The Slaves of House Hezzrat

Pitfalls and Pit Ball

With two days to plan, the Slaves of Hezzrat worked out with tournament organizer Kai the details of the game and how to play. Upon their arrival, they saw the enormity of the task ahead of them. The spiked ball to be used as a primary weapon and single-point scoring mechanism stood eight feet tall. At their goal lay a smaller, knobbier sphere made out of bone, knobby protrusions lining its surface. The other team would have to retrieve this one to score with it on their own side, Hezzrat would have to retrieve their own from the opposite goal to try to score two points. Four medics waited at the corners of the pit, waiting to attend to any that fell during the battle. Behind the goals two giants laughed with abandon. They would be the means by which the balls were returned into play.

Hezzrat’s competitors, House Velrot, stood at the opposite goal. Korbesh the Man-Eater, a halfling, cackled to himself. Two human twins, Velric and Rimble, stood together in the center. Last and worst of all was Nug, a member of the violent tarek race that the party had faced out in the desert. A horn blew and the teams sprung into action.

The minotaur Mir was the first to move, rushing towards the spiked ball in the center and moving with it as she shoved it along. Razin, the monk, propelled himself across the area, landing adjacent to team Velrot and almost within grasp of the two-point ball. The thri-kreen Ka’tho joined Mir with the main ball, intending to pass it between them. Coral, the newest member of the party, stayed back with the goal intending to guard it, and lit Velrot’s ball on fire with his psychic spark.

The halfling Korbesh sprinted across the field, landing adjacent to one of Hezzrat’s two-point goals. Ka’tho yanked the human twins out from their places and they split up, Velric running to Hezzrat’s main goal and Rimble pushing the main ball back over Mir, impeding her progress.

Nug grabbed Hezzrat’s ball and smashed into Razin with it, shoving him back, and then circled around it to keep it from his reach. Mir and Ka’tho struggled to overpower Rimble as Razin retrieved and heaved Hezzrat’s ball across the arena, where it was promptly kicked by Korbesh into both Mir and Ka’tho. Ka’tho focused his psychic powers, shoving Rimble dangerously close to the spiked wall and into position to receive Velrot’s ball as Velric kicked it to him, and managed to score a goal for two points.

Nug charged the main ball and was hit with it by Ka’tho, but still managed to push it through Ka’tho and onto Mir, shoving her back. From behind Velrot’s goal, one of the giants returned Velrot’s ball into play, amused with itself. Mir grabbed Velrot’s ball and tossed it to Coral, who used it to smash Velric upside the head, again lighting it on fire as he did so. Razin maneuvered to Hezzrat’s ball and without resistance scored a goal with it, tying the game. Korbesh flanked Hezzrat’s goal and traded blows with Ka’tho from afar with Velrot’s ball.

Again the twins worked together to score a goal, pulling ahead by two points. The scuffle over the main ball continued as the giant behind Velrot’s goal threw their ball across the arena, where it bounced off of the wall to hit the head of Velric, who fell over from the impact. Hezzrat’s ball was similarly returned to play as the team realized that playing defensively was not going to win them the match. Coral abandoned his post at the goal and leaped across the arena, scoring with Hezzrat’s ball and tying the game again. Razin pushed forward with the main ball and managed to score a goal just as Korbesh retrieved and scored with Velrot’s ball.

With no balls in play, Ka’tho decided to wait for the next one to return to act. The twins withdrew, guarding Hezzrat’s two-point goals with Nug. Razin was rolled over by the main ball, thrown into play by the giant behind Velrot’s goal, and once more when Ka’tho made to score with it. The others were tossed back into play as Velric was again hit by one of the balls and knocked over. Mir retreated back to Hezzrat’s goal, scoring over Velric’s head with her team’s ball. Coral made to guard one of Velrot’s two-point goals. Razin righted himself and moved along the side of the arena as the twins and Korbesh deferred to Nug as he kicked Velrot’s ball toward’s Coral’s goal without success. The twins ran up and continued pressuring the goal until they scored.

Korbesh ran to block Velrot’s main goal from Ka’tho as Coral was knocked over from behind by Velrot’s ball as the giant that threw it hooted. Its partner across the arena did the same as it again knocked over Velric, whose face and blood left marks in the sand. Ka’tho righted himself to heal as Mir scored with Hezzrat’s recovered ball and Velric’s allies berated him for failing at protecting the goal. Everyone spread out to block goals. Rimble, Korbesh and Nug tried desperately to score against Coral, who managed to defeat all of their attempts.

In the final round, both Velric and Mir were hit by Velrot’s ball as the giant threw it out of the goal, ricocheting it off of their heads and along the wall of the arena. Ka’tho scored with Hezzrat’s ball to seal their win as Mir wrestled with Nug for the main ball. Coral called for Razin’s aid as he stood in front of Velrot’s goal, and as Razin approached he found himself having swapped places with Coral and facing Velrot’s ball, which he promptly kicked into the face of Korbesh, who was up until this point uninjured. As it bounced back off of the halfling, Coral appeared in Razin’s location, kicking it out of the air and again into the face of the Man-Eater, and then once more across the arena. Nug shoved past Mir and scored with the main ball, but not before being hit by her with Velrot’s ball as it appeared at her feet.

A horn signaled the end of the game, and the teams took a moment to remark about what had transpired before being shepherded out of the arena for the next game to begin.

The Demon of Urik

After defending their camp, the slaves of Hezzrat had a few scarce moments to assess their station. Plumes of smoke blew from somewhere in Valmirren, and Nusakan had realized that, due to his grievous injury, he would have to have the arrow in his back removed or risk bleeding into his lungs and drowning.

The gladiators Mir and Ka’tho held Nus to the ground as Razin stood at the ready with cloth pads to press on the wound. Ka’tho hesitated briefly before Nus used his second sight to guide the kreen to yank the arrow from his back. In a moment it was over without complication, and Nus was left to his own devices as the rest of the party ran into the town.

