Desert Gods

A knife edge life. Battles with instincts, scruples and inevitable descents.

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Mesteno
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Re: Desert Gods

Post by Mesteno » Sun Nov 24, 2019 9:32 pm

[Continued…]

The Rock Thing, stone faced himself, took its sweet time processing Aiden’s words and the glowing disc before it shifted (gratingly) grudgingly out of the way.

Stamping the ground again with the javelin, Aiden made the disc disappear and started into motion, marching for the gates which were swinging wide to accept them. Mesteno swallowed a sigh of relief and fell into step with him once more, timing his stride to a perfect unison, cloak lapping at the backs of his ankles and the strap-skirt of the ridiculous cuirass lashing around his thighs.

A third of the guard was following along, but they had left the rock monster behind. Apparently, the Shark headed thing was second in command (or on Rock Thing's shit list) because it took over leading them onward, gnashing occasionally at the air as it walked.

From the outside, the Lady of Spring's lands looked like the top of a mountain in Hell. Once they stepped beyond the gates, though, everything changed, including their escort. Green grass and freshly blooming trees and flowers and shrubs filled every inch of landscape. And it was landscape that went on far longer than the top of a mountain could rightly encompass. Wildly coloured butterflies flitted across the shrubs and bees were busily buzzing from flower to flower. The sky was still a muddy sort of crimson, but it was lighter here than it had been before and felt far less oppressive, especially when they were surrounded by such life. Spring eternal existed here where Persephone idled away her time, the grounds either a constant reminder of her duty or just an effect of her presence.

As for the guards, then now resembled much more normal looking men. Each was a fine specimen, though they did continue to make the sounds of their natural form. Boot heels dragged like claws or paws instead of sounding like footfalls, and the growling and guttural sound of their language remained unaffected by the illusion.

Aiden didn't blink at the transformation, but kept on along the walkway that was now leading them toward a rather lavish stone house several stores high. Not quite a palace, but not too far from it, it was surrounded by an expansive lawn on one side and a hedge maze on the other. Fountains gurgled in between with stunning models of the Goddess herself pouring water into their basins.

Where he could, Mesteno took count, trying to gauge the odds should things turn unpleasant. He couldn't assume these guardians wouldn't escort them further than they'd expected and join the hellhound if things went wrong. Subtle, darting looks, which weren't entirely successful given that the majority were behind them and not alongside. He did see the fountains though... yet another example of Kore’s self-absorption. He struggled not to roll his eyes.

Most of the guards fell away as they climbed the steps and headed into Kore's' home. The house was built around a central courtyard, lush with the most precious and prime specimens that the Goddess preferred and riddled with meandering paths. The gardens, like the house, were cunningly (magically) tiered, going all the way up to the topmost level.

The shark led them to a wide set of stairs leading to the pinnacle, one massive, windowless room with wooden walls, the ceiling exposed to a sky that did not exist outside the house. Achingly blue with huge, puffy clouds that drifted lazily along. Kore lounged on the divan they'd seen her in before, with the Hellhound still at her feet, still lazily reading from her book. It didn't seem anybody had told her they were arriving. But that's just how she wanted it to seem.

Their escort did not enter with them, but lingered there near the stairs. Aiden didn't pause, heading straight toward the divan and the Goddess. He stopped a good ten feet away and bowled low, grounding the point of his javelin as he'd done when they met Hecate. Somehow, his helmet stayed on his head. "Glorious Proserpina," he began, though she hadn't even looked up, "the Mighty Dis Pater bid me to convey his warmest greetings and begs your attendance upon him in preparation for your upcoming bonding ceremony."

As Aiden bowed to offer the formal, obsequious greeting, Mesteno sank smoothly (on a non-crunching knee) to the ground to kneel, the plume of his helmet arcing proudly overhead and going some way to assisting with the business of obscuring his identity. There wasn't much of a view down there, but it was an ideal opportunity to get a furtive look at the hellhound resting beside the divan the Goddess lounged upon.

The beast had cracked open its flaming red eyes to regard the pair, its massive head still resting on its paws. Thankfully, smoke did not drift up from its nostrils and after only a few moments, it closed its eyes and appeared to resume its interrupted nap. So far, so good. Kore, however, was not nearly so accommodating.

The silence stretched in the wake of Aiden's speech as the Goddess continued to ignore them in favour of her book. Somewhere unseen, birds were twittering merrily to each other. The clouds above drifted slowly along through the impossible sky. It was almost as if they weren't really there, at least as far as Kore was concerned. Finally, though, she closed her book with an overloud snap and deigned to acknowledge their existence which, by the sour look on her pretty face, was sullying her domain.

"You do not know how to kneel?" She asked that of Aiden, obviously, since Mesteno was doing a bang up job of taking the knee.

To his credit, the demi-god went down to one of his own with a solid thump and minus the grunt that impact should have caused. The tip of his javelin slid further forward and the plume on his helmet nearly brushed the floor. "Forgive-" It was as far as she allowed him to go.

"Silence!" Kore snapped, the sound akin to the closing of that tome she still held. She might well have wanted to throw it at him. Instead, she used it to point toward the still bowing Mesteno, like he should have eyes to see her all bent over like he was. "You! You will speak. And pray your manners are far better." She did not sound happy. The Hellhound had opened its eyes again. "What is it Dis wants? It is far too early for the ceremony."

Aiden's jaw had tightened, and looked sidelong, as best he could, toward Mesteno for a moment. Obviously, he hadn't predicted how testy the woman would be. But she did not sound so eager to meet Dis despite how she'd insisted to the Sadist the marriage must happen.

Mesteno needn't have eyes on her to know whom she was demanding speak since there was no one else there with them beyond old shark head. The look he shot Aiden's way was as vicious a 'told you so' as ever there was - contingency plans! They should have had them, picked over every little detail for a job like this until they knew their parts by rote.

He did not rise, because she hadn't commanded him to, and knowing how picky Hades had been about the quality of grovelling, he suspected his wife of the same haughty imperiousness.

"Sublime Prosperina, I humbly ask forgiveness for my cohort. Should you wish his knees broken to aid his memory in future I shall see to it as soon as our duties are fulfilled." Aiden could just grit his teeth there and bear his grovelling in silence. "Our exalted lord had word of mortal intent to sabotage proceedings, with explicit intent being to prevent your ascension. He believes it essential to the success of your bonding that measures be put in place to forestall such events and wishes your guidance."

Whilst Aiden wasn't exactly overjoyed Kore had silenced him so swiftly, necessitating some ad-lib responses, he had full faith and confidence in the Sadist's ability to adapt. Mesteno did not disappoint. The tip remained firmly grounded. They were nowhere close to sunk yet.

Kore tapped her long, blood red nails against the tome as she weighed Mesteno's answer and offer, her eyes narrowed on him and him alone. Something had made her cock her head to one side just a little bit.

"Mortals." She spit the word like a curse, then sighed gustily as she swung her legs off the divan, kicking the Hellhound out of its place. The massive beat grumbled, a bit of smoke trailing from its jowls, but it moved as the Queen bid. "Always causing problems." Kore went on. "Don't they know they will die of starvation? Winter will rage on. They will be unable to plant their precious crops." She was ranting now, and up off the couch to pace as she continued to rail about mortal stupidity. "I will bring them spring forever and they balk like petulant children."

As horrible as an endless winter was, an endless spring would be no better. And that really was a prime reason to keep her from marrying Dis, if nothing else. He would set her free of the Underworld and the seasons would be just as screwed. Still, despite her railing, she didn't seem too eager to open that portal just yet.

The Goddess went silent somewhere across the room. The tome had been dropped on the floor during her tirade and the Hellhound was sitting up and watching her, rather than them. Above, the puffy clouds in the sky had gathered and darkened into more stormy proportions to fit the woman's current mood. Soon, rain began to fall on them, yet it disappeared when it touched the wood floor. The squall passed quickly as she rounded on Mesteno again and came stalking his way.

"You may tell your 'exalted lord'," there was more than a little scorn in her voice with the title. Apparently, Dis was not a love match! "that I will receive him here." She folded her arms, slippered feet stopped practically under Mesteno's nose and he dress brushing the plume of his helmet. She smelled beautifully of flowers.

Mesteno began to wish the javelin was no longer grounded when her proud prowling came so very close to him. What he wouldn't give to snag her ankle and simply topple her onto her ass, drain her into compliance like he might do with a mortal giving him too much trouble.

"Dis Pater sees the wisdom in your vision and would see the mortal realm flourish as you will it," and he dared say no more than that, in case she thought him presumptuous, speaking on the Power's behalf as if he knew him personally. That much, he thought, might have been mentioned to a favoured guard. As for her refusal... "Your offer to host him here is a generous one, Great Lady, but he bid us inform you there is more than one reason he requests your attendance at his demesne. It involves approval of a wedding gift he intends which... cannot be easily moved."

Was she the type to be tempted by presents? Certainly one so large and impressive sounding as the one he was implying had to be a temptation.

"Should it not meet your approval he would not have you embarrassed by it on such a momentous occasion." Throw in the risk of being embarrassed at her nuptials and surely she'd want to go.

