Dark Sun: Call of the Desert

1st Day, Month of Haze, Season of Sun Ascending
After working together to win Sihaya’s freedom from slavery in the arena, Sihaya and Markos enjoy a few days of fame as word of their amazingly one-sided victory gets around over mugs. They start off well with some fair-paying escort jobs, but lately they’ve fallen on hard luck. Sihaya starts work as a half-giant rickshaw for the Silt Runner Rickshaw Company, while Markos takes a job clearing a bug infestation from the rickshaw house. On this particular morning, the two are paid with the typical Balican wage for laborers: a meal. The rickshaw company gives them each a token to turn in at the back window of a local food joint for their meal. They are given water and a choice of typical Balican breakfast fare: erdlu eggs, bread and oil, or sizzling-hot kank bacon. Sihaya asks for eggs; Markos chooses the bread and oil.

Meanwhile, Khadija and Khayal have been working together at the Caravansary in the Agora (the open-air market of Balic), loading and unloading carts for merchants. They are also usually paid with a meal. On this morning they are given a choice of cactus fruit and rock tubers, warm grain gruel, or sizzling-hot kank bacon. Both choose the bacon.

Also on this morning, across town, Fenwryk has finished a job helping capture a runaway thief for Roz, a templar of the White, which is the lowest of the three templar ranks. Roz has sent Fenwryk to another hole in the wall for his meal payment. He is given a choice of bone marrow soup or sizzling-hot kank bacon: he chooses the soup.

After breakfast, Sihaya and Markos shuffle back to the rickshaw house and sit outside, under an awning: the half-giant on a big crate and half-elf on a small one. Sihaya recognizes Izid, a messenger of House Tzant, as he approaches her, and she waves. “Hi!”

Izid offers Sihaya a job from her former owner, the patrician Savrina Tzant, to eliminate some diseased kanks that have broken away from their handlers at a Tzant-owned kank ranch about a half-day’s walk west of Balic. When Markos suggests to Sihaya how she should respond (half-giants not being known for independent thought), Izid asks Sihaya who he is. “That’s Markoth,” answers Sihaya, knowing only the name that Markos calls himself with his lisp. Markos introduces himself, his lisp quite pronounced. “I see,” says Izid. “Markoth.”

Izid shrugs and says Markos might also find employment in the job. He suggests that Sihaya and Markos meet with the white-robed templar Roz at the Black Jug at sundown for a deal and meal. Roz will discuss other details, including pay. Sihaya and Markos agree.

Izid next finds Khadija and Khayal at the Caravansary. He invites Khadija to visit the patrician Savrina at the Rain Pavillion, a sumptuous dining place for the nobility, located at the second fork in the road when going toward the Villa Precinct. Khadija was there once before, when acting as a paid companion for Savrina at a nobility function. Khadija agrees to meet her former patron, provided that her friend Khayal is allowed to go as well. As with Markos, Izid reluctantly tolerates the addition of the half-elf. He leads the pair to the pavillion.

The Rain Pavillion is a large open-walled dome with gauzy grey drapes, which are usually gathered with dark grey silken rope at each pillar. The whole place has its lightest colors at the top and becomes darker moving down: white roof, pale grey pillars, grey drapes, dark grey silk rope and tablecloths, basalt flooring. Most stone in Balic is either golden, hard sandstone or white granite, so it’s clear this was likely imported. In the center of the black flooring, a small fountain trickles water continuously, making a “rain” sound. For a city-state that receives rain only a few times a year, the place is a ludicrous display of wealth. Khayal has never seen anything like it.

As she looks around, however, Khayal feels the first unpleasant tugs of sickness in her gut from the bacon she’d eaten for the morning meal. Sweating and dizziness accompany the nausea.

Savrina (there with a half-giant guard) exchanges pleasantries with Khadija. She asks her guard to search Khayal (who is dressed somewhat shadily for the venue), but calls the guard off when Khadija vouches for her. Savrina offers them the job: eliminate some diseased kanks that have broken away from their handlers at a Tzant-owned kank ranch, the Guthay Crescent Ranch, four hours’ walk west of Balic. The ranch supplies the Balican templarate with riding beasts, so the job is being handled through a templar named Roz. Savrina says she doesn’t know anything about the disease itself, only that the cure is expensive and oh, by the way, don’t eat any kank meat, because some strains are bad. (The sickened Khayal nods sarcastic thanks at this advice.)

