She waged a war of command with me for every decision I've made, and when she was not picking on me, she was annoying everyone else. When a tortoise man managed to sneak in one night and drag a screaming guard out to the desert, she insisted we go next morning and hunt the brute, claiming that the tortoise man hide will be more then a just compensation for the lost man. I have tried to explain to her that the lost time is not worth the chance of obtaining a Tortoise shell plus the fact that one does not just go and hunt the tortoise man, since there is always an option with those monstrosities that the hunter and the would be quarry might switch positions. All my pleas fell on deaf ears, even as I explained her that the Tortoise man (Sometimes called Braxat) has now eaten and would probably leave us alone if kept undisturbed. As we found out later morning, when I led a group of fifty mercenaries for the hunt, we were not dealing with a single beast, but with a mating pair. We managed to kill one. The remaining Tortoise managed to escape with more than twenty arrows sticking out of it's back (A real shame since they all were Metal headed).
We have lost another good man to the attack, also my second in command Happy Jevad got his right leg shredded, and we had to move him back to camp in an improvised sledge (not a small feat since Jevad is a Giant Half Breed). All in all, two dead men and one injured against a Tortoise man is not bad trade at all. I thought that the Tortoise man event was the end of my arguments with Odieve and that from now on she would let things run the way I want them. To my amazement I miscalculated her by far, as if the incident only served to invigorate her, she started bossing me around in front of my men, trying to prove superiority at every chance. Lucky for me most of the Key agents of house Shom on this particular caravan knew me as they have worked with me before, so the damage was minimal, but nonetheless It caused me no small amount of headache. Her last accomplishment was two weeks after the journey begun. She managed to banish the Howling Tembo mercenary company thus depriving us from our entire Inix riders escort. Kiligan Brown, the leader of the Tembos, just took out a sack containing the company's advance payment, threw it at Odieve's feet and walked away, taking no heed of her curses and threats. "I promise the only contract you'll get, will be shuffling Inix dung at the stables". "No house will hire you after they find out about this". She was right of course to some extent, but every man has his Red lines, Odieve just had the talent for stepping over them.
And so it became that Next morning greeted us with half the force of soldiers, acceptable for defending such a large Caravan. What was more worrying, was that all were foot soldiers with limited mobility. In fact, two thirds of them were slave warriors of house of Shom which meant less than average quality. Considering the fact we still had almost a week of hard ride I had every reason to be worried, but things being the way they are and I being who I am (professional procrastinator) meant that I left worries to times when troubles will arise. Thus that fateful morning caught me daydreaming about mountains of gold and riches to be found.
I believe I have just finished counting the fifteenth pile (the largest of them yet) when I was rudely interrupted, snatched back to miserable reality by a strong poke in the ribs.
"Do you think he'll come back ?".
I was still partly in the pleasant plane of day dreaming (but regaining fast).
"Do you think he'll come back ?" again this time the question came louder showing irritation.
"Nope, I don't believe so, it is days of travel behind us". "I can't see a reason for it to come after us".
"It was not really my fault".
"Of course not hon. Nobody's blaming you for the Tortoise man attack" After a pause of thinking I've added, "Which cannot be said for almost anything else".
"The Braxat" This time I felt the anger building in her the voice "What yer talking about?".
"What were you talking about sweet Odieve?" I tried to look surprised though I knew the answer.
"Your trying to get cute with me again Half-Breed" (a nice one) "I'm talking bout bleedin Kiligan Brown" (Having been raised to a successful merchant house did not mean Odieve had a silver producing mouth).
"Well how the bleeding Hamanu's tail it wasn't your bleeding fault?". Odieve became red all over (which only added to her good looks), she raised her fist as if to strike me, but seeing the look on my face changed her mind.
"I hardly spoken with the man at all to say the least insulted him in any way, there was no reason for him breaking contract".
I sighed, how to explain to someone like her a lifetime of experience, "Sometimes dear, we make mistakes, we stumble through life without having a clue we have just stepped on someone's toes". "Sometimes we pay the price for our mistakes. At home you were used to being in full control but here in the desert you have to play by different rules". "Never play unless you know the rules" dear, I gave her my life philosophy. "Kiligan held you responsible for unnecessary death of a good soldier, he expected you to pay for the man's death out of politeness if not out of respect".
"Honor, crap, Life is cheap, he would have been given adequate compensation from my family once we have reached Urik". "Anyway mister smart ears (very cute) if you knew that much, how come you did not give him the money yourself ?"
Looking her up and down (there is a lot to look at, believe me) I thought again before answering, "I did give him the money sweetie, it's only that he expected the same gesture from you, and since it did not came, well..." I let the rest of the sentence trail off.
"So I scored a few bad points" she sneered, "Still, there was no excuse for breaking a contract, the man is mad, he got his reputation to keep". "I'll make sure he'll have hard time finding a job, that damn doublecross sonofabitch" here she added a few more niceties concerning Kiligan's future and his relatives well being.
