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Episode #20: The Djinn of Earth
The orphans spend the night hunkered against the cold desert night in the wadee, but far from the ravaged tomb of Shaddad.
Sulayman finally figured out the code for a new spell.
The map says we have to navigate through the valley of echoes on our way to Krak al-Shidda.
The area was clearly not well-travelled here, but it was obvious that someone had tried to make a pass out of this trail; but no tracks were visisble to Zephyr's attention. Thus far, the siblings had seen nothing but dust, sand and rock, but now they made way for some clumps of grass and brush, and the valley began to appear ahead of them.
Making their way carefully down the pass as the sun slowly rose into the sky, the siblings were keenly
A shepherd up ahead, with 3 goats appeared around a corner.
G: Lo and well met, traveller.
Clearly startled, the shepherd clenched his crook with white knuckles.
G: Friend, how long have you been out here?
Shepherd: I have no money...
Z: We're not here to rob you.
G: We're not looking for money; do you live in these parts?
SH: Yes, yes... have you come to raid our village?
G: I'm not quite sure.. have we?
S: No, we don't do that sort of thing, Guzman
Z: Not anymore...
G: My brothers and sister and I; we are heroes of the highest caliber
Looking very confused, the shepherd clutches his crook more tightly and takes a defensive stance in front of his goats.
Z: Sir, what is your name?
Sh: Anan. My name is Anan. My village is Tedofosehk; are you servants of Ynadin?
C: We mean you no harm. We just need safe passage through this valley.
Looking desolate, I am not sure anyoen can be safe, not anymore, but if you continue down this path, you'll reachmy village
S: Why don't you feel safe in your own home?
Our holy man, Mahara, he has not been seen in some time.
C: Where has he gone?
Sh: We do not know; he has been gone for some time. We take care of him, and he takes care of us. The last group of people that went to bring him provisions... well they did not return. It's th ejackals... we hear them in the night.
C: Have you seen them?
Sh: There came down once a man who had eyes... terrible eyes... they were all black, they did not have irises, just black orbs of hate. Said he was a servant of Ynadin, and there were others like him. That we should give up searching for our holy man, that there were others like him, and that our village was theirs now. We have not seen him since, but we foolishly sent another group to see on our holy man, but they have also not returned.
C: How many of these people have you sent?
Sh: Humble villagers such as myself, including one young boy who had hoped to be taken on as an apprentice by Mahar
G: How long ago did you see this man with the black eyes.
Stopping to consider, "A few days, perhaps?"
S: Anan, if you would be so kind as to take us to your village, perhaps we can be of assistance in finding Mahara or ridding you of this curse.
Sh: Really>? So you are not here to raid the village?
S: Of course not, we are, as my brother said, adventurers.
Sh: gives a smile and says, Why not? Perhaps Fate has decided to simle on my little village after all. Please, come with me.
He brings us down through a desolate path, strewn with large black rocks; some over 10 feet tall. Zephyr can tell that there's not much passage, just deer or goats. Once in a while, there are different tracks, but hard to say... maybe jackals, maybe a desert hound... or worse...
The small village might have been 12 structures in total, but they did have a well; offering some sustainability. When the orphans are seen, some wail immediately; assuming the worst just like Anan did. The overall sense is that these people are very poor, and it occurs to the orphans that beggars in Huzuz live sometimes better than these people did.
Anan assures them that we're here to investigate the disappearance of Mahara; some even brave enough to approach the siblings timidly. Apparently immediately however, is teh stark shortage of young to middle-aged men; perhaps all off in search of Mahara. Offering what meagre accommodations they have; the orphans can tell how generous they're trying to be.
G: Anan tell me; we've heard this area is called the valley of Echoes; where did that name come from?
Sh: smiles and says There are certain parts if you stand upon them and made a loud declaration, and you cna be heard for miles. But now, the only echo we hear is the caterwauling of Jackals. Thsi reminds us we are under the thumb of Ynadin.
G: And this 'Ynadin'; who he might he/she/it be? They don't seem much of a happy person...
A: almost smiles, shaeks his head, "Truth is, we have never seen him, only his servants
G: So he's not a god, you're saying?
A: I do not know; once we saw the man with the black eyes. He knew we had sent some of our families in search of our holy man, and he said no further attempts would be tolerated. And just then, the sky grew dark and there was a loud clap of thunder; we knew not what Ynadin was, but that he was a being to be feared if he can control the weather as such
Z: Sounds like nothing more than a bully if he picks on a defenseless village such as this
Some of the villagers seem uncomfortable at Zephyr's words; perhaps concerned they might be overheard.
S: This evil man with no irises; was he human otherwise? Or is there anything else you can tell us about him
A: He smelled... as though... like when we prepare meat... that kind of smell? He did smell that way
S: Like charred meat? Like burnt?