Following the traces of fire they found one of the larger arena teams’ mekillot wagons on fire. The thri-kreen Qui’rick and guard Rasea mulled about the site, noting that the raiders had looted the supplies from the caravan and were easily replenishing their supplies while diminishing those of the town.

“They always loot the camps,” Rasea said. “Food, money, weapons, armor. This was a big target.” The party shared conjecture as to the nature of these attacks and their mechanics and resolved to investigate it over the next few days.

The next afternoon, the party was approached by an elf woman, a man, and a third, bound creature. The elf piped up, saying she was looking for Barthomar, and Ka’tho called out to the mul to get his attention. She introduced herself as Trians and her partner as Fadric, explaining that their gladiator team had been wiped out. House Uula, from which they had come, was participating in the games in the interest of winning prizes. Without sufficient gladiators to fight, they were looking to sell the services of their last remaining fighter to an interested party.

“I’m not gonna rip you off,” Fadric said.

The slaves exchanged nervous glances as they assessed the man, whom they recognized as the descendant of defilers who had made dark pacts to attain arcane magic. These people, the defiler-born were notable for their horns, tails, and ruthless demeanor and efficacy in killing.

“We’ll take a cut and a half for him,” the pair posited. The horned man scoffed and spat into the sand.

The party took a moment to themselves to commiserate. “Maybe we can test him.”

Mir asked, “what if he let his team die?”

In the end they decided it should be left to Ka’tho, who had become the haggler for the slaves.

“We should tell them we are consulting other offers,” Mir suggested, straining her mental faculties.

“If he dies, they shouldn’t get a cut,” Razin said.

The horned man fidgeted, visibly frustrated.

Ka’tho decided that they needed more time to decide and to investigate, telling the Uula representatives they would find them later with an answer. He noticed a message scrawled in the sand and brought it to the attention of the others, unable to decipher it. Razin, who had not let on that he could read, was puzzled by the message: “don’t trust assholes.”

Razin went to the gambling house to inquire about Uula’s team and successes. Timur said that Uula had been ranked at 11th, above Hezzrat, and that they had hired on famous gladiators from different towns to make an all-star team. Razin asked about the defiler-born, mentioning that Uula had been trying to loan him out. Timur noted this and did some calculations – there were 16 teams left in the games. Razin bet 300 on fighting Wavir, and would put those winnings towards Hezzrat’s win, explaining that losing would basically be consequence free because the team would be dead.

Timur remarked, “you don’t have to die to lose.”

The odds for Hezzrat to fight in the final round were 18:1. Razin took note of this and left.

Ka’tho and Mir, meanwhile, had gone to visit his information gopher, Dieber, and interrupted a board game between the former merchant and the local cook, Yarma, with whom Dieber had fashioned an infatuation. Dieber had seen Uula’s performance in both games, noting that two of the gladiators from the first had made it into the second, but each time they were divided. Uula had hired on a large stable of eight gladiators who did not seem able to cooperate.

In the first game against the dangerous flora of Valmiren’s pit, the horned man and a half-giant cleaved their way through the cacti and blood trees in tandem. The remaining gladiators were shot full of spines and then crushed into each other by one of the massive trees.

In the second game, one of the elf gladiators tripped the half-giant into the mobile blood mound and watched him disintegrate. The horned man, who saw this happen, had just been engulfed by another blood mound and began to suffocate. As the gate to exit the arena opened and the elf ran for the door, he and the horned man were translocated with one another and the horned man was the only one to make it out alive. The actions of the Demon of Urik, as he was called, did nothing to abate the fears of Mir, who wondered whether this man was easily set off and a threat to the party. Ka’tho was heartened at the idea of battle brotherhood that he imagined having transpired in the fight, and Razin arrived to share the information he had received from Timur.

Ka’tho thanked Dieber for the information, Mir thanked him for the food, and Dieber was momentarily offended at their motives for the visit, laughing it off a moment later.

The slaves considered their options of having Barthomar fight with them versus the idea of this stranger, and asked Dieber what he thought of Uula, and in turn, Urik.

“Anyone with money is not to be trusted,” he responded. “If they were able to hire 8 famous gladiators from different towns…they have a lot of money.”

More questions arose as to when Uula would get paid for their loan of the horned man, and what he could be like.

Dieber thought and asked, “why not talk to him?”

The party arrived at Uula’s camp to find it nearly empty. A pile of folded tents lay off to the side that had belonged to the deceased. Fadric sat outside of the one remaining tent and acknowledged the party. Ka’tho asked if he could speak to the gladiator, looking around for the absent elf woman. Fadric motioned for them to enter the tent, where the party found the defiler-born seated on a bedroll.

Razin approached him, suggesting they cut the pleasantries, and asked his story. The man, who identified himself as Coral, went on about his upbringing in Urik as a member of a prominent family who served in Hamanu’s army as an elite guard, and how his own training as a gladiator after their destruction reflected in a desire in him to preserve life. He spoke about the idea his people carried of a blood-debt, one that most repaid by way of killing but others, such as himself, felt they could pay by preserving life.

Mir scoffed at the notion of gladiatorial fights having anything to do with saving lives.

Just then Trians walked into the tent, wondering whether the party had come to a decision. Ka’tho explained that they needed proof of his capability, suggesting a three-quarter share for the first game, a “test run.” Trians suggested that they get no cash for the first fight, and would negotiate until they reached the qualifying rounds, after which they would take a share and a half. Ka’tho asked if it would be reasonable if Coral could stay with the party. Trians obliged, wondering what difference it made, but said that if he was to disappear, Uula would receive instead two shares for every fight in which he would have participated. Ka’tho consented, remarking that at least he tried, and the party made way for camp with their new arrival.