I let her take it out of her system before continuing "Have to agree with you bout the reputation thing, Kiligan has a reputation to uphold, not just for trade lords like yourself, but for his men too". "You see, respect is funny that way, If he doesn't have the respect of his men, he can't lead, if he can't lead he can't get contracts". "A smart leader walks wisely on that shifty line called respect, and you my dear, are a disruptor of lines". "Anyway it is all Halawa now" I gave her my "Parental" look (The one that says "You are such a little Idiot, now shut").
"Halawa?" she rolled the unfamiliar word under her tongue.
"That's desert runners word for something that's in the past, buried under the dunes so deep, there is nothing anyone can do about it, Halawa".
"Halawa." She practiced pronunciation for a while, "I don't like that word at all". I knew why, there was no place in Odieve's world for uncertainties, being in full control was an obsession with her (There's an Elven word for that kind of person, but I won't repeat it here). "I'm going down to inspect the Mekillot wagon security, you coming?" she asked changing suddenly to a nicer tone.
"No, I think I'll keep my behind to it's current position" Her security inspections were getting on everyone's nerves, she kept the Mekillot wagon's guards at edge all the time. My eyes followed her decent to the level below.
Suddenly one of the huge lizards lurched to the left, causing the whole wagon to lurch. "Having trouble concentrating Najim?" I asked our driver raising an eyebrow.
"Yah you can laugh all you want boss but hell, I saw you ogling her too" He was Blushing like a school boy (though not at being caught staring as much as loosing control of the Mekillot). "I hate that bitch. She makes me dream myself wet at night" he added a surprising confession after an afterthought.
"I know, I dream about her too, though my dreams involve broken bones and a lot of screaming". I looked at the descending figure, which was carefully picking its way down the ladder. There was no denying Odieve was blessed with the looks. Perfect heaps, full luscious red lips waiting to be kissed, full firm breasts that just shouted "sin", Red long curly hair. The only fault I could found at her (except for her charming personality that is) was her size. I don't know which half giant her mother has been with, but all that beauty was stretched on a seven feet tall body. I don't mind tall ladies, but I draw the line at women taller than me. Anyway, wanting her or not it wouldn't have mattered, she walked like a goddess amongst us mortals and was unattainable to me as a goddess is to ordinary men.
<h3>Chapter Three: A desert ambush</h3>
While I was watching Odieve decent, which gave me a nice view of her magnificent bosom, speculating if I should order Najim to shake the Mekillots again, (hoping it might cause her to fall and break her neck), I was interrupted again. This time by Rouder, who pointed me to a small speck riding on the west winds. Rouder Hawk Eye Harpoon master, ever vigilant was already instructing the Harpoon team to swivel the firing frame westward at the fast approaching speck.
"Nothing to get arse over tit about" I stopped them in mid turn. "It's only Kiko returning from scouting, don't scrag it".
"So why can't I see Tain" said Rouder looking at the sky "The little twonk never leaves that beast of his to wonder by itself". "Do you think something bad might have happened" he continued hopefully.
"I reckon the little twonk is just fine" came a nasty voice from the roof of the Howdah, which made Rouder and the other two harpoon gunman jump.
"How long have you been listening up there Tain?" I asked the grinning Halfling who appeared as if by magic, swinging from the roof top into the Howdah's basket.
"Oh, me reckon Long enough to make some conclusions regarding some people" smiled Tain displaying two sets of filed pointy teeth.
"I did not meant no disrespect Tain, you know that" said Rouder looking as if he has just swallowed a dead Kank "now stop that funny talk of yours" he added nervously.
It is really strange sight seeing Grownups intimidated by a being the size of a small child, gives a new meaning to the word perspective. Nonetheless Tain the eye was master of intimidation. He projected a menacing aura that kept people in his vicinity on their toes. Tain was not named "The Eye" because there was something wrong with his eyes. Nor was he called so on account of him being one of the best scouts in the Tyr region. His name came for another reason entirely. He had a strange fetish for Eyes. As Halflings go, it meant he ate not just eyes of animals, but also the eyes of Humans, Elves, Muls, Thri Kreen, Giant half breed and Dwarves. Actually when it came to Eyes, nothing was Taboo for Tain, (except maybe Halfling and Kank, and I am not hundred percent sure about that too). Tain the eye and Happy Jevad have been with me for almost five years now. I always include both in any of the contracts I sign with the merchant lords. I feel much safer having them around.
"Ok that's enough, Now let's hear what you've got for me Tain" I interrupted the conversation thus cutting a dangerous evolving situation.
"Bad news Boss" answered the Halfling giving Rouder "I haven't finished with you yet" look. "Desert runners ambush, bout twelve hours ahead".
"How many ?".
"I counted only five, but there probably many more I reckon".
"Recognized the colors? were they Silt Stalkers?" Determining the actual tribe can sometimes help calculate the size of the opponent facing you.