Savrina says that the templar Roz will meet them at the Black Jug at sundown to discuss other details, including pay. She tells her guard to advance the pair an expensive medicine ball to cure Khayal’s sickness. The half-giant guard looks immensely relieved when Khayal says she will administer the medicine herself.

That evening Sihaya and Markos arrive early at the Black Jug, a dark, dome-shaped tavern in the Harbor District. Fenwryk is seated alone. The templar hasn’t yet arrived. A couple humans hunch over mugs at another table, and a pair of dwarves sit at the bar drinking firebreathers and seemingly taking turns shouting “Grarrr!” at each other.

When Khadija and Khayal walk in the door, Khadija recognizes Markos and Sihaya, the rivals who had beaten Khadija and Khayal so soundly in Khadija’s first attempt to win her freedom. Khadija’s response to the vivid flashback of this experience is to pick up a chair, intending to crack Sihaya on the head with it from behind. Markos, seeing this, warns Sihaya to duck.

Fenwryk wins the initiative game and exerts a little psionic tug on the upraised chair. Khadija, startled by the invisible pull, drops the chair, which breaks apart on hitting the floor. Now the bartender has looked up. He’s a burly mul who seems to not need a bouncer. He yells at Khadija to pay up for the broken chair, and she complies.

Khadija’s actions confuse Khayal, who didn’t recognize Sihaya from behind. While Khadija explains, Sihaya makes her way over, taps Khadija on the arm, waves, and smiles. “Hi!” she says. Khadija punches Sihaya in the face.

Back to initiative. Fenwryk gives Khadija a psionic push—right through the swinging front doors, which swing with a couple decreasing “thump-thumps” on her departure. Khadija is now out on the street. Markos steps into the fray and tries to cool the tempers by buying everyone firebreathers at 5 cp apiece. “Firewaterth!” he calls.

Out on the street the sun is lowering and shining its red glare in Khadija’s eyes, but she makes out the white robes of a figure flanked by two half-giant soldiers approaching her. It’s Roz of the White, templar of Balic’s sorcerer-king, Ozymandias, the Sun King. Roz has the honey-brown skin and eyes typical of Balican natives, and wears her dense black hair in the local style: a pony-tail wrapped in a band of leather on the top of her head. She seems well-connected, for its rare that a templar of her rank commands two soldiers on routine business.

“Khadija,” says Roz to the mul, as a confirmation of her identity.

“Yes,” says Khadija. She notices Sihaya peeking through the crack between the swinging doors.

“If you are Khadija, we have business within, not in the street. So let’s go in.”

“Right away, ma’am,” says Khadija as she shoves open the swinging door for the templar, striking the peeping Sihaya in the face.

Roz enters the tavern with the soldiers and Khadija in tow. She has the soldiers put two tables together and invites the others to sit. Now all five characters realize they’re being hired to work together. Some of them aren’t happy.

Roz secures for the party a generous meal of cactus meat, tubers and bone soup, and a pitcher of broy. Markos, serving firebreathers, notices that Fenwryk probably isn’t a half-elf as Markos had first thought, but he keeps his observation to himself.

Roz gives details on the job: the head rancher at the Guthay Crescent Ranch is Naz Gebbas; his brother Nog is a psion who handles the kanks. Of the disease, she knows it causes the kanks to attack or run wildly as in madness, and one of the signs of the disease is yellow foam around the mandibles. The pay will be 150 gp (total) from Roz, and meals and lodging at the kank ranch. The current meal at the Black Jug is just for listening to her offer.

The party agrees to take the job and meets back at the Black Jug in the morning.

2nd Day, Month of Haze, Season of Sun Ascending
In the morning, on the way out of the city, Khadija runs into Akbar, her old sparring partner, who had won his freedom the previous year. Akbar is, like her, a coal-black mul who often wears white. They were both bred by House Tomblador and it’s possible they’re related, but they don’t know, or really care. Even so, he calls her Little Sister. The two often fought in the arena in matched-pair duels. He greets her in his old way, by punching her in the arm. She responds by punching him in his new little paunch. He tells her he’s gotten a new job, but won’t elaborate. “I wouldn’t want you to hear about it and enter the field in competition, Little Sister. Might get hurt.” He laughs loudly, in his big white-toothed way, and walks on.

