KYRIE WAS HERE
A loud buzz broke the quiet; skittering across the sand was a two-meter tall being that an Earth-born might say resembled a giant praying mantis. The mantis stopped and genuflected before a larger member of the species.
"[Hail to the Xorak!!!]" the smaller one called out, in a language of clacking mandibles.
"[Hail to the Xorak.]" the larger one replied. "[What have you to report?]"
Connected to the larger mantis-being by a chain was a small humanoid, dressed in dirty furs and tattered wrappings covering only some of its greenish skin, with angry eyes showing underneath a helmet made out of the skull of some long-dead ancient beast. It started to scratch itself.
"[The scouts report there seems to be some unusual activity around the Grey Oasis. One scout was intercepted and driven away.]" the smaller insectoid reported.
"[The damned Grey Lord is up to something.]" the larger insectoid mused. "[Well done, K'Kinb. I will pass this information along to the Xorak--if the pointy-eared softskins are plotting against him, they will have to be dealt with.]"
The humanoid began to snarl.
"[The Goblinchild seems agitated, G'Gat.]" K'Kinb noted.
G'Gat made a buzzing laugh, and kicked the small humanoid; it rolled away as far as the chain would let it, and began to shout incoherent curses at the large insectoid. "[The Goblinchild objects to my derision of 'pointy-eared softskins'. But that's too bad for him. He is a slave of the kreen, and will learn his place.]"
The Goblinchild continued to rant.
G'Gat sighed. "[Eventually]" He muttered much more quietly. "[I hope...]"
Here, though, in a small patch of the dusty landscape came a patch of green; and a clear blue pond surrounded by a number of small, but lavishly decorated buildings.
The air began to shimmer at the center of the oasis; and for once, the beating of the sun had nothing to do with it.
Violet sparks played around as four shapes began to appear; two small, one large, the last in between.
Several guards, armed with spears, surrounded the newcomers. The guards were dressed in ornate robes; none of the guards were human--they were all lean, with pointed ears; some had eyes with no sclera or pupils, appearing to be all brightly colored irises.
The four new shapes congealed, and the violet lights disappeared. Three of them--the two small ones, and the one of human stature--were dressed in concealing robes. The larger one was a muscular, brick-red skinned humanoid with a bald scalp and long, pointed ears, dressed in bluish leathers, with a massive spiked hammer slung to his back.
One of the guards shouted something in a lilting, musical tongue that sounded pleasant even with the clearly threatening intent.
The "medium" newcomer stepped forward. "I am known to your people as Tsandric Nenecolindo. And I am expected."
The guards lowered their spears.
"Does this mean we will not have a fight?" the largest newcomer said, sounding a bit disappointed.
"I certainly 'opes not..." one of the smaller ones muttered.
"Indeed you are, My Lord." one of the guards answered "Nenecolindo". "This way--the Grey Lord awaits you."
Lord Valross was taller than any of the other elves; his eyes, like some of the others, lacked sclera or pupil, but were a far more vivid amethyst color. They matched the ornate purple garment he was wearing, which was decorated with a device resembling a triangle made of four smaller triangles. A gold circlet sat on his brow.
"Tsandric." Valross said in a calm voice. "I am pleased you came so quickly."
The man who had introduced himself to the guards as "Nenecolindo" stepped forward, and removed his hood, revealing a male human apparently in his early twenties, with a head of wild brown hair. "It's been too long, I agree."
The hobgoblin cleared his throat loudly, and then announced in clipped tones. "And may I present the Archmage of the Steady Winds, Zandrik Fallagar, Filius of Delphia, Follower of Jerbiton, and Senior Magus of the Covenant of Dragonsfall. Challenge him, and you face swift obliteration."
"That will not be a concern, good hobgoblin." Valross chuckled. "I must say, Tsandric, this is a most eclectic group you have brought with you. You usually arrive alone."
"This place calls for extraordinary measures." Fallagar answered, and nodded toward the hobgoblin. "This is the Marshall of Dragonsfall, Styx."
The hobgoblin grunted and nodded.
The last two members of the party revealed faces that, much like the elves, were very human save for their pointed ears. They appeared at first glance to be young teenage boys with brown hair; the one with spikier, straighter hair nevertheless had some lines on his face that contrasted with his otherwise youthful appearance.
"I am Rishot Augusty, swordsman in service to Lord Fallagar" he bowed. "It is an 'onor to make your acquaintance at last, Lord 'Epsis."