"No, not Silt, I think Sand Strikers or Wind Dancers" said Tain.
"This could mean thirty to three hundred, and since you say they are stalking us, they probably know our state, this is bad news Tain". "Colin is still on the field scouting, does she?" I asked.
"She till is" answered Tain uncomfortably. "want me to send Kiko to gather her up boss?".
"Yep, quickly, tell her I have a special job for her". As he started down the ladder Rouder grabbed my arm.
"What yer planning to do boss?" he asked (Rouder being always the first to worry). I've worked with him on several occasions in the past, a good man very reliable, a bit edgy, but can't count that too much against him.
"We will have to take a detour to the north" I answered him "can't tackle desert runners without our Inix escort, we will press on through the entire day and most of the night".
"Thinking you can actually bypass them? They might not be fooled", he countered my logic.
"I know they won't, so I'm not planning even on trying". "What we are going to do is go directly into Alancor fortress". "It belongs to House Shom".
"But it's still under construction not even half way finished yet" wailed my nervous Harpoon captain.
"True, true, but that is why they keep there a small battalion, I'm sure they will be able to spare some troops for one of house Shom's Caravans in the need". "I'll send Colin with two Kanks ahead of us, it will take them less than three days to catch us half way there". "By the time the Elven raiders would realize we have made the slip, it is going to be too late for them to do anything about it".
Having shut up his complaints I started giving orders down the commanding tube connecting to the levels below. I called Felice, which served as my second in command now that Jevad was incapacitated, and gave him instructions, preparing the men for the possible attack. I used my psionic ability to instruct our two drivers with our new route. It might sound complicated way to achieve such a simple task, but for me it works fine that way. I have the special gift of determining exact locations and routes in the desert. All I do is to imprint the desired route in the minds of the willing psion drivers. I usually employ a familiar image such as an Inix or a Mekillot. All the drivers have to do is from time to time to reach out and to look at the imprinted animal which walks the right path. If they follow its steps, they can be sure of reaching the destination with eyes closed. As the caravan started its turn into the north I could hear the commotion below as the soldiers started manning battle stations. The firing slots were filled with archers, all the Harpoon positions manned. Foot soldiers stood at exits waiting for a command to pour out and deal death to any of the would be attackers. The Caravan was like a nest of desert wasps, almost like a living thing composed of many individuals. Everyone knew his role, from the meaningless warrior slave to the formidable Psion Master. I was the conductor of this great orchestra, fine tuning the tools, forcing them to work as a group. In the other wagon, the smaller one pulled by the Bulzai Lion, the same preparations were taking place on a smaller scale.
To anyone not familiar with the Bulzai Lion, I'll give a short description. It is a huge Lizard (some may grow up to five tons), resembling a big Inix. They can move quite fast for short periods of times when the need arises. Unlike an Inix, the Bulzai carry a long fin on its back, which means that it cannot carry Howdahs. It uses the Fin to absorb Water during the night and heat during the day so It doesn't need to consume water like the Mekillot , neither does it exhibit the Mekillot's savage tendencies, being much easier to control. On the downside, they are very territorial and can't tolerate the presence of their own kind unless it is the mating season. For that reason, only a single Bulzai can be harnessed to a wagon, which makes the capacity of what they carry rather limited. Another problem is the inability of mating Bulzai in captivity, a fact which makes them quite expansive. The Bulzai towed wagon was smaller in frame. It had only two levels (compared to the mekillot's wagon three levels), and the Howdah atop it could carry only four men. It meant that beside the driver only a three men harpoon crew could sit. On the brighter side, although it was much less defendable than the main wagon, I could always rely on the Bulzai speed and high maneuverability to help it get out of tough situations.
The Howdah I was sitting in was now crowded, it had sixteen archers alert and anxious for some action. More people were coming up, I needed the psion master, Ann'ar with me at the highest position so he could counter any serious threat that might come our way.
A commotion from below told me troubles were coming my way sooner than expected. I looked in dismay, though I was already sure at what I was going to see. Odieve was making her way up the Howdah's ladder again, her face all flushed and red (which was becoming rather the rule instead of the exception). Extending my hand I tried to help her climb but she did not take it ("vain to the core that bitch" thought I).
Felice's anxious face appeared from the level below. "Told her she can't go up right now Boss, but she wouldn't listen". My assigned second in command was a simple man. I do Not mean to say he was in any way stupid, on the contrary, it's just that he was a soldier. Used to receiving commands and giving them. Dealing with complicated red headed giantesses was not part of his military education. I knew he was torn between his loyalty to me and his obligations to his mistress of Shom.
I nodded him to go down "It's Ok, I'll handle things up here,". "I need you down on the field".
"OK my arse, Why the hell are we turning?" yelled the red headed giantess.
"We are trying to avoid some Elven raiders" I answered dryly, "Now go down, you are endangering yourself and everyone around you". Relaying to her quickly my plan of meeting up a fresh escort from Fort Alancor I hoped to intimidate her enough so as to make her leave me be.
