Vaulting himself over the side of the caravan and onto the deck the Thri-Kreen’s mandibles clicked and searched the air for signs of his prey. Instinctively he kept low and down wind so as to remain undetected. Moving carefully around the deck he slipped around the side of the firing platform only to instantly duck as the mighty swing of a sabre came crashing down smashing into the caravan wall – narrowly missing his skull. Lunging forwards his rapier stuck true and the Ssurran howled in pain and reeled backwards – preparing to strike again. I had been watching from a distance behind chuck but now took my opportunity, both hands firmly gripped on my Axe and charging full speed, for a moment I leapt clean from the ground and brought my full power down on the lizard. A crash of blades and the Ssurran fell backwards, wounded but seemingly more determined with a crazed look in its slitted eyes.
From behind me at the rear of the deck I could hear Solzak and the clash of blades as he engaged another raider but before I could turn to help the door to the cabin burst open to reveal a hulking monster of a Ssurran weilding a huge greatsword. He brought the huge weapon to bear and I braced for the strike but instead I saw before me the silhouette of a half-giant move in front and take the full force of the blow on his shield without even flinching! All i could figure was that he must have been a guard on the caravan who had survived the first wave of attacks. The other door to the cabin flew open and from the chanting I could only assume some kind of Ssurran shamen had joined the battle, flinging blasts of sand at abdiel who was now standing defiant on the caravan roof. I had lost sight of Chuck who had bounded off in pursuit of the shaman but then a piercing insectile squeal warned us that he was in trouble but we were otherwise engaged. Naraaku, frustrated after attempts to bring down the mighty Mekillots failed he effortlessly pulls himself up the caravan side and onto the roof, launching a couple of arrows to take down the Ssurran bearing down on Solzak. Unluckily the arrows only just wounded the beast and seemed to make it angrier as it hissed and spat its own filthy blood on the sizzling hot deck. Solzak cursed once more as his obsidian rapier struck scaly hide only to shatter into a thousand pieces. Just then Naraaku let out a warning as the defences from the caravan were activated and a hail of crossbow bolts shot across the deck, many of which found a home in chuck, who fell to the ground, green blood everywhere. My instinct was to go help, but we were being held back by the Ssurrans bearing down on us, curse Chuck for his recklessness!
Below us on the ground as the Mekillots began to pick up Redgar managed to finally scramble up the side of the caravan after nearly getting smashed by a roller after his first missed attempt. Using the powers of his mind he attempted to dominate the Ssurran shamen but all the Lizards seemed to be wearing strange purple crystals that shielded them from any powers that targeted their otherwise vulnerable minds.
The exchange of blows between the two giant warriors of Orsk and the Ssurran seemed to go on for hours, but Orsk was definitely winning through superior toughness and training. He is a sharp and deadly warrior and I for one was glad he was on our side as the final cleave from his mighty hammer sent the great Lizardman tearing through the roof into the slave hold below with a satisfying crunch! Probably would have taken a few slaves with him but those mattered not in the grand scheme of things.
As the battle continued we gained the upper hand, that is until Solzak called out a warning that more of the Ssurrans were on their way from the rear of the caravan train and heading towards us at increasing speed. The caravan was heading out of control off the road and I didn’t like the look of the badlands that were approaching in front of us. All of a sudden the caravan shook and jolted, sending redgar flat on his face and the rest of us scrambling for a handhold lest we get thrown overboard. I know not how it happened but it seemed that one of the Mekillots driving the caravans was beginning to tire and had stumbled, slowing us slightly. We were still on a course to ruin, but perhaps this would buy us more time and so we could take more of their scaly hides with us!
The crossbow turrets continued to rain misery on the deck, luckily Orsk’s shield seemed to attract the arrows, almost instinctively? Perhaps i’ll ask him about it later but for now I was grateful for the relief. Once free of the Ssurran raider breathing down his neck Solzak managed to disable two of the towers aiding those of us still on the deck and allowing us to breathe a sigh of relief.
Disposing of the Shamen, Abdiel and myself ran into the cabin to find the Caravan master – like a possessed demon cackling out-loud as he drove the mekillots as hard as he could towards the canyons. Abdiel tried to talk some sense into him but I could tell there was only thing that would knock some sense into him and that was my axe sunk right between his ears. I swung, but he must have sensed my move and preempted it, ducking out the way. What was worse is that he pushed the lever on the floor fully forward and snapped it off! I could only guess that might have been the only way to stop this thing! He laughed madly once more as Abdiel attempted to blast him into eldritch dust but tragically missed him entirely and vaporised one of the controller levers! This was not going to end well.
Outside Orsk helped to dispatch the last of the Ssurrans and barked orders for the rest to take up defensive positions to wait for the incoming second wave. Taking up the rear most firing platform he would be able to hopefully delay or even stop the Ssurrans from leaping from one carriage to this one. It was a slim chance, but the only chance we had.
The day wore on, and you could see even the Ssurrans were feeling the heat, the shimmering silhouettes of our bodies on top of the caravan against the stream of moisture leaving our bodies as we held fast against a relentless foe. Another bump and jolt nearly sent us off the side of the deck once more and the Ssurrans were close enough to Orsk that he could see the madness in their eyes.