A: When we engage in butchery... I could swear when he smiled he had blood on his lips
C: Was this during the day or night?
A: No; during the brightest day.
S: I believe the baying of hyenas; might be gnolls
G: You mean Jackals, brother
S: No, like gnolls... like jackals but they walk upright. I just don't understand the black eyes
G: Anythign distinctive about what he was wearing?
A: I don't think so... not in any type of formal
C: Can he be summoned? Can we speak with him...
A: He just appears, demands something of us, and leaves
S: What does he normally demand?
A: LAst time it was... some of our children.
C: Well then, we must get them back
G: Anan, I mean no disrespect, but it seems strange that such a man would come to such a small village and demand you give your children; is there something special about this place, that would attract the attention of such a being?
A: We are a smiple people; we do nothing but live off the land, telling stories; I cannot imagine there is anything here that someone would want... my only thought is that there is some knowledge, some wisdom that Mahara possessed... that they are using us to get to him
G: Then for certain we need to find him.
Sul takes his siblings aside, "It is clear we need to help these people. Perhaps they can give us information about finding more treasure in Krak al-Shidda; and besides, it's teh right thing to do."
F: If we are to rescue the men and children; we must know how many have left and are missing.
Asking around of the village, the siblings learn that 3 children and 6 adults are missing besides Mahara.
F: We will find them for you; but tell us please... how often does this man come. Is it the moon? Or the weather? Perhaps the howling of jackals announces his coming?
A: Yes... perhaps the jackals may be more active when he comes...
G: Is there anyone else that you would like us to speak with? But Anan assures the siblings they would offer anything else if they thought it would help.
Refilling their waterskins, the orphans begin their trek into the rocky paths of the valley of echoes.
After a short time, Faruq perks his ears up and calls out, "Stop! We're being watched." and as if on queue, the caterwauling the siblings heard of begins to ring around them. Ahead of them, two jackals reveal themselves from around one of the large rocks. A sickly, horrifying sound can be heard and the siblings watch in horror as the bones and skin of the jackals distorts and bends, creaking and growing; both jackals now stand upright and draw huge scimitars.
"Oh look, delivery. Food has arrived."
Z: You'll find no meal here with us! and Zephyr looses two quick arrows, striking home. In response, the jackal leaps down, incredibly agile and charges Zephyr to retaliate; the jackal's strange gaze locking with Zephyr for a moment. Springing into action, Guzman draws the Cyclone of Four Quarters, the multi-coloured blade glinting in the midday sun. Faruq, for a moment, sees his brother attacking in slow motion; wielding this legendary weapon as in a story he was told as children.
The remaining jackals, at this fierce display of spell and steel, disappear back into the cover of the stones and brush.
Chaka, whispering a word of prayer, takes on a fierce image; her eyes red, and with a voice deeper and commanding simply says, "Run!"
Faruq, felling another jackal, approaches Guzman; his eyes more on teh sword than his brother. "No eyes have seen this blade wielded in many years, brother. I am thinking Fate surely has put it in your path, for you wield it with skill and purpose.
G: Fate, or because I am the one to have picked it off the ground, either way, I am satisfied with its performance thus far.
Z: We mustn't linger; they know we are here now.
Inspecting the felled jackals, no discerning marks or identification was to be found.
S: This does not bode well for the children of the village. These are Jackalweres, they are tainted by a foul corruption. These creatures serve something far darker, I think.
C: Then we must move quickly.
Finally arriving at the cave the villagers described as where Mahara lived, they see it completely sealed shut but a perfect stone door that matches the rickety dimensions of the cave mouth. Strangely though, there's a hold in the wall, the size of an ogre's fist.
G: This looks like the magic of Mahara perhaps
S: That he may have sealed himself in? Or perhaps trapped inside?
Guzman creeps closer, poking a stick through, and a cry rings out. Please, please stop it!
G: Mahara, is that you?
M: Y.... yes... who is out there?
G: We come from a neighbouring village; are you in any danger?
Z: they're in a cave...
M: No... it is you who are in grave danger... run... while you can... run....
G: Can we get in then, let us in if we are in danger?
M: I cannot let you in, I am trapped here
S: HOw long have you been trapped... ugh...
M: Days... perhaps more... I am losing time....
C: How do we free you?
M: You cannot free me, his magic is too pwoerful... you must run, he will return soon, attemping... Ynadin
C: What is he?
M: hughh..... he is a Dao
Faruq's eyes go wide, "A genie of elemental earth." Faruq quickly passes his waterskin to Mahara
M: Thank you, you are most kind, I have been meditating to keep my strength up, but I have not eaten; I cannot remmeber the last time I ate and drank.
C: Where are the others
M: there were others?