"You are talking five days detour, this solution of yours is unacceptable, the merchandise should be on the market in time". "Well dear", I replied
"I can't see we have much of a choice, and since you are partly responsible for this "Detour",..." I let the rest of the sentence hang there.
"Mister Seno" Her voice became calm, "you give me no choice but to use the authority given to me by house Shom". "Now turn these wagons immediately or I will have you removed from duty this instant".
Well there is a limit to everything, even to a patience as short as mine. "You will get down this moment and let me conduct my job or else I will have you chained you mad woman". "I will not let a snub city dweller endanger me and my entire caravan". I lashed at her both Verbally and mentally, using my entire skill to try and implant the seriousness of my last two sentences".
This was a mistake, as I felt the first waves of a mental attack I remembered my first guideline, "Never play unless you sure of the rules". Odieve lashed with furious strength, focused and trained well beyond anything I have encountered before. I tried to put up a shield but found my limited ability was no match for her skill. I felt I was being crushed by huge pincers meant to squeeze my eyes from my sockets and sanity from my mind.
I tried to straggle, to find a hold on her and to push her back but to no avail. Here was a Psion master fully trained with the way of the mind, I had a better chance in trying to push a Mekillot with bare hands.
From the bottom of my private hell, I heard a sudden distant scream. The pressure, as fast as it came, ceased abruptly. Opening my eyes, slowly waiting for the ringing in my ears to subside I tried to get a hold back on reality.
To my surprise, no one was paying me any attention. Everyone eyes were on Rouder our Harpoon master, or to be more precise, everyone was staring at the spear jutting from his abdomen. Rouder was screaming like hell as life sipped away from his skinny body. I jumped on Odieve and yelled "Lay Down" in her ear. To my utter amazement
she complied. A second spear then a third came hurtling at the Howdah, each catching an archer. Another heavy missile came, this time it was a rock the size of a man head, and I knew a catapult of some sort has been brought into play. The rock flew past above the Mekillot, missing it by far, crushing on the sand left of the beast. The ugly face of a Gith suddenly appeared on the Howdah's plank. Using the spear jutting out from Router's body as a leverage he swung himself over the side and shouting blood curdling war cry taking a bone knife out from between his teeth he charged Odieve's Prone form. One of the Guards bravely put himself in front of the creature, raising his Obsidian sword high. His valiant attempt was the end for him, the Gith, nimble as a cat, ducked under the incoming blow and buried the knife in the Guard sternum. With the same motion, he took another knife from his belt and stabbed a second guard standing to his left. Having finished two men in a matter of two heartbeats he turned again on Odieve. Staring with white face at the charging Gith, Odieve raised one of the dropped guard swords and deflected his next strike at the last second ("no denying guts on that woman"). With mixed feelings I took out a one of my long Boot knifes, Holding my breath, I took aim and threw, whishing for the best. The knife found the Gith's Eye and buried itself to the Hilt, making him fall over on Odieve's beautiful body. A second boulder came rushing, this time it missed the Howdah by mere inches. The Shooter aim was obviously getting better, I wondered how much time we got before we will sustain a full hit. Another Gith flew with a great jump finding hold on the Howdah's left side. This one was the damn biggest, ugliest Gith I have ever laid eyes upon. Not bothering with drawing weapons, he charged the Guards with bare hands, lifted one and threw him over the Balcony to crush on the ground below. One of the archers turned and fired a volley at Mr. ugly, but to no avail. Using his ability to jump as a grasshopper the sonofabitch ducked the arrow and bulleted into me. I stumbled arse over tit, banging my already bursting head at the wall.
"Seno" he shouted, "this day I sing your death song and eat your liver". He gave me a stunning kick in the stomach. Using Both his bony hands, he found a perch around my neck and started squeezing. For the second time in five minutes I felt as if I was going to path out. The Gith's scrawny hands were strong as anything I have ever encountered before, made me struggle for every breath I tried to take. I squirmed, extending my hand for another knife buried in my boot, but it only earned me another vicious kick in the groin. One of the first rules they teach you at Gladiator school is that "a panicked man is a man with one foot in the grave". I can assure you that this is indeed a sound advice, trying to keep a clear head while being choked to death, is a nice trick though. Ignoring the pleas of my tormented lungs, and the pain between my legs, I tried to find my adversary's head. The Gith's unprotected nostrils are one of its prime weaknesses. A precise hit could stun it for several seconds. Easier said then done though, the sonofabitch above me, was squirming like a grub worm in a cacti. My attempts became more even more desperate as I started waving my hands, hitting the Gith randomly in hope I of finding the right spot.
The grip around my neck slackened abruptly, the Gith body was lifted from my aching body by strong hands. Looking at its dead form I observed the Red crossbow shaft sticking out of it's back.