"An' I'm 'is nephew, Terchi Bagwise." Terchi had chubbier, more youthful features, and his hair was curlier. His accent was far more pronounced that his uncle's. "Pleased to meetcha, Sir!"
"Halflings." Valross nodded. "A rare sight indeed."
"Well, we calls ourselves 'obbits, but close enuff..." Terchi said amiably.
"I wish to cut through the formalities, Valross." Fallagar said. "What brings us both to this unpleasant place, old friend?"
Valross nodded to one of the elves. The elf bowed and sprinted off.
"Two days ago, one of our scouting parties encountered a kreen warband in the Red Wastes. They fought off the ambush, composed of a couple of kreen warriors and some of their fighting slaves. In the process, one of the enemy party dropped this item."
The messenger elf reentered, holding a folded velvet square. "Here, My Lord."
Valross unfolded the velvet square, to reveal a battered stone about the size and shape of a silver dollar, bearing a runic symbol resembling a backwards letter "P"
Fallagar's left eyebrow shot up.
"I know 'ot 'at is!" Terchi said excitedly. "It's onea' yer return stones, iddn't it, Mast' Fallagar?"
Fallagar took the stone. "It is indeed."
" 'Return stone'?" one of the elves asked.
"I prepare a number of these for use by members of the covenant." Fallagar answered. "It can cast one of two teleportation spells: to either take the bearer to some place or some person of importance to them, or to return them to Dragonsfall."
Fallagar indicated a mark on the stone. "MMCXII AP...I made this one almost twenty years ago." He looked at Valross. "This is the one I gave to Kyrie Wheatberry."
Valross closed his eyes and exhaled. "I feared so."
"Kyrie Wheatberry!?" Rishot asked. "She was 'ere!?"
"'Oos Kyrie Wheatberry?" Terchi asked. " 'At name sounds like she could be a 'obbit!"
"She was." Rishot answered
"Why ain'ts I ever 'eard of 'er, then?" Terchi asked.
Rishot shook his head. "All I was ever told was that she left Dragonsfall, about the time Lilly was born." He looked at Terchi. "Which of course was about the same time you were born."
"Miss Wheatberry was previously the head chef of Dragonsfall." Styx added. "She made the best barbecue sauce; almost ogreish in its taste!"
Terchi looked at the Lord of Dragonsfall for a moment; the tall manfolk looked even more inscrutable than usual. "Mast' Fallagar?"
"Kyrie's reasons for leaving were her own affair." Fallagar finally answered. "She asked my aid in leaving Dragonsfall behind. I gave it to her: I brought her here, and gave her the return stone should she decide to return to her former home."
"Why 'ere?" Terchi asked.
"You're quite full of questions, Young One." Fallagar smiled slightly. "She visited this place with me on a mission a few years earlier; some rather unique herbs grow in Kreen's oases, which she had developed a taste for."
"Was the stone used?" Rishot asked.
Fallagar shook his head. "Not recently. The return stones recharge by absorbing ambient fluid vis from the local aura, which on most of this world happens very slowly. This stone is fully charged."
"I will have Nerwen guide you to the area where the stone was found, Tsandric." Valross said. "We should be ready in the morning; rest for now, as I know travel between planes can be taxing."
"My thanks, Lord Hepsis." Fallagar bowed, followed by the rest of his retinue.
"This way." one of the elves indicated; Styx and the two halflings started to follow him.
Terchi noticed the Archmage had not moved. "Mast' Fallagar?"
"Go on ahead, Young Bagwise." Fallagar said. "Lord Valross and I must discuss matters of a more private nature."
Valross sighed. "Indeed so..."
"You don't want to walkin' around in the deserts in yer bare feets, Nephew." Rishot reminded him. "Even a 'obbit foot'd burn in 'at after a while."
"I take yer word for it, Unc, but don't means I likes wearin' em...I don't fink I'd ever get used to it like you 'as."
"You should have chosen to be born as a hobgoblin, Master Bagwise." Styx suggested. "The children of Maglubiyet are well suited to such inhospitable climes such as this!"
"Don'ts recall bein' asked, Mister Styx." Terchi rolled his eyes.
"Well, obviously not." Styx replied. "Because the sense of the choice would have been obvious!"
"So did you knows 'is Kyrie lady, Unc?"