S: They were likely killed by the jackalweres
S: They were either killed or taken. This creature has been taking children from your village; there will be no more; we have come to stop it.
Z: There is still some hope left!
M: He is a most powerful genie, but he is tupid; he had come here ostensibly to destroy me, he thought me the powerful protector in what he thinks are his lands. I could not stand against his might, but I told him a riddle and he is not bright... every day he comes back with another answer... every day he is wrong. I know, he will not kill me until he proves himself smarter tha me. But one day his anger will override his pride. He will destroy me, and release his wrath upon those he believes I protect.
G: That sounds like an opportunity for hiding then if we know he's coming.
G: We can at least hear the riddle before we decide to spring and attack him.... if we decide to do this... I mean... Guzman looks at his scimitar admiringly.
C: The jackals; are they his servants?
M: they are not; not normally... but since he has arrived, they have fallen under his sway. Normally the roam to the south, but when they heard the revival of the Dao, they flocked to his side. He promises them great glory and works incredible magic in front of them. They are easily swayed.
G: So, what do you think we should do?
S: What can you tell us of Dao, Faruq?
Faruq tells his siblings all he knows of the earth genies, but the orphans all realize they have never come in confrontation with a genie before, so they discuss how to interact with the genie when it comes time. Asking Mahara what if anything did you do to stave off his fury, Mahara tells the orphans the riddle he uses without knowing the answer:
Centuries dead, and still is living
Can't forget, but is forgiving
All beauty gone, all men reviling
Time betrayed, but still is smiling
In the distance, a rumbling can be heard and the
Y: Old man! I have solved your riddle at last!
Crawling on his hands and knees, Mahara appears in the mouth of the cave; thin and gaunt
Y: So you finally understand your position in front of me. I knew you would eventually for no one can match my power, no one can match my wits. Are you ready, old man?
Mahara nods feebly.
Puffing himself up, Ynadin "It is the pyramid of Agamzemny!"
Silence. A tumbleweed rolls by.
Y: What do you mean, no!?
M: No, that is not it.
Y: You will tell me this riddle, or is this a lie you are perpetrating?!
M: No, can you not feel it?
Before he knew what was happening, Guzman had Cyclone in his hand, and was raising it uncontrollably. Even from his hiding spot, he could see the blade now visible from the sheath wreathed in a green flame.
Y: I sense... I sense you are RIGHT! Tell me the answer old man... tell me before I grind your bones into dust!
Mahar looks up and says, "Can you not feel it? In the lump of coal that is your heart, mighty genie? Can you not feel it... icy grip... of terror...."
Chaka casts and the ground trembles audibly...
Y: What sorcery is this? The earth responds to MY commands!
Slowly, Guzman raises out of the sand, not bothering to dust himself off.
G: Who dares speak so loudly in front of me!? Making sure that Ynadin sees the sheathed sword vibrating with anticipation. As the sword is drawn, it's as though a song rings out; the green flame now engulfing the entire length of the wicked scimitar, Guzman for a moment wasn't sure if he was wielding the sword, of if the sword is wielding him... the only thing certain was the song Guzman heard was heard by Ynadin as well!
"NOooooo!! The terror has returned!"
G: What gives you the right, Ynadin to stand in front of here casting down those poor people!?
Y: I .... I .... I.....
G: Get out of here, Ynadin!
Y: The khan would see me reduced to coal dust! He clenches his fist, fear evident "The pact must be fulfilled! Though I die here, you must be overthrown!"
G: Give up, Ynadin!
Y: for all the crimes against my people... I cannot!
The orphans let loose their magic and steel, but it is the Cyclone of the Four Quarters that eviscerates the Dao
G: Go back from whence you came, this is the word of Shaddad
Mahara looks up at the siblings in disbelief. "You are... you are... the terror..."
Sul putting his hand on Guzman's shoulder, "Sometimes you do good work, brother. Just rememeber you're not actually Shaddad."
G: I know...
Faruq slowly approaches the remnants of the dao
S: Be careful with the sowrd, brother..> i think it makes you a marked man when it comes to Genies.
G: I agree... it will be sheathed
S: But that did feel good, didn't it?
G: I just... destroyed a genie. Brothers and sister... thank you. This plan could not have worked had it not been for you.
Z: You also saved a life today
C: Many lives
S: We still need to save the children.
C: Should we go after the jackals?
S: We need to get Mahara back to his village
F: It is likely that this Dao was adorned with jewels; perhaps he has a place where they are kept.
Zephyr sees a jackal loping away... they were watching.
The siblings take Mahara back to the village, and the gracious villagers wonder at the story they are told. Offering a small pouch in thanks, Chaka shakes her head saying, "No, you need this more than we do."
Faruq chimes in, "We have come at the behest of Fate, perhaps one day you will help us."