Hurgen greeted them and introduced himself to Coral in front of the kank-dung fire, hanging out some bowls of gruel as dusk began to set in. In the night the party saw raider scouts out in the wastes, watching and waiting for an opportunity to strike.

The next few days consisted of training. Hurgen had the slaves spar and take brief lunch breaks at the local tap house. Barthomar had the party perform exercises they had not done in a long while-Hurgen was amused to realize he was showing off for Coral.

Razin looked for a correlation within the raider attacks. He found out that the large house that owned the previously attacked mekillot wagon did poorly in both games. Asking coral about motivations yielded little, as Coral was not a stereotypical member of his kind. Razin decided to keep a journal in case any other patterns arose within the attacks.

Ka’tho and Mir began to set minor traps in the desert for the raiders. Qui’rick joined them, misconstruing the intent of the traps.

“We’re going hunting!”

Ka’tho took a moment to process this, and then hungrily clacked his mandibles, salivating at the thought of elf meat. They were.

In the middle of the second day, Kai arrived to deliver the rules for the next event. Barthomar outlined the rules, trying to make sense of the diagram on the first of two sheets he had received. The pit was to be divided into a field on which there were two goals and a spiked ball, which would have to be moved into an opposing team’s goal for a single point. Two smaller objects would have to be retrieved from the other team’s side to be returned into one of two goals on the players’ team’s side for two points. The games would last seven minutes, and no weapons or harm could be inflicted on the opponents team via direct contact. Barthomar looked at the two sheets several times, and from the carefully worded rules, devised a plan.

Training would start immediately.

Fight Hard, Breathe Easy

At the conclusion of the first day’s fights against the pit, three houses’ teams had been destroyed entirely, with Half of the remaining teams losing members either through fatalities or grievous wounds.

Free to go at the end of the day, Barthomar met the Hezzrat slaves, pleased with them, and in his hands The winning purses from the fights. Barthomar explained that Hamanu of Urik himself had allotted 3000 ceramic per team for the first several fights and that it was divided equally, with Barthomar himself taking the managerial cut for House Hezzrat. He mentioned also that in the event that one of the slaves could not participate in combat and if a replacement could not be found, himself or Hurgen would have to substitute, and because of their experience and standing in Hezzrat their cut of the winnings would be double that of the slaves.

Their pockets filled, the slaves went to the market. Nusakan bought supplies to ease the travel through the desert he suspected the team would again have to make. Everyone gathered around the boy who sold the healing pears with full intent to stock up. Upon realizing his finite quantity of merchandise and rifling through his basket, they bought every last one of his pears and he ran off, thankful that his father would not beat him that evening.

Ka’thovisited the weapons merchant Lazra and spoke with her about the events that had transpired over the course of the day, talking briefly about team [[House Gboerr
| Gbeorr]] and the others that had been destroyed. Lazra explained that the first week’s fights would be against the pit. Their conversation turned towards weapons. She explained that weapons could be made from a psionic creature, and that her daughter made many other different varieties. Ka’tho delayed paying her to amuse himself. When he finally did, the woman was surprised that the team made so little. Ka’tho chalked it up to his bartering abilities and bid her farewell.

Razin went to the gambling house and spoke with Timur, who was in charge of taking bets for the arena games. The others had contributed toward Razin’s pool in Hezzrat’s favor; betting was not yet closed and they might again be able to throw in towards their suspected winnings.

Timur raved about House Wavir’s success – its mul and two Half-Giant gladiators easily earned favor with the pit, who threw at them three blood trees and then ejected them after they refused to leave. Razin’s prior grudge against Wavir for destroying his former house shone through, and the gambler promptly mentioned that bets could be arranged over whether Hezzrat would fight Wavir, and beyond that, if they would beat them. Really, he said, anything at all could be made into a betting proposition. Razin took this in and left.

The following day held another fight and again the slaves were sorted into the pens in which they would wait for their turn. Kai explained that their fight time had been moved back. Sounds of water could be heard from within the pit as Kai explained that the pit was not in control of the exit for this particular event, and that the exit doors were manned with guards.

The slaves entered the arena to grand announcements of their names and titles, their house, and great thunderous applause. They were starting to gain a small amount of notice from the crowds here. Inside the pit, they found two large and two small pools of what appeared to be blood and bodily remains. As they walked in, the blood pools began to undulate and small domes rose above the surface of the pools and spilled out into trunk sized globules on the sides that moved towards the party.

Ka’tho psionically pulled the nearest to him as it began to move. Mir cleaved a pair of globules and they melded with other nearby globs. The globule became harder and slightly larger, bolstered by the mass from the dispersed. Meanwhile, out of the eastern pool rose a giant bloody ooze, over ten feet wide. Nus, unfazed, threw a chemical bomb at it, which is shrugged off and proceeded to roll towards both Razin and Ka’tho, who were covered by the remains of two separate globs that sacrificed themselves, covering the ground and their victims with sticky blood-residue. Unable to manuver, they could clearly see their impending doom.

Mir and Razin lashed out at some of the seemingly endless wave of globs, Mir with her gouge, Razin, stationary, with his fist, and again they joined up with others of their kind. The blood mound slunk towards Razin and Ka’tho, pulling them into itself. As they began to drown and dissolve they could see bits of bone and flesh in the murk of the bloody conglomeration.

Nus destroyed several more globs with an icy chemical bomb, critically wounding the blood mound, but even more pressed forward. Mir found herself surrounded by strengthened blood constructs as Razin slid out of the mound. Ka’tho burst forth shortly after, rolling into a flanking position, and used his psychic ability to shove it away from the combat. It retaliated by surging at him and slamming into him with its whole weight.