Rishot sighed, and removed the shortsword on his waist. "Not extremely well. She was kind of unusual...most 'obbits are social, but she kinda kept to 'erself. Amiable, but didn't leave the covenant much. Don't think she ever went to an Equinox Festival, for example." Rishot rolled his eyes. "Yer Mum liked to joke that's because she was sweet on me an' was disappointed when I married your Aunt Peaches."
Terchi laughed. " 'At sounds like Mum, yeah..."
"Your demihuman mating habits are so ridiculously complex." Styx noted. "A hobgoblin male and female meet, pummel each other until sufficiently aroused, and then consummate. It's quite efficient!!!"
"Unenlightened being 'at I am, Styx, I think I'll stick to the way I'm used to.' Rishot shook his head with a bit of affection. "It's worked enough to get me three children, after all."
"And that is your right, Sir Augusty!" Styx agreed.
Well, except for Styx, but as he had loudly proclaimed, his people had been made to deal with harsh environments such as this one.
Their guide was Nerwen Silverwood, an elf of the breed with more human-looking eyes. Like Valross, she had apparently known the Archmage for some time, and a couple of times had teased the wizard about someone named "Lady Zeriel".
The party were riding creatures Nerwen referred to as "crodlu"--a kind of drakelike lizard. Terchi and his uncle were small enough they were sharing one of the creatures.
"[About to shit again?]" G'Gat chuckled.
"[I think he sees something.]" K'Kinb said, squinting. "[Because now I think I do too.]"
G'Gat jumped up to a higher rock, dragging the Goblinchild with him. "[Well Well Well...what do we have here?]"
The Goblinchild cursed again as he was banged against an outcropping.
"[That's definitely one of the Grey Lord's hive leading them.]" K'Kinb pointed out. His eyesight was better than G'Gat's. "[And another of the elf-things. They also appear to have brought a couple of their hatchlings, and...]"
"[A goblin, of a rather tougher-looking sort than the Goblinchild.]"
G'Gat made a hissing laugh. "[The Xorak said to watch and wait for now...but if the softskins are going to come to us, why should be disappoint them?]" He tugged on the chain. "[I anticipate that the Goblinchild's unique gift will even the odds. And if it doesn't, well...he's expendable anyway.]"
"I 'ear something..." Rishot said. "A faint buzzing."
Terchi listened. "Oy! I 'ears it too!"
Before any of the others could process what Rishot and Terchi were saying, a sudden streak of motion was followed with Styx getting knocked off of his crodlu by some manner of short spear.
"Shit." Rishot hissed.
"Oh, excellent!!!" Styx said excitedly, unbuckling his mordenkrad as he hopped to his feet.
"There's probably at least six kreen." Nerwen said. Another spear whistled by her, but she avoided it. "They're all armed." Nerwen added, loading her bow almost nonchalantly.
Another short spear whistled at Styx, but bounced off of his thick hide.
"You will have to do better than that!!!"
A spear struck the crodlu that Fallagar was riding; with an angry shout, it bucked the wizard off, and ran.
" 'Ere's no cover 'ere!" Terchi cried.
"Which is why they're attacking us 'ere." Rishot pointed out, jumping off the crodlu, sword drawn.
Another spear whistled by Terchi, but missed hitting anyone. 'At makes five, so Miss Silverwood's lookin' right so far...
A man-sized, insectlike creatures hopped up onto a nearby rock, a fur-clad goblin being drug behind it on a chain. One of the insectoid's arms held a short spear of the same type that had already been thrown at them, but two held a very large, glaive-like polearm. The goblin was carrying the massive thighbone of some large creature, brandishing it like a sword.
"I don't know what you zzzofzzzkinzzz are doing in the Xorak'zzz landzzz..." the large kreen said. "And what'zzz more, I really don't care."
The kreen leader barked at the others; five more came into sight; though smaller than the one that had addressed the party. All of them held at least one more short spear in their four arms, most at least one more than that.
"We have you zzzurounded!" one of the other kreen shouted.
"This is your last chance to surrender, or be obliterated!!!" Styx informed the kreen.
."I promised your Mum I would let no 'arm come to you." Rishot told Terchi. "And I don't think dyin' myself would protect me if I let 'er down."
Terchi didn't want to think of it coming to that. If necessary, Fallagar made sure the young hobbit had a return stone of his own to use, but like his uncle...he feared his mother's wrath if he came home and her brother didn't.
The wizard, meanwhile, had rolled and stood upright, his quarterstaff at the ready.
The Goblinchild snarled, and strained at the chain.