The snort Kore gave in response to Mesteno's initial answer was anything but ladylike. She might have muttered something like 'He'd better', but it was a passing comment, at best, when the Sadist dared defy her will with his paltry excuses. Really, their untimely arrival and outrageous requests were doing much to keep her off balance and distracted from Apate’s illusions. She might have hauled off and kicked him in the ribs (the rumbling of thunder in the stormy sky was an indication of her mood), but Aiden was swift to aim her displeasure back on himself by daring to speak again.

"Fearsome Lady, he would be lost without your input." Perhaps Aiden knew she was winding up for something physical. Delicate she might look, but she was still a Power and would likely unleash more than just her temper on the Sadist. He was much better suited to taking that kind of punishment.

Thankfully, it worked. Kore's slipped feet stomped away from Mesteno toward Aiden when he spoke and she ended up kicking him, instead, giving a little shriek of temper. The demi-god went sprawling off to the side, which startled the Hellhound a bit and had it growling. It was already out of sorts for the rain which had taken to falling again and now its mistress was in a fit.

Aiden's helmet went rattling across the floor but he kept hold of the javelin, keeping it grounded for the moment as Kore spewed some more verbal venom.

"What he should beg to learn is how to better train his servants! That would be present enough. I will drag you both before him and show him how it is done!" She declared in a silky, growling tone. She was waving her hands about and the air off to the left, nearest the Sadist, had begun to ripple. The present Mesteno promised wasn't enough, but it seemed their bad behaviour was. The Goddess was making the gate and it was soon splitting the air and spiralling open to reveal a more Hellish landscape and domain.

Aiden scrambled to pick himself up as she stalked toward it.

"Heel!" She commanded them both as she went.

Mesteno couldn't recall ever being so pleased to hear a threat of violence as he was just then. Hopefully his enthusiasm would simply be mistaken for an attempt at remedied behaviour, because he moved smoothly to his feet with the straps of the cuirass slapping at his knees and the rainwater dripping off his back.

Kore was almost there, nearing the portal, when the world was split by the sound of another horn.

That would be Dis’ real couriers.

Kore herself stopped, wide-eyed like a doe, and turned her head toward the front of the house, as if she might be able to see beyond the windowless walls.

With their cover blown, and the knowledge that the bitch wasn't going to give them a second chance to get her through, Mesteno moved fleeter than any man had a right to be. He barrelled into Kore with as much force as a single stride could gain him to barge her through the portal, one hand outstretched to crash into the nape of her neck and the other at the small of her back.

Risky business, this kidnapping of deities.

The shark-headed guy, who'd been slinking down the stairs, paused and whipped about. The Hellhound leaped to all four paws, hackles rising along its back in the shape of flames.

Aiden had opened his mouth to offer some advice, the javelin now off the ground and pointed toward the Hellhound, but the Sadist had saved him the breath tackled Kore through the gate. A wild grin took over the demi-god's face instead and he threw his weapon at the Hellhound as it leaped toward the portal after the pair. He went bolting after it a moment later as the guard started yelling behind him.

Mesteno managed to take the Goddess completely by surprise (he dared to touch her!) and so they both went stumbling through, out of her domain and into Dis'.

Graceless in her startlement, Kore tripped over the front of her dress, ripping it as loudly as her gasp. A few seconds later, a speared Hellhound came stumbling and drooling its way through the gate, belching flame perilously close to the pair and acidic blood splattering and hissing across the tile flooring.

Equally graceless, and rendered further inelegant thanks to portal travel, Mesteno tripped right over the tumbled Kore, and avoided landing full length on top of her only through concerted effort. Instead he tumbled forward, hit the ground hard with a shoulder and rolled, managing to cease any forward momentum via cat-like crouch. Entirely by chance, he managed to look impressively dramatic instead of clumsy.

They appeared to be in a great hall of some sort, earthen pillars holding up a cave-like ceiling giving it a distinctive Roman flare. In her pique, Kore had chosen to make the gate go right into what might be Dis' audience chamber. It was packed with hellish beings, all staring and gaping at their dramatic arrival.

Aiden arrived through the gate around second two, stepping from one domain to the next with a wild flare of light at his back as he sucked the portal dry of magic, injecting it directly into himself.

Mesteno hadn't expected was that they'd be surrounded once they reached the other side. World still spinning, he had the time it took the Hellhound to rocket through the portal to realise conflict was unavoidable, and wrenched his sword loose of its scabbard. If the locals weren't seeing through Apate's illusion by this point, they never would.

His grace in not sprawling all over the incensed Goddess (or maybe the fact he was manhandling her in the first place) earned him a couple of oohs from the startled audience. The Hellhound and Aiden's back-to-back arrival, highlighted by the flash of light stirred free a few 'ahs'. A ground shaking roar was quick to follow in the wake of those sounds, drowning out everything but Dis' distinct displeasure. A bear of a man clad in the Roman style, seated on something like a throne at the front of the chamber.

Small blessing, the Hellhound was bleeding. The stink of it struck the match of Mesteno’s instincts with beautiful efficacy, and he sent tendrils of his soul snatching out for the wound Aiden had inflicted, driving the rot through its body by way of its own circulatory system to putrefy it from the inside out.

Potentially it wasn't the wisest choice though, exposing his soul in front of not only Kore, but Dis should he happen to be there in his audience chamber. The necromantic magic would've been obvious even without the demonstration, but it exposed the inhuman nature in the process, the threat of what it would evolve into with enough patience and planned nurturing. A thing designed for glutting on precisely what they were. Mesteno had never felt it so reluctant to be wielded, actively resisting his commands, but he still had dominion, succeeded despite it, and as an added feat of skill, called down every shred of shadow in the audience chamber to wall them off from view of its denizens.

"Is this what was supposed to happen!?" A still dazed Mesteno was asking the demi-god sharply.

Kore was finally drawing herself back together. Her first priority seemed to be getting away from the flaming and now rotting Hellhound that was stumbling about far too close to her. She flung her arms out at it and it went sailing with a pitiful whine off into the shadows. A few somethings out there screamed for its abrupt arrival. Surely Mesteno would be next, but Aiden proved he could move pretty spryly for an old guy and right in front of her a half second later.

Now the Wings appeared and Mesteno had a killer view of them as they sprouted like ghosts from his back, peeled off his covered arms and swept out and down the surrounded Kore's body as he grabbed her. "Close enough!" Was his answer to Mesteno's question. He sounded absolutely gleeful. "Find us a path!" He called next, hauling the struggling Kore right off her feet. Whatever she was doing to try and free herself was proving futile so far, and there was no time to waste.

Dis was trying to wrest control of the shadows, but even though it was his domain, possession seemed to be nine-tenths of the shadow law and the Sadist had touched them first.

Mesteno felt the darkness twisting and slippery as if he held live eels in his fingers, struggling to escape and slick as oil. He wouldn't be able to maintain it forever, but what Aiden was asking of him was even more daunting of a task. Drag them both through the Shadowlands with him? He'd never taken more than one at a time before, and he hadn't a great mental image of Hecate's location fixed in his mind.

No one had mentioned he'd be playing public transport on top of posing as a guard!

"You've got to be--nngh!" Frustration had him biting off the end of the sentence as the shadow wall faltered. Bleak white flash of too sharp teeth, lip curled into a vicious, muttish snarl, and rather than tolerate Dis' interference without countering him, a section of the shadows splintered off, wound itself long and lean and deadly, a silhouette of Aiden's javelin and every bit as solid. He sent it sailing through the air right towards Kore's betrothed, entirely intended as a distraction method so that he could gather the remaining darkness.

Instead, it impaled an infuriated Dis’ hand, only doubt making matters worse.
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Mesteno
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Re: Desert Gods

Post by Mesteno » Thu Nov 28, 2019 3:32 pm

[Continued…]

Reaching for Aiden's arm, Mesteno grasped tight enough to bruise, fearing he'd somehow feel him slide loose as if pulled by some riptide. "Keep her tight!" he warned sharply. The mental image he had of Hecate’s realm was so poor he expected they’d wind up lost, stepping off the path.

Beneath his fingers, Aiden burned as hot as the face of the sun, yet left no mark behind. Energy came pouring though that touch, flooding into Mesteno in a deluge of pure, divine power. A power that was being fed by Kore as she used all her tricks to try and escape the demi-god. Aiden was devouring it, and it was spilling over into the necromancer, and passed unexpectedly into his ever ravenous passenger.

The shadows sucked them in. The cold gnawed into flesh straight to the bones, and the rain that'd pelted them in Kore's domain became rigid, clinging beads of ice (though they melted straight off Aiden). Blackness, and the terrible, distant beast-howls of the plane's hungry hunters pressed in about their ears while Mesteno, straining, found his pathway shimmering, unstable as if it would crumble underfoot... right until the image of a prancing black lamb shot into his mind, and his next stride pulled them out nearly on top of the little creature, somewhere in Hecate's firefly lit woodlands.

The lamb wiggling its little tail at them and Hecate herself smiled broadly, clapping. Beside her, Hades stood glowering at the lot of them.