Nus once again attacked a hardened glob with his trademark poisons and a reactive chemical that bathed his obsidian sword in flame, but was then immobilized by another globule. Mir decimated several condensed globs, showboating to the crowd and freeing herself from the grasp of her enemies. The giant bloody mound devoured her as it made its way across the arena. With a rolling kick, Razin crashed the mound into one of the bloody towers. Mir took advantage of the opportunity to chop her way free of the giant pile, her gouge tearing a great hole in its side as she stepped out. Unable to maintain its integrity, it deflated, blood gushing out of it. Sensing victory in their grasp, Razin and Ka’tho overtook the remaining globs destroying them. The Pit challenged them no more, and the gates were opened. The Slaves of House Hezzrat left the arena to the roars of the crowd, once again proving they were worthy of the tournament.

Barthomar later greeted the party and once again gave out the purse for victory. The party waited out the remaining battles, hearing the cheers, applause and occasional gasps that accompanied them. The games ran so long that two of them persisted into the night and were fought by torchight and bonfires.

The party returned to their tents outside of the city proper to attempt to clean off. Dieber invited everyone to the tap house, but only Ka’tho and Mir took him up on the offer. It was time to enjoy their winnings and another day that ended with them alive. He explained to them as they followed him that two more teams were taken down by the pit, one of them steamrolled for five minutes by one of the bloody mounds and slowly dissolved. when they arrived at the tap house, inside was a wall of noise powerful enough that nothing could be heard. Nothing needed to be said, it was a party to celebrate the fact that you, still, were alive.
Razin returned to the gambling house as instructed by Timur, but found the door closed and no one in attendance to answer it. Miffed, he walked back to the Hezzrat tents and saw Nus exit his tent completely clean and free of blood, having secretly used magic to do so. Beyond the fire and in the shadows of the distance Razin saw a dozen or so figures in the sand dunes as an arrow flew out of the dark, hitting Nus in the back and puncturing a lung. In the span of several moments Razin calculated that what had to be a raiding party was about three hundred feet away and he leaped forward, pulling Nus to the ground and intending to bide his time.

At the tap house, the raucous celebrations were halted at the arrival of the guardsman Lionas, who opened the door and collapsed wordlessly into a bloody pile on the floor. Dozens of people poured out of the tap house and scattered into the town as alarms sounded around Valmiren. Mir and Ka’tho made it out quickly, noticing just ahead of them one of the house Wavir Half-Giants rushing out into the night brandishing a huge sword. As they ran they looked back inside and saw the other Wavir gladiators still seated at the table, drinking their drinks.

Nus and Razin lay on the ground on the far side of the camp. Nus, knowing there was little he could do about his severe wound, reached into his pack and drew out several of the sedative-lined quills he had harvested from the party’s previous encounter with the pit’s dangerous flora. Barthomar and Hurgen charged off into the night, each to fend off nearly twenty raiders on their own. Razin waited for an opportune moment to strike as the raiding party broke off into several groups. As the raiders entered the camp he leaped to the far end of the line and strafed them with a flurry of blows, knocking several out into the darkness and landing solid blows on the Dwarves that remained. He was immediately flanked and shoved to the ground by shield bashes from both of the Dwarves. Nus was similarly flanked, but managed to roll out of the way of his attackers and dispatch one of them, drawing out his sword and bleeding from the stress of the movement.

The Half-Elf raider captain sidled up to Razin, trying to stab him; an archer at the edge of the camp shot at him as well. The monk kipped up and rolled out of the way, knocking one of Nus’ attackers prone. The Dwarves again surrounded Razin and dropped him to the ground, whereupon the captain walked over and stabbed him in the chest, knocking him unconscious.

Ka’tho and Mir arrived to see their party members assaulted and to see Nus, gasping for air, heal Razin using the arcane. They both noted this and charged into the camp, Mir towards the archer and two Dwarves that moved into flanking position to attack her. The archer got a prime shot at the gladiator as Ka’tho moved to blast back the captain and archer with a blow that thundered through the small camp. Nus charged behind the Kreen and flailed at a lone Dwarf, finding his armor too hard to pierce.

The two sides brawled for some time on equal ground. Razin, recently revived from near death, was stabbed as he approached the archer and tripped the Half-Elf captain in such a way that made her grievously wound the bowman. Mir cracked the armor and collarbone of one dwarf as she was pulled to the ground and assaulted by two more. Ka’tho and Razin gained the upper edge as they killed more and more opponents and had to fall back to tend to Mir and Nus, who had both fallen unconscious due to the severity of their wounds.

Opponent morale broke and the archer fled, cursing the party. The last remaining Dwarf failed to be apprehended by Ka’tho and Mir, who wanted to take him alive.

As the rush from the battle died down, the party fell in to tend to their wounds and gather their composure. Nusakan grimly concluded that he would not be able to participate in further gladiatorial games in this condition, suggesting that a replacement for him be found. Hezzrat had four days to find a final member of the team…

It's a Jungle in There

Ka’tho of Hezzrat left the ravaged camp site in haste, hoping to inform the guard Rasea of what had transpired. Their paths crossed and he informed her and her armed contingent of guards what had transpired. With the sounds of rowdiness coming from elsewhere in the evening, the desert raiders had claimed the lives of another arena team.

Ka’tho thought it prudent to inform Rasea that the slaves had stumbled upon a large camp about a day and a half from Valmiren. The party had done as told and pretended as though they had seen nothing. In the context of the town being so close, though, it was made clear that Valmiren had little hope of surviving a full on attack from such a continent.

After they parted, the monk Razin and Ka’tho bought some of the healing-infused pears from a child at the marketplace. Having spent all of their money to facilitate their resurrection, gladiator Mir and barber Nusakan had to take Ka’tho’s charity and accepted a pear each, knowing that it might save them from death in their first gladiatorial game the next morning.