"Thought you might appreciate the help Boss" Tain's smiling devilish face was looking down on me. I wanted to give him a smart retort but my crushed windpipe made me think the better of it. Trying to asses the situation inside the Howdah I rose on shaky feet. Three dead Giths with red Tail crossbow bolts sticking, Indicated Tain has been busy. Turning one of the bodies on Its back and removing the Crodlu hide tunic I searched for the clan tattoo. I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to find. The three blood tipped spears, on which a body was skewered, lifted the rest of my doubts. Red Impalers usually never went this far north on raids.
Another Rock came whistling through the air, this time it hit the Howdah's flank dead center. Splinters of bone shields and wood flew everywhere. The missile kept its course hitting the Howdah's other side, it opened opening another gaping Hole, taking with it two screaming men on its way down.
"Close the Gap" I tried to yell though just a hoarse whisper came from my tormented throat. "Protect Najim, don't let him get hurt". I knew full well what the death of our driver would mean. Being on a vehicle towed by a couple of uncontrolled Mekillots was not the pleasant of concepts. I turned to Tain who was kneeling on the ground Next to the fallen Mr. Ugly.
"Nice pair of Eyes on that one, the Damn largest I have seen yet". His capability of detaching himself from everything around was astounding.
"Leave it for Later Tain, I need you to take care of that catapult or this battle is going to be a very short one".
"Consider it done Boss" smiled Tain , "Alle Kiko, Seek Seek" he shouted. Perched upon his shoulder, the small avian creature (who looked very much like A giant blue Roach), took swiftly to the air. I knew Tain and the strange Insect were mentally linked in some sort of a way, but still I could not help marveling at their Teamwork.
Trying not to stumble on any of the bodies, or on the Howdah's floor which was already slick with blood, I made my way to the front. Looking down at the levels below the sight that greeted me was not too bright. A dozen Giths were hanging on the Wagon's third level Roof, using their long spears to scare any one who dared to poke his nose on the Balconies below. The balconies themselves were littered with bodies carrying House Shom dragonflies Insignias. This meant that there was almost no effective fire, deterring the warriors below from scaling the Wagon's roof. I knew what would happen next, the moment they feel they have enough manpower, the Giths will jump the levels below thus engaging house Shom's slave soldiers hand to hand. This will eliminate the Leverage we have while shooting at them behind the protection of the Wagon walls. They will slaughter us in a matter of minutes. One of the warriors on the roof who saw me looking down at them shouted a blood curdling war cry and leaped towards the Howdah's tower. His mighty leap took him twenty feet into the air. Grabbing the now unmanned Harpoon gun, I took aim and pulled the trigger in mid swing. The missile caught the Gith on its right shoulder, spinning him in flight like a broken doll. Not waiting to see him landing I grabbed one of the short bows and started pouring death at the Gith below. I can fire the short bow at an amazing rate of one arrow every three seconds, at this range every shot counted a hit. The wagon roof became full of furious shouts of wounded Gith warriors.
Taking after my example, the remaining Howdah's archers around me finished the job. I grabbed the one standing next to me, (A black guy, I think Kartel was his name).
"You are in charge of keeping the Roof clean, don't let anyone on the roof or on the Howdah". "Keep Najim and me safe, if you need, call more archers from below". Having taken care of that problem I sat down on the ground preparing myself for a full mental separation.
Taking long deep breaths, I cleared my mind and entered a deep trance like state. This trick taught to me by Golan many years ago, allowed me to fly out of my body and soar like a bird. Perceiving the world from an avian point of view, had two major benefits. First, I could see the whole battle scene, having much better perception about what my next move is going to be. Second, was my ability in mental separation to contact directly all of my commands, giving them direct orders in real-time situations. Looking below from the height of the bird flight, sights and sounds started to rush in, filling my mind with images from the battle below. The situation did not look very promising for our side. We were actually attacked by two groups of Red Impalers Giths. One coming to from the west, was the smaller of the groups. This group has all but managed to eliminate resistance on the Bulzai wagon. The remaining archers on the wagon balconies had difficult time hitting the Giths on the ground. The Giths agility and habit of taking huge jumps plus their talent of changing direction after each huge stride, made them almost impossible to hit when in full motion. From our east side, (to the Mekillots wagon's right side), a bigger band came pouring over the dunes. Their intention was clear, now that they have softened us, they were going to overwhelm us by sheer force from both sides. Giths tactics though not very subtle, were effective nonetheless. I gave Sultani, (The caravan Bulzai driver), the order to push forward. The usually timid Lizard lurched forward kicking with its enormous hind legs. Standing almost upright on its rear limbs in a motion I have seen done only twice before in my life it started to run in great strides. The wagon behind the Bulzai shot like a bullet behind it, throwing Gith that were perched on it's roof. I've counted twenty great steps before I ordered Sultani to turn. Taking a tight right turn, almost tipping the wagon on it's back, the Bulzai Lion continued his