Mesteno snatched his hand away and spat a string of obscenities at Aiden foul tongued enough to make Rhy'Din's crudest blush. He had not enjoyed the channelled energy, and moved a safe distance from him. It was only after that he realised he could hear Hecate's laughter that he spotted her gloomy company. Swallowing back anything further he might have said, he grimly sheathed the blade he hadn't had time to fit back in its scabbard. He wasn't going to give them any excuse to send him face first in the dirt again.

Aiden was laughing, free and full, despite Mesteno cursing him out. The demi-god was riding the rush of that glut of energy so there wasn't much that could bring him down at the moment. Not even Mr Dark and Dreary glaring at them.

"Unhand her." Hades' command rumbled through Hecate's realm like black thunder and Aiden seemed happy enough to comply. He unwound his arms, unfurled those ghostly wings, and Kore pushed away from him with wide-eyed disbelief, with, terror. She was gasping like a fish and in complete disarray, probably looking not so very different than the first time she'd been kidnapped. One of Aiden’s wings came Mesteno’s way, but it just hovered in the air in front of him like a protective screen he could easily see through.

"As requested, Uncle. One Lady of Spring." Aiden intoned it like they were formal, binding words. "You have this mortal to thank for her timely arrival." Aiden wasn't trying to dump all the praise on Mesteno, but it seemed he damn sure wasn't going to let Hades overlook the guy's crucial contribution to the effort.

Kore gasped anew, looking to Hades with something like dismay, then over to Hecate, who smiled almost gently (if iron could be gentle.) at her. The Goddess crumpled in the next moment in a heap of tears. But she had enough presence of mind left to shoot a watery death glare Mesteno's way... which melted into more shock. "You!" She wailed, pointing at him. "False Prophet!" She accused.

Hecate laughed anew and shook her head. "Defier." She corrected firmly.

Hades was stalking Kore's way, ignoring them all but for a passing, piercing look at the Sadist, to go pick his woman up. "Enough of this foolishness." He snapped at her.

Rather than trying to shrink away from him, Kore sort of melted into his arms to sob her woe.

Kore's accusation had been expected, but the sudden list of titles only served to remind Mesteno of what Hecate had promised him earlier; fading from the memory of the Grecian pantheon would not be easy after all his meddling, and so far he'd only seen Aiden's side. Little wonder his expression darkened.

"I think," he murmured between his teeth to Aiden, "that the sooner we let them enjoy their reunion in peace the better, don't you?" Get me out of here before your uncle finds an excuse to try and rip the soul from me again, would've been a more honest request, but he wasn't going to allow Mr. Gloomy the satisfaction.

He backed a step or three, tugging the foolish feeling, plumed helmet from his head and trying to shrug off the lingering buzz of energy Aiden had played conduit to.

Aiden was glowing. So much energy! The effect wasn't lost on any of the Powers present and they were looking at him with various degrees of eye narrowing. Hecate seemed mostly amused. Hades had more of a glower, but that was probably just his default expression. After her earlier frightened look, Kore refused to look at him at all! Still, the Sadist wasn't alone in back stepping from the trio. Apparently, Aiden was in full agreement that it was time to go.

"Cate." Aiden actually bowed to her. Telling that he made his partings to her first. "Uncle." That as he straightened, which earned him a growl. The glowing wings finally furled in more tightly against the demi-god's back, though they didn't completely disappear. Perhaps the danger wasn't over. That proved to be true a moment later when the entire domain seemed to tremble, like a giant gong had been rung somewhere and the vibrations of it were extending through the very earth. Hecate lost every trace of amusement in less than a blink.

The sudden ground tremors almost upended Mesteno, and he snatched outward with a hand for the nearest tree, steadying himself with a wary glance sweeping across their immediate surroundings.

"Uh-oh." That was murmured under his breath as Aiden paused and looked aside to Mesteno. "We may not be able to leave just yet."

Hecate was back at her cauldron rather than making them any kind of gate, too distracted.

"Can I get us back through the shadows from here, or will it not work from the Underworld?" Mesteno asked lowly. "I really don't want to be here if Dis shows up to try and win back his betrothed."

Despite his mutter, Aiden was still grinning as he slanted a look aside to the Sadist. "It's not supposed to work unless you're one of them." He nodded toward the three Powers, who were now consulting between each other. Kore had stopped sobbing and was gesticulating wildly as she spoke. Whatever they were saying was private, though, for the conversation didn't carry. "But you just did it in Mr Disappointment's domain, so who knows."

Hecate chose that moment to spear them both a sharp look.

"But," Aiden went on, "you probably shouldn't try it right now. I think she's locked it down."

"Then didn't you think it was a little risky asking me to drag us through them before!?" Mesteno asked, not quite hissing, but there was an edge to his voice that suggested he wasn't happy with this discovery. Irritable, he tossed the borrowed helmet aside into the undergrowth, a futile gesture of impatience he might have been wiser to keep hidden.

The little black lamb that had led them around more than once peered around the trunk of the tree Mesteno had grabbed and blinked at him before it came wiggling all the way out to stand on his boots....as if holding him in place! Beyond them, Kore continued to rant while Hades listened with a severe frown. Hecate added something in a murmur, looking a little grim herself, and that caused Mr Dark and Gloomy to look Aiden and Mesteno's way. He did not seem pleased.

That gong sound came again, but this time the earth didn't move. It finally prompted the trio into some action, though, rather than talking. Hades made a commanding gesture to the Sadist and Demi-god both. "You will stand here." He ordered, pointing to the ground just behind himself and the other Gods. "And keep your mouth shut."

Kore was looking sullen, but she kept quiet, whilst Hecate was back to looking smug.

Mesteno opened his mouth to refuse the order, but Aiden piped up before he had chance to land himself in hot water. Again.

"You'll promise full protection for Mesteno first." He countered boldly. He had a hand out, not touching, either to stay him physically or as a request he remain silent.

Hades' face went a little purple!

"Can't we just call Hermes in here?” Mesteno asked, quietly. “He promised his protection too, right? And your boss?" Rather than have to expect it from two beings who wanted him dead! Of course that would involve a huge fucking party there in Hecate's domain, but the more the merrier, right?

The lamb hopped right off him and disappeared back behind the tree when Hades started changing colours. Not a stupid lamb!

Aiden was trying not to choke, either on a laugh or a growl, as Mesteno piped up and made the situation just a little worse.

"You think my nephews can protect you better?" Hades' growl was a frightening thing.

Hecate actually covered her mouth with her hand, no doubt smothering an ill times chortle.

"Do not answer that." Aiden was quick to advise Mesteno before speaking up himself to the pissed off Power. "You've given no reason he should think your protection valid and still he rescued Lady Spring."

Kore made some protesting sound at the word rescued, but Hades was looking at her so her protest was kept to a minimum. The gong rang again!

Mesteno might have been instructed not to answer it, but he still managed to mutter beneath it a "Well let's face it, you're only offering it under duress." before sighing his defeat and letting Aiden handle the negotiations.

Hecate chose then to intervene. "We've no time for this. Give your promise, Lord of the Underworld." She almost made the title sound mocking!

Unhappily, sparing no one his glare, Hades assented. "He will have my protection." And then his glare hardened on Aiden. "You will not."

"Done deal. Let's go." Aiden gestured to Mesteno to accompany him as the Gods turned away and Hecate did some arm waving, speaking more quietly.

There was an uncertain moment where it looked like Mesteno might be very foolish and refuse Hades’ protection. The refusal sat there, hopping on tongue's tip, but in the end he had to settle for grunting rather than offering thanks.

"Try not to suggest those he thinks are lesser can do better when you're in his realm, ok? You should be good to go now. Oh, and I didn't know that's how you travelled through the shadows." Aiden offered reasonably. "Besides, it all worked out."

"How'm I supposed to know younger automatically means lesser?" Mesteno asked as he moved away alongside him, again avoiding those infamous backward glances. He was pretty sure nothing he saw there would be friendly. "I guess it did," he conceded on the matter of things having worked out despite the foul ups. "Though remind me to sit you down and discuss the benefits of proper planning someday. Y'got no idea how hard it is for me to bullshit my way through things like that."

The event had been draining, if only because he'd been at the mercy of a prolonged adrenaline rush, but he knew he didn't have the luxury of relaxing just yet. Not until he knew a certain Elf was safe. "Good to go?" Confused. Unsure whether he meant via the shadows or... "No Sulphur to see us out this time or are you staying here with the relatives?"

"No. I mean you're set." Mesteno, unfortunately, wasn't going anywhere just yet.

There in the Underworld, the Sadist's connection to the Elf was still present, if ultra-thin, so he would know Lexius was still alive, at least! The Elf obviously hadn't utilized yet for any communication, so there was no telling how well he was progressing with the bull situation. Perhaps Dis' determination was some kind of indicator. They were soon to find out.

Hecate was busy weaving her magic and soon a gate appeared not far from the hill.