Styx shouted a goblinese battlecry, and charged one of the kreen. With a sickening crack, his mordenkrad struck true, sending the target a good ten feet back, greenish blood flying.
The kreen leader hissed. An arrow from Nerwen's bow buried itself in his hide.
One of the kreen threw its extra shortspear at Terchi; he dodged the attack, but fell off the crodlu in the process. "Ooch!!!"
Another kreen engaged Fallagar; shortspear and quarterstaff clashed.
A third kreen attacked Rishot with a bony sickle; Rishot easily parried the thrust with his sword, causing the kreen to snarl with frustration.
The kreen leader shouted his language's most vulgar obscenities, snapped the arrow protruding from his chest, and then threw the chained goblin. "GOBLINCHILD!!! KILL!!! THE LARGER GOBLIN!!! I ORDER IT!!!"
"You are Nerwen Zzzilverwood, the Grey Lord'zzz chief zzzervant..." the last kreen said, approaching her. "You require zzzpezzzial care."
"You're creatures of 'eat." Rishot said firmly. "There's a reason the Boss 'ad me come on this mission." He swung the shortsword, and a misty steam came off of it. "Let me show you whut that is."
"Bloom! Snowdrop!!!" Rishot exclaimed. A burst of bluish energy struck the nearest kreen, and it flew back, landing in a crumpled heap.
"Oh 'ells!!!" Terchi cried. A gust of wind hit him from his uncle's sword's attack. A wind far colder than natural to this place.
Terchi spared a glance at the "Goblinchild" now moving toward Styx. For only a moment, he felt sorry for the goblin, clearly an abused slave to the kreen leader. Stop finkin' stuff like 'at, Terch, or you'll get your fool arse killed dead... He shook the thought out of his head angrily.
Fallagar managed a solid hit on the kreen attacking him, causing it to skitter back. The Archmage would never be mistaken for a master of "vulgar" combat, but the centuries had taught him the value of having non-magical options available when dealing with hostiles. The quarterstaff also gave him some reach, which kept the kreen from getting closer.
"BUGGAR!!!" the Goblinchild screamed, and slammed Styx with his bone club. The hobgoblin yelped in surprise, and was actually pushed back.
"You are far stronger than most of the pathetic insult your subspecies is to the children of Maglubiyet." With a ferocious flurry of blows, though, he regained his lost ground and more; with one mighty swing of his spiked hammerlike weapon, he struck the Goblinchild with a meaty crunch.
"I think that will be close enough, Sir Kreen." Nerwen said blithely, attempting to keep the kreen who had targetted her from moving closer.
The kreen that Styx had previously dispatched woozily got to its feet, and shook its head vigorously, trying to regain its senses.
"Ogh!!!" Terchi cried, as the kreen that had knocked him off his crodlu charged him. Terchi, not wanting to experience melee combat with the giant bug if he could help it, ran away from it. "I fink I 'ear me Mum callin'!!! Can't play today! So sorry!!!"
The kreen engaged with Fallagar skittered and hissed, trying to figure out how to get closer without getting hit by the wizard's staff.
"It buuuuuurnzzz!!!" the kreen Rishot had hit screamed. "Buuurnzzz!!! But no fire!!!" A creature of an arid world, the blast of cold was beyond its comprehension.
"Get up you weakling!!!" the kreen leader snarled, kicking his semifrozen henchman. "What zzzorzzzery do this zzzoftzzzkinzzz have? K'Kinb!!!"
"My apologies, G'Gat..." K'Kinb replied, hurling another shortspear at the elvish archer. "But I'm kinda buzzzy..."
What happened next would factor into Terchi Bagwise's nightmares for a good year afterward.
"Do yourself a favor." Styx suggested. "Do not try to continue your futile attack on me."
The shriek that would haunt Terchi was loud, shrill, and filled with pain and anger of a level that he couldn't even guess at.
" 'Ot the..." Rishot breathed.
Even Styx looked just a tad unnerved.
"YEZZZ!!! DO IT!!!" G'Gat shouted.
As the Goblinchild howled, tendrils of glowing reddish violet energy began to play around him. They congealed into a shape.
The Goblinchild was surrounded by the image of a giant four-legged, armored lizard with a massive clublike tail, its head looking very much like the skull helmet the Goblinchild wore.
The Archmage flinched. "Oh this is not good..."
Inspiration for the kreen race and their world came from the Dark Sun scenario for Dungeons and Dragons, created by Timothy B. Brown and Troy Demming.