with his frightening run, facing the Mekillot's wagon. Knowing this is going to be a close call, I started to count again. The battle below me froze. All eyes were at the approaching unstoppable monster, waiting for the inevitable crash. At the last second Sultani managed to sever the Bulzai to the left, missing the Mekillots by mere feet. The huge Mekillots hollered in anger and fright, but Najim somehow managed to keep them under control. At almost a perfect timing the Bulzai crashed into the charging Giths, trampling warriors as if they were insects. At my command, the Bulzai Wagon, stopped on its tracks, forming an arrow head with the Mekillot's wagon, thus trapping the assaulting Giths between the two wagons. The trapped Gith group still had a Gap at the base of the arrow head triangle from which they could escape, but they did not figure the dire starits they were in. Keeping in long tradition of Gith confidence, they kept throwing javelins at the archers above them. This mistake I was going to exploit to its limits. At my command, scores of warriors, jumped from the Mekillot's interior. Some wore the insignia of house Shom, others, mercenaries, hired by contract like myself had their own Battle flags proudly raised. Swearing and Hollering at front, (as I happily noticed), was Happy Jevad, limping on his Bruised leg which was held by a Mekillot bone splinter. In both hands he held his favorite weapons. Two Iron headed Lotulises, custom made for his size. The Lotulis is a long shaft of Bone, onto which two or four cruel crescent hooks are attached. In the hand of an expert it can be a terrifying weapon, and believe me, Jevad was a master amongst experts. Wearing an armor made of several pieces of Kank black chitin, his Mohawk styled hair painted in rusty red, and with a chain made of former enemies skulls, Jevad usually won battles even before they begun. Only the very foolish or very brave managed not to turn tail at the sight of him. Facing his first adversary he rotated his long arm to its full speed, he buried the Lotulises in the Gith's helmet. The Gith's forehead, simply caved in, spraying blood and brain all around. As if at an afterthought, he brought the left hand weapon in a backhand half circle swipe, capturing a Gith that was sneaking behind him against the wagon wall. Not even bothering at looking behind him at the result, he swung again, agile as an elf at another warrior in front of him. The Gith raised a shield, trying to stop the descending Lotulises. He might have had more luck trying to stop a charging Mekillot. The Lotulis went through the shield, crashing bone and meat as if they were paper. Jevad carried on with the momentum, finding another Gith breaking it's back. Another brave soul made an attempt to stab at the Half Giant. My commander brought the two Lotulises into play. Faster then the eye could follow he swiveled them around capturing the Gith on both sides in a "hammer upon anvil" like strike. The brave warrior actually disappeared in a spray cloud of blood and gore. The rest of the Gith warriors, suddenly lost their appetite for battle. A commotion begun as Giths tried to get out of Jevad's way. "A wall, form a wall" he Boomed over the din of the battle. The disciplined slave warriors were fast to comply. Using their medium sized bone shields, and obsidian tipped spears, they formed three thorny lines. Two facing the Gith, one facing outside, ready for a rear attack. The arrow head was now complete, the trap has closed on the pray. Now the archers on both wagons came into full play. They started shooting without discrimination at the mass of warriors below them. This time the Giths had no advantage of mobility. They were too many and were wedged too tight, preventing them of using their famous jump skill. At last, the situation dawned on their thick skulls and , they decided to flee. Some chose to try and breach the Human wall, but only managed to spear themselves to death. Some tried to jump and scale the Wagons, and were stopped by arrows and javelins. Screams of terror filled the air, this time, they were of dying Giths. They should have tried a coordinated attack on the slave warriors, but Gith Tactics are almost nonsexist. As individuals, their great fighting skill makes them superior to a regular human warrior. But when fighting against a disciplined ordered troops, their lack of coordination shines.
Turning my sight from the slaughter below I searched the field for the smaller band of attackers. The one who tried to attack the Bulzai towed Wagon. I located them soon enough, making a fast run for it over the red dunes. Circling down I tried to trace amongst the fleeing figures a familiar face, one I was pretty sure I was going to find. Checking each face I finally found the one I was looking for.
"Nice day for a little running, ain't it Gunash", I sent the Gith a mental call. Breaking hard in mid stride, Gunash stopped with a stupid, confused look upon his face. It didn't take him long to come to his senses though. He smiled and sniffed the air as if trying to sense my immaterial body.
"Is that yo Seno ?" he sent me a message back.
"Whom did you thought it was? , you double crosser sonofabloody Kank?".
"What do you want, half breed ?" he smiled revealing a set of pointy teeth, "If you mean to throw insults like a youngling then piss off, I'm busy".
"I just wanted to give you some good advice", said I.
"Advices come cheap Seno, better keep it to yourself Elfshit" he smiled.
"This one is especially for you, I want you to start looking behind you on a regular basis". "I'm coming after you Gunash, and I'm coming hard, nobody crosses me, and lives to brag about it".
"Yeah, Yeah" answered the bastard, "words come cheap too Seno", he gave the finger salute to no one in particular. "Until we meet again Seno of the Dunes" resuming his running he joined the rest of his clan.