Dis led the procession of beings that stalked through, and he was looking none too happy. Still massive, one bloodied hand coiled around a trident not so very different than the one Hades sometimes carried, his face was twisted up into a snarl of displeasure as he jabbed the weapon in their direction, straight toward Mesteno and Aiden. "There! You will hand over the thieves and free Proserpina to my care."

Some alarming looking creatures that resembled human frogs moved as if to take the pair, but were halted abruptly by something unseen as Hecate waved her hand. They sooth began to writhe and croak in distress.

"Do not forget whose domain upon which you tread, Dis."

"They should not forget upon whose domain they tread!" The Roman god was rather glorious in his fury, but he really couldn't match Hades for sheer blackened dourness.

"You have lost and will withdraw and be thankful for the corner of My Realm that I allow you." Hades retorted. The ground around them was already starting to resemble more of a cave with wild lava pools than the grassy hilltop it had once been. Only Hecate's cauldron remained unaffected. Hades was flexing his Godly muscles, proving that everything there ultimately belonged to him. "These servants," he waved dismissively to Mesteno and Aiden, "have done my bidding this day. You have no claim to them."

Dis was a little taken aback - Hades' display seemed to have given him pause. But then he pointed the trident at Mesteno. "That one is in collusion with other Mortals even now and they seek to interfere with OUR affairs. You would allow such creatures to dictate to US?" Yes, something had happened 'topside' to set the Power's mood to black.

"Least it sound like something's going right," Mesteno remarked sotto voce to Aiden. Dis must be inferring the bulls had been pilfered!
"Sure does." Aiden sounded gleeful.

"He cannot be allowed to live. He is infected and must be purged!" Apparently, the necromancer’s hungry passenger had been recognized for what it was. Or what it might become. Dis’ trident was still being thrust his way.

Mesteno reached for the grip of his borrowed sword, loosening it up in the scabbard in readiness. It seemed wisest to keep his mouth shut as usual, and let them roar at one another - Godly melodramatics were nothing he could compete with after all! - so he did his best to channel Lexius' serenity, even when it appeared Dis, bloody handed, was making accusations that made him downright uncomfortable.

Untrusting, he slipped a look across at their three protectors as if he suspected to see indecision writ upon their faces beneath the focused fury. Maybe they'd take what the minor death God's words implied to heart if they hadn't before.

Kore still refused to look their way. She was also refusing to look at Dis. At some point she'd fixed her torn dress and dishevelled appearance and was examining her nails as if they were the most interesting things around. Hecate was frowning subtly, but fleetingly, at the change to her realm Hades was making. Not best pleased, but she didn't protest aloud just yet.

"This is far from over." Dis finally fumed. "And you are being as short sighted, as ever. You will fall beneath our heel and then your pets will be mine!" He gave Mesteno and Aiden one last glare before sweeping up his ugly frogman and turning to stalk back through the gate.

For all that Aiden seemed unperturbed by Dis' currently impotent fury, Mesteno took it less lightly despite the protection. It was another Power he'd managed to piss off after all, and the growing list of those bearing animosity towards him did not bode well for a long and happy future. He said nothing though, expression schooled to that still-water calm even if inside he was itching to protest, to snarl something about being nobody’s pet, and to make some terrible threat that would have him mentioned at more Company meetings.

Hades immediately rounded on Mesteno and Aiden, grinding his jaw. "Get out." He said it to Mesteno, and didn't wait for the Sadist to comply. Thrusting out a hand, he shoved at the air and it was enough to propel Mesteno back toward one of the rocky pillars, heels dragging, cutting tracks in ground that was rapidly becoming rocky instead of forest leaf litter,

Thankfully, Hecate was swift to make a gate there before he cracked his spine on the stone. Thus was the Sadist ripped out of the Underworld and sent back to RhyDin, unceremoniously dumped in an alleyway in some part of the city.

This time there was no smooth roll of a landing. He hit the ground with a solid thump, the ridiculous strappy-cuirass skirt splayed apart like crumpled petals... and he had no idea where the Hell he was.

Grimacing, he sat up, dragging his legs inward and trying not to keel to one side as the predictable dizziness struck. Small mercies, there was nothing predatory in that alley ready to make a meal of him, and he hadn't landed in anything suspect. It took him a moment to realise Aiden wasn't with him, evidently more welcome than he, and he scowled when he realised the walk home was going to require he do so in the borrowed soldiers’ gear.

Back on his feet, he moved quietly towards the mouth of the alley and peered out into the street beyond, testing the mental tie to Lexius. Just a gentle brush, lest he distract him from something dangerous.

Whatever the Elf had been up to, it'd spilled out beyond the walls of the Roman sector and into the streets. That tended to happen when one let loose herds of Auroch on the unsuspecting populace. Lexius was trying to gather them all up again, but he'd missed one or two....which was why there was a giant black bull munching on someone's front lawn over there across the street when Mesteno peeked out of the alley.

The Elf was keeping close track of the tie, so he knew the moment Mesteno was back in RhyDin. He was already opening the link when the Sadist tested it. All went well?

Mesteno was staring dumbfounded at the huge animal he’d spotted. The owners of the lawn, faces pressed up against their front window, were gesticulating wildly and - while one filmed it on their phone - the other was on a call to a beleaguered Watch who were doubtless having to field all the worried enquiries.

Mission accomplished, albeit with some unexpected hitches. Back in one piece though, he told Lexius, deciding it was safe to leave the alley behind given that the neighbourhood didn't seem a troublesome one. He looked for signposts to head him towards the marketplace. At least from there he'd be able to make the step home via the shadows without ending up frozen. Did you have any complications? Tentatively asked. The bull would imply there most definitely had been some, but he didn't want to add pressure when the Elf was probably still busy trying to handle his side of things. Anything you might need a hand with?

There were some difficulties. I have misplaced a handful of auroch. The elf admitted with a twist of wryness. If you see any, do let me know.

[End]
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Re: Desert Gods

Post by Mesteno » Fri Dec 20, 2019 6:58 pm

[Adapted from live play with Lexius.]

March 28th, 2016


In the aftermath of kidnappings and cattle theft, and with Apate’s illusion slowly fading, Mesteno and Lexius had retreated to Sanctuary to plan for the days ahead. Whilst Kore’s marriage had been averted, work was still required to bait the Egyptian pantheon into aiding them. Primarily, finding a suitable location within Rhy’Din to seed their influence amongst the desert clans.

"Perhaps you will come with me tomorrow and survey some land,” Lexius had suggested. “I've an idea on several locations but it has been some time since I've visited the areas and so I do not know anymore what or who may now be calling them home. There are several rivers that snake through the desert here, and some old river beds where the water still runs below ground."

The idea of getting out of the city to do a little exploring, even if it was technically for finding a place to rehome some deities, held more than a little appeal for the necromancer.

"Can perhaps be a definite yes? Maybe we could camp out there overnight too. S'been a while since I slept under an open sky. Find a nice high spot to perch on with a good view, share some blankets, you can sing me some campfire songs..." He’d been teasing, his grin was of the broad, unrepentantly devious variety.

Songs he’d been denied (and more than once) but the trip was planned nonetheless.

The days that followed were busy ones. Busy enough that their trip to the desert was delayed. Lexius returned to it, of course, but he returned after only a few hours absence when Aiden called them both in to meet.

The news from the Temple District was mixed. Their efforts had certainly derailed Dis Pater's ascension, but the Renewal ceremonies the Roman priests had been pushing for weeks upon the faithful had not been cancelled. Some of the bulls Lexius had freed had been recaptured, though even if they were sacrificed en mass, they were just ordinary beasts that didn't have enough power to truly propel the God into making any real claim on the Underworld. Dis had his little corner, but he wouldn't be able to expand upon it as he wanted. Hades still reigned supreme and Kore was at his side, as if she'd never left.

The Spring Equinox came and went and Janus' doors were flung open fully as the Romans declared themselves supreme to all other faiths. They were ready to back their claim up with the sword and turned their sights upon the Grecians as heathens trying to denigrate the true and proper aspects of their Gods. Tensions escalated, but the two areas were thankfully separated enough that it wasn't all out war on the streets.

Aiden claimed the Egyptian Pantheon's interest had been piqued by their activities, but they were biding their time to see how things played out before they agreed to any kind of meeting. The Romans had crushed them on more than one dimension in more than one timeline, so they weren't too eager to invite the same sort of attention by moving too soon.

Sobek, of course, was adding his own negative influence given his history with the Elf. The demi-god promised to continue working on the matter.

Jason's reports flowed in almost hourly, so both Lexius and Mesteno were kept as up to date as possible on the unfolding situation. Spring had actually arrived across the Earthly dimensions, so Kore's return hadn't been in vain. Rhy’Din’s seasons, of course, hadn't been effected.

After a time, though, things seemed to calm enough that Lexius brought up the idea of their trip again. Better to have a specific location in mind, after all, once Aiden delivered with the desert Powers.

So it was he'd come to collect Mesteno one evening to take him off to the sand. He was waiting on the man's porch, studying the blooming trees and enjoying the mild break in all that cold weather.

"You're taking me away, aren't you?” Mesteno had asked. And then… “You booked us into some fancy as fuck spa with strangers massaging us and fatty food room service and saunas where we have to sit naked with fat old men."