On the Road of Legions going to the ranch, the party comes upon two dark-haired elves being hounded by three golden-haired elves. Markos recognizes the black viney tattooes on the dark-haired elves as belonging to the tribe of his mother, the Shade Hunters. He knows them to be a trade-oriented tribe. Khayal recognizes the other elves as belonging to the Sun Runners, for no other tribe has such elaborate golden braids. She knows the Sun Runners have a reputation as ruthless raiders.

The discussion between the party and the elves is short and ends when one of the Sun Runners threatens to rob the party of their things. The elves are brutal in their initial attacks. Not intending to kill the party in their first fight not against each other, I use these attacks less often than I could have, and dumb down the elves’ tactics. The Shade Hunters also turn out to be less useful as allies than I’d imagined, since the one throwing chatchkas has trouble striking any target with a pulse.

The party sustains injuries, but defeats the Sun Runners. The Shade Hunters introduce themselves as Wadi and Nara. Though they have the arrogance common to desert elves, they have the grace to not try to claim any of the loot, which includes a flameburst sling (claimed by Markos). When Markos engages the elves in conversation, they do not warm to him, but in thanks they offer him a discount with their Balican traders in the elven market.

The party arrives at the Guthay Crescent Ranch in the afternoon. The ranchers, Naz and Nog Gebbas, hope the party can put down the kanks soon, because each kank bears the half-moon ranch mark and is thus a threat to ranch reputation. They could harass travellers on the road and hurt business. The party sets out to follow the kanks, delayed only by Asenn, a hired half-elf herder with little social calibration or experience off the ranch. Asenn is afraid that he’ll be blamed for the disease somehow and kicked off the ranch. The party brushes him off and sets out on the hunt.

The party has no trouble following the trail of the infected kanks, particularly since one of the disease symptoms is loose bowels. They catch up with the kanks at some large rocks in mud, where the dehydrated kanks are trying to forage for water. All four kanks have yellow foam at their mandibles. One of the kanks is running in circles.

Although each member of the party takes some infected foam in the face from the kanks’ spit attacks, no one is seriously infected. The party gives some free hits whenever the crazed kanks take off in a random direction during the fight. This is an easier encounter than the elves and the party has no problems. Markos is able to salvage from kank plate from the kank soldier’s corpse, and the party returns to the ranch.

Naz Gebbas, kank breeder and head rancher of the Guthay Crescent Ranch, is very grateful to the party for taking care of his embarassing kank problem so expediently. Although the templar Roz had agreed to foot the bill (courtesy of the city-state of Balic), Naz gifts the party with a couple rare, sweet blue juya fruits—which are also infused with primal magic for healing. Markos takes charge of the valuable potion-fruits.

The half-elf rancher, Asenn, also heaps his awkward admiration on the party. Markos remarks that Sihaya and Khadija are famous gladiators, and benevolently invites Asenn to catch a game in the Balican arena sometime. Asenn, whose experience with invitations has been limited to “Come clean out this feed trough,” is bewildered and awed at the idea.

3rd Day, Month of Haze, Season of Sun Ascending
The party spends the night and leaves at dawn to return to Balic. At around high sun, they find a bulky jhakar trapjaw and a few smaller jhakar sunning themselves along the road. The wild trapjaw charges at Khayal when the party draws too close for its liking. The beast and its pack would prove a challenge for the group, with more than one PC getting caught in its jaws with nasty results. The GM’s 20-sided Pink Die of Death continues to roll well. I may have overlooked a couple of the creatures’ secondary attacks out of pure sloth: death means more paperwork. My death shyness may wear off with experience. We had a couple near-deaths to go around, at least.

Markos is able to salvage jhakar leather and meat from the carcasses, and the party meets no further trouble on the road. The gate soldiers charge them the Sun King’s levy of 5 cp to enter the city because, you know, Balic is like New Jersey in that way. In the evening, Roz meets the party at the Black Jug and pays their fee (100 gp). She has no further immediate work for them.

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Goldie

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