"It's just might going to be sooner than you imagine, you bastard" I thought. And that was that.
Going back to the battle I saw the remaining Gith were throwing down their weapons as Jevad was supervising their swift and efficient capture. Turning my sight from the scene yet again I located the Catapult hidden behind a small hill. It was a curious construction, one I haven't seen before, and it was attached cleverly to a wagon dragged by weary looking Kanks. Scattered around the device were four dead bodies. A fifth warrior was still alive but he was also lying face down twitching as if he had no command of limbs and mind. Every now and then the poor wretch was puking his guts out in an uncontrolled spasm.
Tain used nerve poison on some of his arrows. The toxic substance, a byproduct of Kiko's digestive system was so deadly, even the smallest of grazes could prove fatal.
Returning to my body I regained my physical senses. With them came all the pains and the aches that were ignored in the heat of the battle. My body felt as if It was trodden by a herd of Mekillots. Odieve was staring at me, still shaky and white in the face. Not bothering in giving her a second glance I limped slowly down the ladder to the ground below, and started giving orders for a swift departure. The dead I ordered removed from the wagons and stripped of valuables. I divide the remaining soldiers between both wagons. Some of the mercenaries whished to give their fallen comrades a last honor burial, but I managed to skip that dune by promising extra Bonus at the end of the trip. The Kank drawn catapult wagon had proven too heavy for the Kanks to pull with enough speed. After failing to lift it into the Mekillot's wagon interior, we torched it in a true "scorched ground" Athasian fashion. Only after everything has been preformed to my full satisfaction , I gave the "Five minute to go" command. Only when everything was set I felt ready to climb back up, but a big feminine hand caught my wrist.
"You are not going on with your plan of continuing towards fort Alancor, do you?".
"You sure can't take no for an answer, do you Odieve ?!" I removed her hand gently. Damn but I've should have stuck a knife in her when I had the chance, she was lucky there where too many witnesses up on the Howdah. "Nothing has changed my plan, there is still an Elven ambush waiting for us up ahead". "In our sorry state we wouldn't be able to take on a bunch of Lame Kanks, to say the least a band of fresh desert runners".
"So you still rely on that stupid Halfling Tracker of yours?" she shouted.
"Tain is by no means stupid, and I suggest you be polite around him, he has long ears and an even longer memory" I replied, wondering how I was going to survive the current argument intact.
"If he is so good, then how come he missed the Giths, or more likely" she smiled evilly "he confused them with Elves".
"Tain doesn't miss anything nor does he get confused" I defended my short partner. "He was aware of the Giths activity" (which wasn't a lie) "and was sure they were not going to attack" (No lie here also). "This is Wind Dancers raiders territory, and they allow no one to hunt in their own turf" (A bold lie but I counted on Odieve's ignorance for it to stick). "The Gith's attack was unexpected, I take it to be wrong judgment on my part. Tain should not be blamed for my mistakes". "What I am certain of is that right now, a Wind Dancers band is waiting for us up the road". "In less than an hour they will start speculating of why we haven't showed up yet", I concluded, hoping in vain some sense might find it's way into that thick skull of her.
"Wind Dancers ?" she asked, "never heard of them, they can't be that frightening", once she had her mind set, not a herd of Mekillots will make it budge, that woman was impossible.
"They are not well known, they were once a big tribe of traders but an illness of some sort has almost wiped them out, forcing them to go into raiding". "Their leader, Santhaal Wind Dancer is not someone you whish to meet face to face, believe me dear, even though they aren't famous as silt stalkers, Wind Dancers are a force to reckon with", I turned my back on her but she caught me again.
"We should keep with our planned route" she kept ignoring me, "We could move most of the Goods to the Bulzai wagon. If we are attacked, it could make a run for it". "The Elves wouldn't be able to catch that Lizard", she reasoned.
Trying to convince Odieve of something, was like convincing a Mekillot to give up on the latest piece of meat he just digested. "First, you have never seen Elves on the move if you talk about outrunning them, secondly, the Bulzai running sprint is limited to a few dozen strides" I myself was running out of my limited patience and time.
"That's enough", My help came from an unexpected source. Faday Shom appeared limping on her short legs from the Wagon interior. I have almost forgot about her existence. The other house Shom's member forced on me for this trip kept to herself for the entire trip. She has only on rare occasions peeked her nose out from her cabin. As a house representative she had full rights equal in power to Odieve. They were of course related to some extent being second degree cousins I believe. You could even notice the resemblance in the set of the jaw and somewhere around the eyes. But here the it ended. Faday was five feet two inch tall, though she looked smaller, on account of her crooked back. With black straw hair and a yellow sickly hued skin color, of someone who kept too much indoors, she looked like a crone (though I believe her true age was thirty something). When she spoke (in a whisper very unlike Odieve's rich tenor) you could see two sets of yellow bleeding gums. Compared to Odieve who always wore merchant silk, Faday always managed to look like a beggar. In short, Saying Faday was plain, would have been an insult to plain women everywhere.