"I am taking you away." Lexius confirmed. "But if that is the destination you had in mind, I will not be joining you." He knew it was just a tease but the very idea seemed to have inspired a measure of disgust in the Elf.

"But Magister, think of the time we could spend looking at how the human body sags as it ages... you'll know what you have to look forward to." Yes, he was teasing. Mesteno didn't want to scar his mind with man tits and sagging anything. "I guess if that doesn't appeal though, I'd settle for whatever you had planned." As if it were some hardship. His smile slipped back over the faux-disappointment, flash of keen teeth as he hooked his thumbs in the belt of his jeans. "Are we going searching for a river then? Or have you finally scoped out a spot you want to make your own? I should probably get changed, right?" Into something that was more fitting for the desert.

"I've a place or two in mind to look. And you should change and pack."

"I'll go get ready. Get my book of campfire songs." He hurried inside before the Elf could protest.

Mesteno’s parting comment turned Lexius’ smile into something of a scoff. "There will be no singing." He reminded, watching after the man until he disappeared. The Elf gathered up his mug and satchel before he followed after. Apparently, he decided Mesteno needed supervision in getting ready, so he appeared wherever he was not long after. The beads were already snickering in quiet clicks at his side.

Thanks to time spent with Samiel, Mesteno had learned long ago that despite a desert's heat, stripping down to a bare minimum was only going to leave him sunburned and sore, devoid of any protection against stinging sands, and freezing his narrow backside off come nightfall. For that reason it was breathable fabrics he opted for, layering up so that he could peel things off as need be, and avoiding his favoured, darker colours due to the heat absorption. A loosely fitting, long sleeved tunic in undyed linen was thrown over a cotton vest, and a pair of camel coloured trousers of sturdier fabric. Soft, brown hiking boots with a sturdy tread buckled to mid-way up his calves to keep the sand from creeping in around his feet, or anything lurking in the sand from stinging or biting him, and a lightweight jacket of supple, tan leather that he could fold easily enough to stow in a pack was flung out ready on the bed.

By the time had Lexius joined him, he was stowing the necessities in his pack.

"Bring your weapons." Lexius advised. There was no telling what kind of wildlife they might run into, after all.

"You honestly thought I'd join you without them?" Mesteno asked, looking up to nod towards the sword belt out ready on the bed, scimitar in scabbard and a set of cruel looking knives small enough to tuck alongside a boot or conceal amongst fabric. He stepped away back towards his closet, grinned at the Elf broadly, and tugged out a strip of muslin that he might almost mistake for his own. He let it sit loosely around his own neck for now. He'd planned ahead.

The Elf quirked his brows, but that melted into a low chuckle when Mesteno produced the muslin. "I see you've been practicing your larceny."

"So ready to paint me the villain," Mesteno drawled, though at least he spared him the melodramatic sigh. "As it happens I bought it a few days ago when you suggested going out t'the desert. I wanted to be ready." Maybe he'd been a little more eager to go than Lexius had been aware.
Lexius lead him down to the teleportation circle in the morgue. "I've a few things to collect from the cave." He explained. And so it was he took them there, first, saving his energy by use of the circle.

Once they were in his lab, the Elf collected that strange pack (which latched itself to his back all on its own.) along with a few crystals of varying sizes and shapes. Three lizards ended up in his pockets along the way and he stopped into the library to gather one or two more books and a map that was stretched out on the table top. He left it unrolled so the Sadist could review it since it showed the area they'd be investigating.

RhyDin's desert was large and varied, corralled by massive mountain ranges with narrow breaks and a sea that went off the map. The rivers that spilled from the higher elevation down into the more desolate lands were clearly marked from the source outward, though some of those sources were strangely shaded and one of them started in the middle of the desert itself rather than the mountains.

Lexius touched the points as he spoke. "These shaded ones are underground sources, as is this one in the sands. The rest are fed by above ground lakes, though I am not sure if they run all the way into the sands anymore. That is something we'll be investigating. We will be teleporting quite a bit."

Mesteno had paid close attention to the map, and predictably had questions.

"That's a lot of water to investigate," he remarked, though he seemed undaunted by the task. "When you were plotting these, did you come across any communities already located by the rivers that might be... amenable to conversion?"

He hated saying it. Hated the notion of giving religion a place to take root just when he'd been complaining to Aiden about how organised religions were bad things. Here they were laying the groundwork for one to take root, like a pair of damn missionaries almost. Without the preaching.

Mesteno stood still too long, and ended up a target for a lizard that launched itself from a nearby bookshelf. It made for his pack to find a place to bury itself.

Lexius offered the Sadist a wry sort of smile for his question. He could detect that shadow of distaste for their task. "All of them have communities of some sort somewhere along the banks. How willingly they will take up new Gods, however, is debatable. It may be best to try something different."

The map showed five major rivers that seemed to wind down out of the mountains, spread out in random locations along the map. One of those lines (the one closest to RhyDin if the arrow and the name written there were to be believed) had little slash marks through it, suggesting it no longer existed. The other four were widely spaced from the others.

The elf touched one of the snaking lines that turned into dash marks mid-way along the length as he continued. This one was the second closest to RhyDin. "The rivers are fickle. This one here dips below the sands again in this area where the lines are broken, leaving vast stretches of dry. There are two major cities where the river disappears, then reappears again. Nomads own the land between. You've met them." The nomads, he meant. That were was where the Samahar lived.

The Elf touched his fingers to slash marks next. "This one here has dried up already." He explained. "Given its proximity to RhyDin, it may be the most appealing to the pantheon. The water can be brought back up." He said that like it was easy! "And once it is, the population that has scattered will be drawn back in."

Mesteno listened in silence, eyes dutifully following the guiding finger from one river to another - he made a soft, knowing noise for mention of the nomads, for he hadn't forgotten them (and nor would he! - though he suspected they weren't the only such tribe wandering about there in RhyDin's sands.

Several things that Lexius mentioned about that second river had him looking thoughtful. His mind was rarely quiet (though it seemed to shut down entirely come night, dreams rarely interrupting the far-gone blackness) and judging by how active it was now, it was doubtful he was viewing their trip as primarily a sight-seeing endeavour.

"If they do accept the site, we should consider encouraging them to send out representatives to the area first. Do some canvasing and let the locals know the water'll be coming back by the grace of the Egyptian deities. Kick things off with a miracle to capture their attention and make them grateful. Riverside property, new farmland, it'll be highly sought after in the desert." Loath though he was to offer ideas, even if it was only in passing to Lexius, he knew it was a small crime in the big scheme of things to allow such manipulations. "We should start there," he agreed. "Make sure nothing dangerous has settled into the area that likes things dry and empty."

The Elf offered a quick smile for Mesteno's idea. It was as if the man had taken the thought right out of his head! "My thoughts precisely." He was already rolling up the map and sliding it into a slim bone case that fit easily into the satchel at his side. The lizard on his shoulder disappeared back into the folds of the muslin and the beads reached out to slap at Mesteno's knuckles in a quick sneak attack.

Despite Lexius’ agreement, there was an unreasonable little prickle of worry that Mesteno kept to himself, unwilling to confess. Either he thought it foolish, or was concerned that Lexius would be offended. Not a word of it passed his lips. In fact the grim line they'd been working into as he tried to convince himself of the rightness of this religious business they were facilitating softened a little, became a faint smile when he heard the Elf had been thinking the same thing in regards to selling the idea to the Egyptians.

Lexius reached out as well to touch his fingertips lightly to the shirt just at Mesteno's neck. He knew the man didn't often take off the necklace (and that was satisfying in more than one way) but he still checked for its presence before they left. It was also a handy excuse to simply touch the man. He let his hand linger right there. "Are you ready?"

Mesteno looped an arm at Lexius' waist before he replied, and he'd swear it was just so he didn't go reeling on the other side, of course. "Not too late to go to that spa, you know," was his deviant-grinned reply.

The way the Elf narrowed his eyes suggested Mesteno wouldn't be getting a warning next time if he kept suggesting such horrifying alternatives.

Without any more warning or a single protest for the snug position the Sadist took, Lexius teleported them from the caves to elsewhere in the desert. The transfer happened in a blink. One moment they were surrounded by rough stone walls in a pleasant temperature, the next they were assaulted by chill, dry air and the glow of twin moons shining down from a star speckled sky.

It was apparently night time in the desert and the heat of the day had already faded. The ground was a mix of cracked rock and sand under their boots and was speckled with hardy little shrubs and cacti that were in full bloom. The vibrant colours of the small flowers clinging to the sides of the cacti were muted by the night, but the heady smell of them was thick in the air. To their left, a single tree sprouted impossibly out of the rough soil, standing a couple feet taller than the pair of them with hardy branches stretched outward. Several feet ahead of them the land sloped down toward a vast, dry basin and well behind them the ground slowly gave way to sand dunes and rock hills that stretched off into the distance.