Ka’tho took a moment to adjust his armor, adding and adjusting bones on its exterior to make himself more visually intimidating. Fellow thri-kreen Qir’ick arrived and began to question him about this action, stating that as a user of the The Way, he needed no such armor, and could bolster his defenses through force of will. Ka’tho, himself a psionic battlemind, tried to wrap his head around this concept.

That evening the party kept a very diligent watch and found that the night passed with thankfully little trouble.

In the morning, their merchant companion Dieber arrived to invite them all to breakfast at the home of Yarma, the chef for the local tap house. He boasted that she had acquired cheese and eggs, and posited that there could be no better way to start a series of games than on a full stomach. His enthusiasm made Nus suspicious enough that he left to attend to “very important business.” Razin followed out of curiosity only to find that Nus had gone to the tap house for a standard meal, some kind of fried meat.

Hezzrat representatives and fellow slaves Barthomar and Hurgen met the party at Yarma’s home to eat, though they mentioned that they would not be participating in the game that morning. The elf woman had many questions for the party and easily made conversation. She explained that she had a sister in Altaruk who sold knickknacks from the silt sea that had been polished from exposure to the silt. She also made mention of an apprentice cook who had yet to fall into his knack for it.

The most interesting conversation piece, though, was of the nature of the supposedly living arena for which Valmirren was lauded. Ka’tho inquired further into the nature of gaining favor with the pit, and Yarma explained that having the blood of thousands of people spilled upon its sand infused the arena with a mind of its own, that had moods that came and went and even would go so far as to judge and test the fighters in it. “It’s like fighting in the brain of another being,” she said. Particularly of late the arena had become overgrown with shrubs and blood trees. The party digested this information and their meal as they went back to camp to rest until the games began.

Kai, the organizer, arrived to explain that because of the sheer number of teams, the first day’s game would pit the gladiators against the pit itself. He was vague as to the nature of how this worked, explaining that you had to “survive until the pit lets you out.”

Kai directed the party to the caves from which they would enter the arena and wait with the other gladiatorial teams for their turn to begin. There they met with a child from the village and several guardsmen, among them the polished guardsman who kept himself in good order. The slaves were directed to the fourth cave, which they would share with the teams from House Wavir and Stel. One of Wavir’s half-giant gladiators acknowledge the team with hungry eyes, looking forward to seeing them “later.” Nus burned incense as the party looked with wary eyes at the other teams that eyed them with equal suspicion.

The party was ushered up to the wooden and bone entry portcullis by Kai and thrown into the arena as two bloodied combatants fled out of the other side. A bell sounded, and from magic or some other means a booming voice introduced the slaves of Hezzrat to a roaring audience.

Ka’tho and Mir entered, followed by Nus and Razin, into a pit smaller than they were used to filled with flora. Cacti of many shapes, several blood trees and bramble bushes littered the area, and they knew something was amiss when they felt the ground heave and vines squirm beneath their feet. The exit at the far side of the arena was suddenly overcome with thorny vines that barred exit.

Nus drew his sword and set an arcane ward around himself, disguising this action from the rest of the party. He smeared an arcane salve around his neck that boosted his awareness and reaction time, further bolstering his defenses. Ka’tho felt a barrel cactus sidle up beside him and initiated his new bone mace with a blow that blew the plant backwards. He noticed it had eyes and arms with tiny, spiny fists. Mir charged forward and both she and Ka’tho were assaulted by the thorny brambles, who stuck in them tail-like vines with spiked ends.

Nus and Razin had a moment of realization and decided to coordinate their attacks. Razin leaped from behind Ka’tho into the fray, delivering punches and kicks to both cacti and bramble bushes and circling back around to end right in front of the kreen. Several of his attacks destroyed harmless cacti, and the party realized that not everything in the arena was an enemy.

Despite using both a noose-lasso and his trademark chemical compounds, Nus failed to wrangle one of the blood trees into striking range. He threw down a glass bomb at Razin’s feet that exploded into a cold vapor that iced over the nearby plants and invigorated Razin and Ka’tho, as the incense he had burned earlier changed its biological effect on the party. He noticed that one of the cacti in the blast radius remained unfrozen and saw that some feet away, behind the nearest blood tree, a palm cactus instead took the damage.

Ka’tho surged with psionic energy and blasted the nearby plants away, violently ripping the bramble’s spike out of his ankle. Mir did not have time to react, and the spike lodged in her chest drained blood into the bramble she was facing, and it seemed to visibly look healthier.

The barrel cactus that had suffered multiple blows from Ka’tho, Razin and Nus was near death and reflexively ejected all of its spines out at the three slaves. Ka’tho and Razin took the brunt of them and were sedated by its poisons, unable to attack or make efforts to bandage or defend themselves. Nus took the opportunity to slide around them, only to be grabbed by the blood tree that he had earlier tried to dislodge. Unable to do much else, he drew his obsidian sword and cut away at the brambles that had assaulted Ka’tho, destroying them.

Mir was dragged across the arena floor by the spike in her chest and found herself separated from the party and flanked by a patch of brambles and a saguaro cactus. She cleaved at them both using her gouge but neither fell.

Ka’tho used his psionic ability to hinder the movements of his enemies, sliding them about the floor of the pit when he sensed that they were about to move. He smashed his maul into a barrel cactus and found again that the palm cactus somehow took the blow instead.

A second barrel cactus, heavily wounded, ejected its spines into Nus and Razin, pacifying them. The blood tree nearby grabbed them both and pulled them near it, restraining Nus and attempting to crush Razin. Nus used his fey ability to step through the grasp of the tree and tossed a healing salve to Razin, who was able to slip out of its grasp and wedge himself in a corner. The palm cactus, much closer to him now, began to stitch up its wounds.

Mir missed the bramble and was pulled further across the arena as the entire party was assaulted by hails of spines and a viscous red fluid. The blood tree, palm cactus and brambles shifted around the area. At the end of the pit the vine curtain blocking the exit drew itself back. Nus was the only slave with an opportunity to escape.