The attack was launched and the Ssurrans leapt over the narrow gap between the carriages, arrogant in their fearlessness – it was 10:1 or so they thought. Orsk swung with all his might and connected! A Ssurran was sent flying far from the caravan with no hope to save himself and fell squealing to a death crushed beneath the weight of a runaway carriage. And another goes down with his next swing as Orsk poses defiantly. The Ssurrans look at one another and hiss loudly, bearing their jaws full of jagged sharp yellow teeth – i’m thinking these would make good trophies and I’m sure Orsk feels the same. All at once they then leap across the divide, aiming to drive their scimitars deep into Half-Giant flesh…
Back in the cabin the trade of blows with the crazed caravan master continues and I put it down to exhaustion that we do not dispose of him quicker, as he is a poor fighter. As I bring my axe to bear one final time to cut him down Abdiel is quick to leap on the controls, trying to figure out how to stop or at the very least steer the caravan away from imminent peril. He pulls one lever sharply and instantly the whole caravan lurches to one side sending us both sprawling – wrong lever! Considering the layout of the levers more carefully he makes a second attempt, and guiding it more gently this time begins to gain enough control to force us into a gentle turn, away from immediate danger and back towards the road.
Orsk, although extremely tough and capable a warrior is not immortal, and though he fought bravely and dropped many a Ssurran would not be able to hold them back forever, and as the Lizards hacked and slashed relentlessly he fell into unconsciousness just as I had managed to rush back to assist him. Bellowing a challenge I was able to divert their attention before they were able to strike a killing blow and the last few swarmed down upon us. Redgar attempted to keep them at bay but yet again the crystals flared into life and saved them from the worst his mind could muster.
We were not without aid as Naraaku and Solzak provided ranged assistance and just enough arrows and bolts to drop the rest of the raiders.
In a few more moments the last of the Ssurrans fell and we were able to quickly bandage the wounded and assess the situation. For a moment at least we seemed to be safe and Abdiel had managed to gain a rudimentary understanding of the controls for the Caravan. We still had the problem that we had no way to stop the vehicle until Orsk solved the problem with surprising ease by driving the huge greatsword from the giant Ssurran into the lever stand creating a fully working brake! I can only say that this day the spirits were on our side and we had rewarded their obedience with the blood of our enemies.
Slowing the caravan to a stop we were able to conduct a full search of the carriages. Cautiously proceeding through each we found that most of the slaves had managed to survive – aside from a single zombie which had managed to get into a slave compartment and feasted with horrific consequences. Grimly we dispatched those affected and continued, noticing how both we and the slaves were feeling weak and exhausted from the heat. The mekillots too were exhausted, so Orsk co-ordinated some of the slaves to ensure that what we delivered to House Vordon was of better quality than the disheveled property we saw before us now.
We decided not to rest for too long however, a caravan full of hot and wounded slaves would leave a scent trail for miles around and it would not be long before we would get attacked again and this time we might not be so lucky. Getting the Mekillots to move again we proceeded back to Tyr which fortunately was free from further incident.
As we approached Tyr the sun was low on the horizon and the heat of the day turned to the deep cold of the night and the twin moons of Ral and Guthay rose reassuringly once more into the sky. Silhouetted against the miles of fields surrounding the city was a group of Kank riders leaving the city and heading east. Despite the lack of light these figures were very dark skinned, the kind of complexion you can only get spending your whole life under the sun – or worse. Instinctively I grip my axe tightly – caution Eben.
Upon entering the city we have the usual 20 questions from the templar who bizarrely starts asking us if we are transporting warriors into the city? No, of course not! Just slaves as Abdiel waves the jobsworth official away back to his other menial tasks. We head down caravan way wary of more ambushes but are relieved to make it to the Vordon compound and see J’sek there with a large contingent of armed guards to relieve us of our duty. He is overjoyed to see that we have made it relatively unscathed and that about 75% of the slaves were in good enough condition to be saleable. Quickly they are taken out of the carriages and ushered into the well protected compound and J’sek informs us of his pleasure at our performance. We are rewarded with more favours of the house and asked back to watch over the slaves tonight. J’sek expects that as Stel did not attack the caravan earlier that they might do so tonight, and having trusted warriors at his side would reassure him that they would not be successful. We agree to the work as at this point having accrued the favour of the house we were not about to let our standing slip, but inform J’sek that we have some errands to run first before we take up watch and agree to meet back within the hour to attend the guard.
As we walk back up Caravan way to the golden Inix something odd happens, as Abdiel spots a flash from a nearby alley – like the reflection of light on glass. Concentrating for a moment he closes his eyes – visualising the alley to see if we are being lured into a trap, and he sees a face, the face of a Shadow! Naraaku through gritted teeth curses in Elvish as the Shadows are nothing but assassins for hire! Walking down that alley would probably see us walking onto a poisoned blade or worse!
Wisely we stick to the main path and continue cautiously up to the inix, wary of an ambush, but all is quiet apart from one thing. The wind blows, and on it we hear the faintest ringing of a tiny bell, nearly too quiet to hear, but definitely audible…