Lexius had taken hold of a fistful of Mesteno's shirt and he kept a strong grasp on it until he was sure the man was steady. Only two seconds there and a part of the Elf seemed to unwind a notch or two, relaxing in a way he rarely did anywhere else. It might be he'd been out of balance of late, especially in the wake of using so much power.

Mesteno’s eyes flicker-darted as if he were watching something move, and he groaned, squeezing them tightly closed again and bracing his knees like a colt just learned to stand.

Even stood as close to Lexius as he was, he was immediately aware of the chill, and once he was steady enough to rely on his own balance, he let the Elf go with a crooked, wry smile so that he could dig his jacket out of his bag. The leather would trap the heat close to his skin, and provide an adequate wind break to any sand-laden breeze that came skimming their way. Currently, his nose was full of the smell of the cacti though, and even as deft fingers worked the fastenings of the pack open (disturbing the lizard) he was lifting his eyes to peer around them, to soak in the sights and get a feeling for their location. There seemed to be no immediate risks that he could see, no sign of recent habitation via nomads.

"Fairly abundant with plant life in this area," he remarked, eyeing the determined little tree close by. "Does the sunken river flow beneath our feet here?" It might explain the scattering of tenacious desert plants.

The Elf, rolled his shoulders a little which had the pack resituating itself on his back and the lizard hidden beneath the muslin around his neck scrambling down his body to the ground. It, like the one dislodged from the Sadist's blanket roll, darting off across the rocky ground to go inspect things.

"Perhaps an arm of it." A great deal of this desert's water ran well below the sands, shifting through rock to occasionally brush nearer the surface. It caused hardly plants to grow in the strangest places when there was no other visible sign of the liquid. "The source here was up in that mountain range there." He nodded toward the west where the mountains looked like jagged, widely spaced teeth. "Beyond them are the lands that lead to RhyDin."

Lexius stepped away, moving toward the edge of the dry basin that used to house the river. It was a wide, shallow depression now with a loose, sandy bottom where tough grasses has taken root. "A few miles north was the old trade path. Any remaining population would be in the town built up there."

Tugging the zip high up his throat with a metal purr, Mesteno followed Lexius' nod towards the desolate looking mountain range, pupils blown wide to take in every scrap of moon-reflected light there was, the better to see into the distance. As usual, the nocturnal gleam was vivid, as if his eyes had been backlit by a pair of candle flames.

"So the lake, does that still exist, or did that get... pushed underground along with the flow of the river?" He was trying to imagine the amount of force that such a change in the landscape would require, but short of the Gods at play, or some kind of quake putting a fissure in the bedrock so that the water spilled through and away from the surface, it seemed impossible.

He hooked his thumbs beneath the straps of his pack and moved to stand beside Lexius, looking out over the miserably dry basin ahead of them. "Lead on, Magister. I'll keep up," he promised. "And what kind of town are we talking about? Anything substantial?"

Lexius started walking before he answered, stride stretching to begin a good, ground eating pace.

"Lan flew over the area not long after we returned. The lake is still there, but there has been some sort of upheaval in the hills where it used to run down into the desert. He didn't investigate it too closely at the time and we have not returned since." The lizards were scrambling across the landscape ahead of them, kicking up little tufts of dirt and rustling the vegetation lightly as they sped along. "There are small pools at the base where the trade route runs now, but nothing large enough to sustain a large population."
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Re: Desert Gods

Post by Mesteno » Fri Dec 20, 2019 7:45 pm

[Continued…]


The sandy basin they were paralleling ran rather straight, but they would eventually have to cross it unless they wanted to start meandering back and forth.

"If we get the water flowing here again, it would be far easier for the caravans that come through from RhyDin to trade with the desert cities. It would create a major hub again. But I suspect whatever disturbed the flow in the mountains did so on purpose,” Lexius admitted.

Beside him, Mesteno had settled into a matched pace, an easy, rolling momentum he knew he could keep up effortlessly so long as the weather held. The weight of the pack wasn't substantial enough to slow him, and the grip of his boots ensured he didn't go sliding about with unsure footing.

"Must be useful, having your own dragon to do most of the surveying for you," he remarked, eyes following the darting paths the lizards made ahead of them. They didn't seem to be startling anything out of hiding with their approach, but he knew the poor scouts would be the first things snapped up by hungry mouths if they weren't careful. "Of course flying over things is never really the same as doing the leg work. From above a marsh could look like simple grassland. Desert could hide a whole lot more with the way the sands shift."

He considered the extra trade that might end up reaching RhyDin out of the desert, hummed a soft sound in agreement before commenting, "Another pot for Jason to dip his fingers in, y'think? Never hurts to extend the web, right?" It wasn't a criticism. He admired the blonde man for his determination, even if he couldn't understand the desire for that much stress. "Out of curiosity... when you first met him as a kid and took him under your wing, did you ever feel paternal towards him? If so... more than for Lan? Or is Lan purely student material to you?"

The beads began to click along merrily, apparently just as happy as Lexius to be back among the dunes even if they weren't exactly neck deep in sand. The sound was far softer than it should have been.

The Sadist's comment and questions had Lexius slanting a look his way, dark eyes narrowed somewhat. There was something far too thoughtful in his serene study and quiet words. "His assistance is often invaluable." A mild agreement. Having access to a dragon did have its perks.

"Very succinct," the necromancer teased. Invaluable was high praise, coming from Lexius, though he doubted he'd have gone so far as to state that were the young man around to hear it.

"As for how closely Jason will be involved with this effort...we shall see." He definitely had something else in mind, but wasn't willing to offer it just yet. Instead, he was answering Mesteno's questions.

"I do not know that I have ever felt paternal about any of them, even those I called son or daughter." And there had been some he had named just that. "I am a far better teacher than a parent." That he knew for sure. "But Lan is… different."

Listening curiously, one of Mesteno’s brows went crawling high.

"I didn't know you'd called any son or... daughter? What daughter? Did you adopt someone then?" A someone, had they been human or mortal, could well have lived and died well before Mesteno had been born, given their age differences.

Lexius knew far better than to think they would spend the trip in companionable silence. So long as he could breathe, Mesteno was bound to ask questions! It was the Sadist's surprise that truly amused the Elf. That vague smile he'd been wearing deepened, but he kept his gaze trained ahead of them. The lizards were out of sight by then, only faint tracks left in the loose sand by their passage.

"Nothing so formal as adoption." He answered blandly. "Fostering, perhaps, might be more accurate a term." He went silent for a time, pondering that idea, but he finally continued. "There was a boy, Kirstoph, during the time I was an Enforcer and a girl that Koyan and I took on not long after he finished Alvaka. Others seemed intent on using the terms son and daughter for how closely we watched over them and we, I, did not complain." He looked to Mesteno then, brow furrowing. "Jason has filled the roll more fully than any others, in truth."

Mesteno kept an eye out for other tracks as they travelled, the tiny pits left by burrowing spiders, the sidewinding, sinuous lines that the snakes left behind. The rock they were using to skirt the basin certainly presented less risk, but he still kept wide of any flowering cacti they came near. Alluring though their scent may be, he'd seen their prickly exteriors swarming with angry insects at times, and he wasn't sure that would be different just because night had fallen. For the most part, he stayed close to the Elf, near enough that occasionally arms skimmed, though never at risk of tripping over him.

"I'm surprised," he admitted, as if Lexius were not already aware he were due to his tactlessly blurted questions. "Y'always seem so... pragmatic about the way you talked about Jason and Lan that I figured there'd never be anything beyond a sort of student-teacher aspect to your interactions with kids."

Thankfully he didn't immediately go jumping to conclusions about Lexius requiring such things as kids about to foster and teach to be content with life.

"Koyan's got a lot of people out there. I guess it was 'Happy Families' for a while huh?" Gentle teasing, but he moved on before Lexius could become mired in memory. "Whatever happened to Kirstoph? I don't recall hearing the name. Y'still in contact with him?" And no sooner had he asked than he wondered whether the lad were even still living.

Lexius' brow remained furrowed as he looked ahead, going silent against for a long stretch of time. The mention of Koyan had put him in that silent mood, but it wasn't the Desert Man specifically that occupied his thoughts. Finally, though, he shook his head.

"I've no idea what happened to him. He grew old enough to be on his own and went his own way. I have not seen him since. The girl was simply trouble." Perhaps the reason he refused to name her! "She went her own way, as well, after a time. It was not...happy family times."

The beads had gone quiet somewhere along the way, perhaps in deference to the subject matter. Not far ahead the land siding the river began to turn toward the east. Lexius was eyeing that area as a likely place to cross even as he spoke. "Eli. I would have named him son were I more paternal. He was young in years when I first met Koyan and I taught him much." As he'd said, though, he was a better teacher than a parent. "I disappointed him." He murmured after a time.

Even had he no mental tie to betray the way Lexius' thoughts came treacherously close to miring point, Mesteno would have known. With the dissonance gone, he'd become accustomed to there being less difficulty there... now he realised the Elf's old regrets weren't going to be erased as easily (or rapidly, perhaps) as those faults had been corrected. He almost apologised, almost assured him he didn't need to comment, it'd been foolish, but then he chose to speak, and so he listened.