Ka’tho found himself dazed and both he and Razin were heavily wounded. Nus tossed a defensive ointment to Ka’tho and a vial of poison at the palm cactus, disrupting it long enough for Razin to kick it away before it exploded into flesh and seeds. Ka’tho was grabbed by the blood tree and swung about the arena, being pulled off into the corner before Razin and Nus came to his aid. They failed to pierce the blood tree’s thick bark, but Ka’tho was able to wrestle free of the tree’s grasp as it grabbed Nus and raised him into the air.

Mir smashed the brambles, freeing herself from its spiked tail as the saguaro spat a combination of poison and her blood into her face, dazing her. Nus, similarly limited in options, ignited his sword with a flammable oil and cut himself out of the tree as it howled and fell to the ground, dead. Ka’tho and Razin fell upon the saguaro cactus in combat with Mir, and as it died the entire party fled the arena, feeling more plant life erupting from the ground in preparation for the next team.

The slaves of Hezzrat had survived their first battle without any casualties, but the infused pears they had purchased just the day before had all been consumed for healing in the course of the battle. Hopefully their winnings would afford them more preparation for the next.

Blood in the Sand
A Badlands Goodbye

Drinking their fill, the slaves of Hezzrat gathered as much water as they could, about a day’s ration, and set to exploring the buildings of the oasis. The stables contained two Kank corpses and little else. In the kitchen area they found two barrels containing salted meat and a variety of pickled foods.

They set about deciding in which direction to head to Valmirren. If they followed the road, heading West into the Alluvial Wastes, they suspected their travels would be safer. They instead opted to cut through the Badlands and make a straight shot for Valmirren, hoping to cut a day’s travel off of their trek. Any hostile threats they would have to simply endure.

Some ways out they haphazardly stumbled onto a huge camp in a valley, containing a mix of Humans, Elves, Mul and a decent number of Thri-Kreen. Their presence woke a posted guard and alerted two of his comrades, all humans dressed in Mekillot armor with red Inix pauldrons on their left arms, armed with spears. The slaves and guards came to the conclusion that it would be better if they traveled wide of the valley and kept tight-lipped about what they had seen.

Cutting out Westward and eventually Southwest again they made camp for the night and could see the fires of the valley off to the Northeast. Nus found himself able to overcome his sunsickness and also completely cure Barthomar of his own. When they resumed the next day they happened upon a destroyed caravan that Ka’tho deduced had been attacked by raiders. There were drag marks leading northeast and a pooled puddle of blood that had been spilled the previous day.

Continuing on for four hours, they were stopped at the sight of a swarm of Kestrels and discovered a nearly dead man in the sand. Razin inspected the man, finding a deep puncture wound in his sternum with a slash mark cutting from there to his left side. He gradually awoke and introduced himself as Dieber, a member of the ravaged caravan that the slaves had found earlier.

He said that he had hidden under one of the wagons until the raiders had left and tried to escape in the opposite direction. Ka’tho pulled him up and, without interference, invited him to travel with the party. Dieber claimed that his caravan was heading past Valmirren, bringing supplies to Uumparon just within the Southern Wastes. The party’s new pace damaged their chances; they ran out of water that evening and suspected that they had only made half a day’s progress toward Valmirren.

When the city finally came into sight the party was enthralled to the point of being in a daze. The others watched as Nus, who was in the lead, was ambushed by a man with that same red Inix pauldron who stabbed him cleanly in the chest with an obsidian wrist-blade. Five others rose out of the sands two attack: two women with bows and three other men with a shortblade and longsword.

The slaves clumped together and were assaulted by the speed of the men and the bows of the arrows, both of whom would attack several party members at once. Ka’tho, Nus and Razin were battered horribly in the close quarters. Only through the combined efforts of Ka’tho, who drew the enemies in with his psionic abilities, and Razin, who attacked in a whirlwind of blows, did they stand a chance of surviving. Both fell at least once over the course of the battle. Nus fared little better. Mir, who had remained in the back, remained virtually unharmed as she moved without any effective resistance around the battlefield, reviving Razin when he was struck down and punishing those foolish enough to come near her.

When all was said and done six raiders had been killed, and a dozen more by Barthomar and Hurgen. The days of traveling had taken its toll on everyone. Worn out, weary and entirely drained, they stumbled the last legs of their journey. The delirium, however, worked differently on Nus. While his mind raced and roiled around a broken landscape, secrets burned themselves into his brain, secrets of the sun, of heat, and of flame itself. Salves and ointments to inure himself to fire, recipes of flaming unguents. Let no experience go to waste. This would be no different.

Razin found in the calm following each battle that unlike the arenas he was accustomed to, there were no rules out here, no rest, and the greatest enemy of all was one was the wind, sand and heat of Athas. It could not be attacked. It never stop trying to kill you, and he realized that if he became the swiftness of the wind and the brutality of the heat, his foes would fall before him. He knew also that there would be many more foes before his life was spent.

The slaves were left to ponder the significance of the raiders’ ambush and whether their arrival to Valmirren would be a welcome one.

Bodies in the Water

The Hezzrat slaves decide to make camp for the night while they could see the oasis on the horizon. The night progressed with several disturbances off in the distance – Nus heard something traveling in the dark southward, and Mir was perplexed by a glow in the direction of their destination – but the party put off investigating until morning.

As they rounded the path into the oasis they found that it had been razed and its inhabitants slaughtered. Next to a pair of burnt-out buildings they saw a body of water filled with the corpses of civilians, and the bodies of guards were strewn about the area. Desperate for water, they proposed fishing the bodies out of the waters, and drinking it anyway, taking their chances with what may come.