"You will stop this instance Odieve" whispered the diminutive merchant baroness. "Seno here has proven himself over and over again to be the only person capable of managing things around here". "You have been a nuisance to him from the start, now let him run things the way he see fit".
I wish I had paper and a paint so I could have taken a picture of Odieve's face. I knew instantly that Faday's command counted the same or better than hers. For the first time since our journey begun, I saw Odieve beaten. I tried to imagine what her next move might be but couldn't. She turned back to me as if to say something but was interrupted by Jevad.
"What do you want me to do with those Boss", he pointed at the group of twenty or so Gith warriors bound near the wagons. "I'm afraid we can't make much profit on them from Hamanu's Templars" I replied. "I believe Hamanu had the Obsidian Murderers Gith tribe wiped out a month ago". "The city will have plenty of Gith warriors for its arena games". "No, keeping them will prove too much trouble for too little", nobody likes bad margin. "You know what to do". "Keep ten of them though, I think we might have a need for them later". For the second time this morning, Gith cries of despair filled the air. Jevad was a professional through and through, he didn't gave them time to realize what was happening. In less than a minute he was done with the gruesome task. Odieve had a change of mind at the merciless violence. I believe she was a bit shaken at the new angle I have just exposed. "Welcome to life on the desert Odieve of Shom" I thought. Instead of addressing me, she turned and climbed back into the wagon after her diminutive colleague. I show the world the same sympathy It has given me. Some people call me "Seno black heart", they don't know half of it.
<h3>Chapter Four: A distraught night</h3>
Five minutes later I was perched again at the Howdah, looking down at the rolling sand. The battle ground was already behind us, obscured by the same dune that used the attackers for ambush. The only hint that something out of the ordinary has taken place, were the excited sounds of the Lirrs, drawn to the scent of blood. I knew that any traveler who might stumble upon the site in an hour or so, will be oblivious to the drama that took place. That is the way of the Athasian desert, a place without memory. Maybe that is the reason of why so many people get lost in it forever.
The next two days were a test of endurance to the men and beasts.
We pushed through the entire day, not stopping even to rest in the hot
hours of the Athasian noon, through the entire night and the following day. There is a state of mind, the desert nomads call "MoachYavesh". When you have eaten enough dust, so that no matter how much water you drink, your throat feels like a sand, have felt enough hot wind upon your body, making the skin feel like sandpaper, and on the top of that being forced to stay awake , then you probably have the "MoachYavesh". A person who has the "MoachYavesh" rarely blinks, his sight becomes fixed at some point in the air (usually forward), never straying left or right. His all being is focused only in reaching his destination. People in that state sometimes forget to drink causing them to dehydrate or in some worst cases even to develop hallucinations. The hallucinations derived from "MoachYavesh" are called "ZakukLeabarbanel", and have five stages. The first includes mild hallucinations, during the fourth stage you become a babbling freak and the fifth means death. The only way to avoid "MoachYavesh" is to force yourself to drink regularly. Since we were almost third of our original size, and had no trouble of water, I ordered every person (including the slaves), triple of the regular quota. Even so, at the end of the second day we were all on the brink of collapse. Pushing the beasts another single step would have proven disastrous. Najim which has been pushing to limits he didn't know he had, summoned me at last to the Howdah.
"The Mekillots are becoming almost impossible to control". "They are extremely hungry and angry for not being able to rest, and I for once must agree with the stinking lizards" exclaimed our driver through clenched teeth. "So unless you want to become their next meal, I suggest you order that tracker of yours to go hunting" he concluded.
Najim and Sultani our psionic skilled drivers were actually permanent agents of house Shom and not hirelings like myself. Being Mekillots and Bulzai wagons handlers, they were treated as a low to medium ranking house merchants, which meant they could afford rather comfortable life style (that was, when they were not on the road of course). Najim for instance , whom had the same good looks as one of his Mekillots, kept four wives (In Balic, Tyr, Urik and Nibenay), each ignorant of the other three, believing she is the only flower of his life. He claimed it worked to the benefit of all involving sides. Knowing some people who keep all their wives in the same house, I can't help but to think the bald midget has it correct.
I do not mean to imply in any way that Najim was pampered by his lifestyle, on the contrary. What I mean is to display him the way he is, a respected professional, whose skill bought him his current position. This is the reason, when he called me I knew we had to stop immediately.
Picking two dunes that would keep us from the night wind and from prying eyes I ordered Sultani to stop. He and Najim positioned the wagons horizontally, thus making a safe buffer zone, in which we could make a safe camp for the night. I didn't allow anyone off the wagons though, knowing that the Mekillots were hungry enough now to take a bite at anyone near them. Me and Jevad had the Giths captives lowered carefully by ropes and pulleys used for hauling merchandise from the Bulzai wagon. The fi