"Most people drift with time," Mesteno murmured. "It doesn't necessarily mean you stop caring, just that two people have learned all they can from one another, and a divergence is healthier. I'm sure he still thinks fondly of you for all you taught him." This was Kirstoph he spoke of.

Eli was another matter altogether. He became more thoughtful then, remembered clearly something that Koyan had accused the Elf of that day he'd confronted him in the inn. "I don't know Eli well," he admitted. "On the occasions we have spoken, it's been in aid of Koyan, and not always with his knowledge. What was it you taught him?"

Quiet, focused Eli. He could see why Lexius would find him worthy of becoming a student.

There was no delay in Lexius’ answer this time, though there was the flavour of regret in the mental link. It had nothing at all to do with Koyan and was far more recent. "I'm sure Kirstoph is doing very well, but it really does not matter to me one way or another how he remembers me." Stark truth, that. Cold even. The Elf felt no regrets there.

The faint smile he'd worn returned, but it only ticked one side of his lips. "I taught him everything. Everything I knew of being an assassin, of being a facilitator. Of being what he is, at his core. What I used to be for so many years. The one who walks in the shadows of the powerful and enacts their will with ruthless precision. I taught him as I had once taught Jason." Lexius turned them toward the edge of the basin rather than continuing to parallel it. Apparently, they were going to cross here. But he wasn't quite done talking.

"That is why I left the task of bringing me back to both of them. They each had a part of me that, together, would help them understand how to make the whole again. Jason carried a fraction of my Will and Eli guarded the soul gem, though he didn't know it at the time." The Elf paused, more to study the slope of the rock and sand and the bottom of the basin. Here the river had stretched perhaps a quarter mile across, but now the land was barren and empty and dry. Not even the grasses clung to the cracked ground here.

"I always got that feelin' from him. That he was competent, had a lot more goin' on than you'd guess at first glance. I guess now I know why," Mesteno half-drawled as if he were reluctantly offering a compliment, though it was well deserved. "You can count the pair of them brilliant successes, though they're about as far apart as two men could get, the way they behave. Did Eli ever... I mean I know he wouldn't act on it, given y'past with Koyan, but did everything stay student-teacher between you?"

The Elf gave a nod of agreement, both for the relative success he'd had with the pair and their differences. "They became their own men. An interesting pair, for the short time they were together." He was about to continue, setting aside any further discussion of Eli. He could ruminate on how he'd disappointed the youth in silence rather than troubling the Sadist anymore. Mesteno's question caught him completely by surprise. Obviously, the idea of that kind of interaction with the youth had never crossed his mind!

"Aye, it did." He pondered a moment, looking back to the basin. His smile was gone again, but there was a trace of amusement in the tie. "He favored Aiden." The Elf admitted, giving up all the juicy little details! "Eli was the one who asked me to find him all those years ago."

"Well that explains why you felt obliged to find him despite his history with Koyan, even while all the dissonance was going on. Y'know it's a wonder Aiden hasn't remembered that and gone prowling over to Alvaka to see if the guy's still interested." Instead of enjoying himself with succubae in nightclubs.

Lexius narrowed his eyes a bit, though it was mostly a thoughtful expression. Mostly. "Perhaps he does remember." His tone was completely devoid of any emotion. Not even the tie gave away how he felt either way on the matter. Completely neutral.

"We'll cross here. Mind your footing. The ground is more likely to crack and break along the bottom."

The slope down was gentle enough, though once thy reached the bottom they wouldn't be able to see the land above. Lexius led the way, stepping easily even when the ground shifted. The beads rattled abruptly, giving their own bit of warning. It had the Elf slowing his pace a bit and looking more keenly at the ground ahead. All remained quiet.

"I'll be fine," Mesteno offered the murmured promise as he considered the deceptive looking span of ground ahead of them. Sometimes it paid to be less than heavy weight. "I'll tread where you set your feet," he added, and fell behind far enough that he could watch accurately for the safe course the Elf set.

He seemed to pursue without difficulty, his balance on the unstable terrain far better than it was emerging from a teleportation, but he drew up sharply when he heard the rattle of the beads, and instead of proceeding immediately after Lexius, skimmed a look across the basin expectantly, only following again when he'd convinced himself there was no immediate threat.

Perhaps the rattling of the beads was a backup warning to Lexius' comment on the footing for nothing appeared out of place when the Sadist paused to look. There was still no visual sign of the lizards, especially when the ground was so rocky. Lexius avoided those rocks and kept on, weaving a path toward the far 'shore' at something of an angle. He spoke back over his shoulder as they went, though he kept his voiced pitched low. Really, he didn't need to talk loud to be heard.

"You've never trained anybody in what you do?" Obviously he was curious about Mesteno's secrets, as well, even if he didn't often pursue it and badger the man with questions.

Mesteno didn't glance up from the ground, but he’d evidently heard his question loud and clear, too.

"No, never," he admitted. There was a brief lapse before he added, "I offered to, once. Not because I knew the man particularly well, but because he meant something to Sinjin, and he asked that I meet with him. He needed it for... reasons of a personal nature. So I heard him out, gave it some thought. In the end he decided it wasn't a good idea, and I'm kind of relieved. All I've ever taught is Latin at the University."

"RhyDin's university?" He hadn't known that bit of information. He filed it away with the rest and contemplated. "No urge then, to pass on your knowledge?" He slanted a quick smile over his shoulder to the Sadist before looking back ahead and asking another question on top of the first. "What is between you and Sinjin?"

"An old lover of mine, guy called Michael,” Mesteno supplied, “brilliant brain, no social skills - he used t'teach there, write journal articles. Anything science or math based, left brain stuff, he was pretty much savant. He mentioned there was an opening there, so I taught for a few semesters before I realised I couldn't stand the entitled rich kids who'd taken the course thinking it was going to be a breeze and complained when I marked 'em low. Actually had them show up at Bess' place a time or two to ask for help and that was the final straw."

His precious drinking time invaded by-- well they'd been much the same age as him, not yet twenty.

"You've mentioned him." Michael, the Elf meant. More than once, in fact. That made the Elf wonder some, though he knew this time had just been a part of explaining about his teaching time. He seemed amused by the man's characterization of the student body. "Perhaps if you had gone by Professor Sadist, they might have taken more pause." It had a ring to it, Professor Sadist. Lexius certainly found that title humorous.

"I think Professor Sadist might just have got more of them intrigued about joining the class," the necromancer drawled wryly. "Humans that age tend to be... experimental. Not that I ever had to worry about unwelcome attention from them," he added. "I can't see any benefit in passing on my knowledge about necromancy when I'm still a relative novice.” Necromancy after all, tended to produce some rather aged practitioners. As for Sinjin... "Lotta years, mainly. Friends to begin with. Hauled each other out of trouble, got into it together as often. There was a time we shared blood frequently enough a tie formed, there was a single... night, when his lover wouldn't fuck him and gave him consent to ask it of me instead. Then Salvador happened along and the dynamic shifted, obviously."

The Elf’s amusement eased as he considered Sin. He'd detected that bit of hesitation before Mesteno said night and wondered why, but he didn't ask after the details. He was surprised enough to know it had only been the once. The blood sharing seemed an intimate enough exchange to qualify as sex. That suddenly had him frowning a bit as he pondered the idea of the Sadist sharing blood with someone else right now. No, he wouldn't find that acceptable at all. "Obviously." He agreed, mildly distracted.

He stopped rather suddenly then, looking toward the right down the length of the basin. Nothing but a breeze down there. Still no sign of the lizards! "Something does live here, but I cannot detect it. You see there, amid that jumble of stones?" Mesteno had probably already spotted a bit of splintered bone scattered amongst the rocks. Old and worn, without any flesh left attached, but still bone!

Mesteno narrowed his focus, and stooped low to try and peer beneath it for any sign of watching eyes. "How can something avoid your detection?" he asked, voice a low murmur.

"Hmmm, your confidence is inspiring." And pleasing! But that was just a bit of vanity. "There are, however, several ways to avoid psionic detection. As I doubt the creature is undead, it is either out hunting elsewhere or buried beneath the ground. The earth tends to obscure such a general type of detection." He was eyeing said ground even as he spoke. From what Mesteno could see of the jumbled rocks and bones, it could be they'd been spit up from somewhere underneath, but it would take close inspection to be certain. Lexius didn't seem inclined to get that close to the area.

Turning away from it, he picked out a path to veer wide around the suspicious rocks. "Pay attention to the ground and walk as lightly as you can." He advised as they went.

"You have my high expectations to live up to. Don't go getting all flattered just yet, or you might disappoint me by missing something," Mesteno chided, though again there was a tease to it, rather than any sense that he truly lectured. He'd just caught a glimpse of that pride, the vanity - he was supposed to be critical of such things, he knew, but he'd rather liked knowing he was capable of such a human seeming fault.

"You know, there's one really easy way to make it come out of hiding, if that's what it's doing," Mesteno remarked, treading lightly as instructed, like a cat on velvet paws rather than sturdy hiking boots. "You cheat and teleport ahead to the other side of the basin. I'll run really fast, make a whole lot of noise so it appears, and you grab me and... make me fly?" Like he had back in the caves of Nidavellir. In fact he'd taken great joy in it! "You know you love using me as bait," he added.