Mir mused over whether the bodies had come from raiders, but the party determined that the oasis had been attacked. To cap that revelation, a pack of desert brutes in lizard skins came over the dunes, shouting through sharp teeth in Giant that the party had impeded upon their territory. The hulking blue humanoids wielded picks with tusk-like bones at the end of them. Nus recalled that there was a race of raiders, the Tarek, who had been created as a race of super soldiers, and that they had killed their makers and wandered the desert ever since.

The Tarek descended in waves as the party maneuvered into position. Ka’tho and Razin kept their backs to the Eastern side of the pool, Mir split out Northwest to face a skirmisher and a Tarek berseker, and Nus used his Eladrin fey step ability to bypass the pool and find a defensible position inside one of the hollowed out buildings from which he could attack at range.

Mir was pulled into a flanked position by the Tarek. Ka’tho and Razin dispatched the skirmishers and became occupied by a berserker who rained blows down on Ka’tho and would not be pinned down.

A Tarek earth shaman came over the dune and joined the fight against Ka’tho and Razin. Razin used his Masterful Spiral martial arts to dispatch a skirmisher and damage the shaman and berserker, and when it seemed Ka’tho could not land a strike, bolstered his ability using his keen eyes and expert guidance.

Nus exited the ruin upon realizing Ka’tho and Mir had become heavily wounded. He tossed a healing salve to Ka’tho and attacked the shaman with a volatile gas that would heal whoever attacked it, then charging the skirmisher and berserker Mir had begun fighting in an attempt to free her up tactically.

The Tarek shaman pulled up the earth itself in order to harass Razin and Ka’tho, making them lose their ground and its allies shift to more advantageous positions. Mir and Nus struggled with the berserker until Mir landed a Brute Strike, invigorating herself in the process, and Nus made the enemy Blunder away, freeing up Mir for another attack.

Razin used his Drunken Monkey style to cripple and knock prone the shaman. Ka’tho dropped his maul and shield and caved in the shaman’s chest with his two-handed hammer, landing a Concussive Spike that blew back the berserker into the wall of the ruined building. The shaman, somehow still alive, rose and struck Ka’tho with a fist of stone, cursing as it did so, and was quickly dispatched. The slaves descended upon the berserker not long after.

Silver and Gold

The Hezzrat slaves were faced with a decision – soldier on, pressing forward in the hopes that they could arrive at the oasis with their scarce supplies, or attempt to rest and delay their travels further. They decided to press on for several more hours, but not before Ka’tho opted to take some Aarakocra meat for the trip. The rest of the party was not so desperate.

Having been assailed for a number of nights, the party was only exhausting themselves further by continuing to travel. When they finally broke camp, Ka’tho overslept his watch and Mir awoke expecting to begin hers but instead watching the sunrise.

The journey continued as hot wind and sand blasted the slaves, breaking their pace and forcing them to try to shield themselves from the elements. Barthomar had become feverish just as Mir had some days previous, but refused all treatment. After some deliberation and assessment of the placement of the sun, Nus discovered that the party had been going in the wrong direction for some time. They found themselves at the edge of the Alluvial Wastes, and would have to go South in order to catch the trail again. They rested that evening under the protective shield of a table of boulders, while the wind whipped the sand all around.

The next morning, the wind and sand rose into an undeniable storm, slowing the party further, and draining the last of their water. What had once been confidence in reacting the oasis before their supplies ran out, reach a final, deflating, end. The storm finally broke as they happened upon an impressive set of ruins, featuring sandstone walls up to 20 feet high. Deciding to camp in this shelter, they explored the area for threats and found a massive pair of wooden doors facing East. Nus inspected the architecture and deduced that this must have been the fortress-town Gibbid, which had been a successful farming town in the Green Age. In the Red Age, the city was seized by the warlord Matach, who drew a great amount of tribute from the surrounding area. Legend has it that the other area warlords banded together and hired an army to assault the city from an even greater warlord. The leader of the army, Kamid, razed the city and took whatever treasure he could find, but stories are told of treasures being found by looters and adventurer, persist to this day.

The party split up into groups of two as Ka’tho searched for a well he knew should exist within the town. He inspected what looked like barracks and found a carpet underneath a fine layer of sand, and beneath that a stone slab which led to a passageway below. The party assembled at the entrance of the passage as he explored the hallway, finding rooms with doors who had been torn off of their hinges brutally and a pile of bones with the skull split nearly in half. Mir and Nus joined him to explore further as Razin, Barthomar and Hurgen decided to look for an alternate route.

Ka’tho’s party found what looked to be a large library, with remains of books and scraps of paper strewn everywhere. The age of the room had shown as they entered; papers disintegrated as they trudged over them. Four bodies lay strewn about as well, but Nus was enthralled by a familiar sight – an upper thigh and hip made of obsidian, granite and wood, resting against a wall. He collected this artifact and stored it with the arm and sword Vos had given him earlier.

Ka’tho found a secret passage on the left side of the room, the opening of which forced a great wind and stench of mold out, the likes of which Razin and the others could hear topside. The papers in the room were destroyed by the blast.

Razin’s party found a spiral staircase which led down into some similar underground passages. The stumbled across a large, empty room first, and later, a large bath, with a stagnant pool at one end, of muddied condensation. at the end of the bath, they also found a set of latrines. They would even find the remains of a sauna.

Ka’tho entered the secret passage and found a room in which a box had been pushed or pulled by a pair of people, the only remnants of which were mold outlines on the floor. He found a small, slowly source of water dripping from the ceiling providing a slow but steady flow of water, probably enough for a single person to survive on, but definitely not enough for 2, let alone the half dozen that they traveled with. Inspecting the box, he found nineteen bars of differing substances, seven black and 12 brown. Scraping the residue on them revealed to the party that they were gold and silver, respectively, a fortuitous discovery in the wastes.

The parties met back up and exchanged what information they had found, after some deliberation on the slaves’ part as to whether they should reveal the existence of the gold and silver to Barthomar and Hurgen, who were their maters-on-site. Barthomar informed them that they had found the treasure during their errand on behalf of Hezzrat to participate in the gladiatorial fights, and thus anything they found would be theirs to keep, per Hezzrat law.

After a night sleep, they had to move on. Out of water, out of food, and barely able to stand the beating sun and scorched air, they had to continue on. During the evening, Ka’tho deduced that someone had likely found the stash of treasure and would be returning for it. Given the party’s disturbance of the room just before the secret passage, and of course their new possession of the gold and silver, someone would know they had come and want to find them.

They decided to set out and divided the bars amongst themselves, following the road west. They came upon a wide gorge, and debated whether or not they should try to cross it, risking a long fall, or go around, delaying themselves further.

Nus fey stepped across and had the party throw a rope to him, over which they slid the bags of gold and silver. Mir, Ka’tho, Razin, Barthomar and Hurgen all made the gap in good order, and everyone continued on.

Not long after, they believed that they saw traces of green off in the distance…

Give Back Twice What You Get

The Hezzrat slaves arrived back at Altaruk, shaken by the loss of their recent comrade. after arriving at Hezzrats stronghold within the town, they were each taken to a cellar dungeon. While the story of Vos’s disappearance and likely death matched, the truth, by law, had to be extracted. In turn, each of them were brutally tortured to determine the truth. This did little to assist Nus’ mental health, but he and the others seemed to recover with the introduction of a new party member, a Human monk and gladiator named Razin. The slaves tested his ability to fight viciously and found it suitable for their tastes.

The party was told that they were to participate in a series of gladiatorial games off in Velmiran, a small town at least nine days away, and that a Mekillot caravan would arrive to facilitate the trip. About halfway they were to stop at an oasis out in the wastes. Several days later Barthomar revealed that no caravan was coming and that the perilous journey would have to be made on foot. He and another Half-Giant slave, Hurgen, would join them, both for managment of the tournament and for assistance in the trip.

Several days out the party was assaulted by Aarakocra, the vulture-men of the wastes. Their arrival had been heralded by kestrekel, small black birds that are a sign that death is on its way. The Aarakocra assaulted the party, wounding Mir and Nus and slowing progress. Their numbers were so great and they were so persistent that no one would sleep for several nights.

Nus tended to Mir as the remaining slaves happened upon a caravan towards the end of an Aarakocra attack that resulted in the death of the majority of the travelers. The only survivor was a teenage psion, who managed to fend off the Aarakocra with the party. She joined them, having no other way to survive the wastes, and continued onward

Very soon their progress was again halted by the Aarakocra, but this time it was a force too large to count or defeat, and included their supposed leader, an elder Aarakocra whose feathers had grayed and who carried an obsidian staff. In stilted common, he gave the party an ultimatum: if they left their food and water, they would be able to go on unassailed. Otherwise, the Aarakocra would descend and kill them all. The party was split as to what to do and unable to deter his threats. The Aarakocra thus left in order to give them time to muse. By dusk, however, they would return, and their choice was to be made.

The party could not come to a unanimous decision regarding what to do with their goods. Several options were posited: they could alter their packs to conceal some supplies, bury others poorly in order to distract the Aarakocra, or disguise whatever remained that they would not give as something else. Razin posited that Nus could poison the food they surrendered. Impressed, Nus conceded and everyone set about making the plan happen, poisoning all of their food, and hiding and disguising as much water as they figured they could get away with.

The Aarakocra eventually came for the supplies, thinking themselves smart for discovering the poorly buried goods, and left. The Hezzrat slaves continued on towards the oasis while their supplies lasted. In total, they had saved perhaps a days worth of water. maybe more.

Some time later the angry cries of Aarakocra could be heard off in the distance, seeking vengeance. The final contingent contained several spearmen, the Aarakocra elder, and a shaman, each of whom assailed the party with a wide variety of attacks. The elder summoned a pair of desert elementals and split the party such that they could not organize themselves.

The ensuing battle saw the fall of nearly the entire party, save Ka’tho. Between the efforts of Mir and Razin the Aarakocra elder was defeated and the last remaining spearman fled.

Everyone healed and righted themselves, thankful that no further Aarakocra threat would plague them. They continued on towards the oasis, confident they would make it there with the supplies they had kept.

To the Grey and Back

Alkali successfully led the Hezzrat slaves to his village, called Tadoro, and there confered with his tribal leader, Fermos. the party learned that the cost for resurrecting the dead was high. Vos pooled the money of his deceased allies with his own and would be able to reimburse the village leader.

Alkali conferred with the spirit of Mir, who had become trapped in the Grey. She was freshly attached to her body, still, and time appeared to pass much more slowly than in the realm of the living. Vos met some of the villagers, not letting on that he had attempted to memorize the way to the village.

The village leader returned with the necessary rare herbs to perform the resurrection. Alkali and Vos observed as Mir was struck back to life. Nus was not so lucky, having been in the Grey for a while longer. To him it felt as though he had been there for years, running from horrors not native to the realm of the living. His skin had lost its color and his muscles ached; it would be a difficult trek back to the tower.

Fermos called Alkali away for an important discussion, having seen the kind of company he found himself keeping. Nus took the obsidian sword from Vos and cut his hair short with it, muttering something about “not being able to see them out of the corner of [his] eyes.” Mir spoke with a villager who made it clear that while they were not particularly unwelcome, it would be best for them to leave, and soon. Mir was given several healing fruits for the journey. The party, they found, would need them.

Vos succeeded in guiding the party back to the tower. Just short of arriving, their progress was halted by a giant centipede. Mir and Nus fled towards the tower while Vos led the beast off on a harrowing chase, which only ended with what the others assumed to be his demise.

Ka’tho greeted them around the same time as the merchants from Hezzrat arrived, gathered the goods, and made for home.


I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.