The Sadist's suggestion actually had Lexius chuckling. More specifically, that latter comment. "I do." He admitted, absolutely unrepentant! "But I'm not interested in drawing it out of hiding. I'll make a note on the map something is here and investigate later if it seems it may be a problem." The thing might just drown if they brought the river back to the surface!

"Ah, no sense of adventure," was Mesteno’s blatant lie of a remark, but he knew it would slow their progress to be blundering into trouble this early on in their journey, so he didn't push the matter of luring whatever animal it might be out into the open.

"I did not make you fly." Lexius went on, offering a bit more education. "I levitated you. It is not so easily done when the target is already in motion and I doubt I could lift you out of range before it snapped you out of the air like a tender duckling." Yes, he'd called Mesteno a duckling! "We could simply teleport across, but I am trying to limit how much of that you will have to go through."

"’I will enjoy watching you fly’. Those were your words," Mesteno reminded him as they crossed the basin. "The gorgon was all smashed up, and I was looking over the edge, and you dragged me off. You're just calling it levitating now because it suits you to be awkward," he accused, voice ripe with amusement. "Plus, ducklings can't fly 'cause they're all down 'n no flight feathers, so that was a bad comparison. C'mon, tender? You think there's any part of me that ain't gristle?"

"I know for a fact there are several parts of you that are not all gristle." It was the Sadist's own fault there was a sense of hunger accompanying the assurance. Lexius finally did give in to temptation and slanted a look his way to flash a sharp smile. "You did look good levitating," He still refused to call it flying! He left it at that for the moment and concentrated on their path.

The trip across the rest of the basin went without incident, but their altered path took them to a section of the far bank that was steeper than where they had gone down. It would require a bit of climbing to get out. Lexius paused there, at the base, canting a look up, before he flashed Mesteno more teeth. "Speaking of levitating." He gave no warning at all before he wrapped his Will around the Sadist to lift him up those few feet to grasp the edge of the bank.
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Re: Desert Gods

Post by Mesteno » Sun Dec 22, 2019 9:07 am

[Continued…]


A curse rushed from Mesteno’s lips on a harsh exhale, and he snatched out at the Elf's collar as if he meant to drag him up with him by the scruff of his neck. "Bastard!" He accused, through a grin.

Lexius proved he could move just as swiftly as Mesteno when he was properly motivated. Not getting grabbed was the perfect incentive to have him slithering and ducking away, one hand arcing up to bat the Sadist's arm out wide and away from him. He accomplished it all with a low laugh, dark eyes glimmering with humor. "You wanted to fly." He reminded, completely unrepentant.

Within a few seconds, Mesteno was chest-level with the edge of the basin and Lexius had a hold of his calf (so the man didn't kick him) as if to prevent him from floating away like a balloon.

That he was being held like a helium filled party object was doing nothing to inflate Mesteno’s pride! "You just wait until we're on level ground again," he warned. Which in retrospect he should not have threatened in case Lexius chose to leave him floating along like that, a spectacle no one was around to witness. "I said you liked to see me fly! I was suggesting it for... practical reasons. For monster baiting." Because of course the creature was a monster and not just some innocent native wildlife specimen. "Besides, I flew with a Trevaldin, this is child's play." Petulantly. He gave his calf a shake as if to dislodge the hand, but that was just as half-hearted as his growl of moments before.

"Such threats will not see your feet on the ground any sooner." Lexius warned. As if he'd read the man's mind, he blithely threatened to keep him floating! He squeezed Mesteno's leg when the man tried to shake him off. "What do you see?" Lexius had turned his gaze and the rest of his mental attention back toward the bottom of the river behind them lest something take advantage of their play and come sneaking up. There was still no evidence of any creature stalking them from there.

Turning his attention at last to the night-greyed landscape, Mesteno searched first for evidence of habitation, then for movement. Nothing of great concern caught his eyes, and he recognised the small dust clouds of the lizards for what they were but... "Well your reptile friends are way ahead of us and running. Can't tell whether that's 'cause something's spooked 'em or they're just doing their job though," he admitted.

The mention of the lizards had the Elf shifting his attention, but he wasn't getting any reptile alarm signals from the pair, so he ended up giving Mesteno a light push. He didn't bother to advise him one way or the other if the lizards were alarmed or simply playing.

Once Mesteno came level with the edge, he stretched his toes down and forward to the ground, and felt gravity reassert itself just in time for him to prepare his knees for his own weight. By some miracle, he managed it without a wobble, and took a step forward to avoid any danger of tumbling over backwards the way he'd come. Eye line adjusted, he'd a better view than he had when he could only just see over the top, but at first glance it all seemed normal still...

The Elf appeared beside him, out of easy reach, with a quick rush of air a moment later as he blinked from place to place. He was about to say something to the Sadist, was already turning his psionic attention toward the path ahead rather than behind, when the sand near where they stood suddenly rippled and shivered.

Two feet away, a large arrow shaped tail came bursting out of the sand, whipping in their direction. Whatever it belonged to was lashing out blindly at the spot it had detected the vibrations in the ground.

Mesteno shoved sideways, into the Elf and away from the lashing tail, reflexes cat-quick. The urge to protect might have been insulting, given their age difference, but Lexius was already ducking down and moving, helped right along by the shove. He caught the Sadist around the waist even as the beads clicked out a much belated warning.

The Elf was careful they didn't both go right back over the edge and into the dry river basin, which meant the tail whistled by alarmingly close. It scattered sand across them both before thumping back onto the ground.

"Sand ray." He explained shortly, quietly, even as the rest of the creature shivered its way out from under the blanket of sand. "Be still."

The thing looked a lot like a manta ray, but its skin was a light, mottled brown rather than black and it would prove to have a maw full of sharp teeth, big enough to chomp and chew a man. It was wiggling to the surface and whipping about, its tail lashing again but father away from them as it slithered to turn its body their way. Or where they had been a few seconds before, at least. There was no visible eyes, but it kept most of its body attached to the ground even when it reared up a little.

Steadied by the arm hooked about his waist, Mesteno came to an immediate standstill, one hand twisted into Lexius' clothing and the other at the grip of his scimitar, though he hadn't yet drawn the blade from the scabbard.

'Be still' was another command he recalled being given during their gorgon encounter, and the memory resulted in an entirely inappropriate grin as he watched the sand ray emerge from its shallow hide-out. He'd seen footage of sea-creatures on the ocean floor using similar tricks to catch their prey, and he wasn't particularly keen to get skewered by that long, snaking tail and dragged into whatever it had that passed for a mouth.

Don't be coy, you just wanted an excuse to get an arm around me, he accused, teasing even now via the mental bond, though his eyes remained fixed, his muscles taut and ready to move.

I believe it was you that shoved into me. I simply kept us from ending up back in basin. Lexius retorted. Still, he wasn't unwrapping his arm so quickly. Far from offended by Mesteno's protective instincts, he was flexing a few of his own, keeping the man close as the creature quivered and slid from side to side, a little like a cobra, as it searched for them. Lexius pinched Mesteno's ribs, testing his ability to stay still and quiet as he doled out a bit of retaliation. His lips were pressed thin, but a smile still curved them ever so faintly up.

Mesteno had to choke back the immediate laughter the sensation induced lest the ray hear him. Reflex action resulted in an immediate and wild twist to get away, as well as a shove with the handful of fabric he held as if to move the Elf arm's length away! That eeling thankfully did not extend movement towards his feet, which remained solidly rooted even as he turned a wide-eyed accusatory look at him. He was going to get them killed. Or at the very least on the receiving end of an attempted kill.

I should have put you in the basin! came the grumbled mental reply as he recovered his composure, the wide-eyed look settling to a wary, but half-hearted glower as the tension eased from his arm. Think it'll submerge if we stay still enough?

Lexius’ gaze was all for the ray, but he did answer Mesteno's question. If it does not, I will distract it in another direction. He added that more seriously, already readying his will to thump the ground well away from where they stood.

The ray flapped its faux wings and writhed its lengthy tail, which seemed to propel it forward through the sand. The Elf twisted his Will and sand exploded well beyond the creature, well away from them. The creature whipped about and there came its tail again. Duck! Lexius was doing so, dragging the Sadist right along with him.

Mesteno sank into an immediate, organically smooth crouch. No need to drag him, he was talented when it came to dodging things after so much practice over the years. Again - further away! he suggested apparently having realised that the source of that distraction was the very Elf beside him.

The Elf kept a hand on Mesteno's hip and worked his Will again at the man's suggestion. Five more thunderous impacts hit the loose ground, like the steps of an invisible giant striding away from empty river basin and out into the desert, causing sand to spray up in fountain waves.

The ray took the bait and slither-flew along the top of the ground in pursuit. Lexius straightened, sliding back into a stand. As requested. He kept to the mental communication, and stepped quietly along in the opposite direction away from the edge of the basin and the ray's sandy home, onward toward the harder ground where it should be harder for the thing to find them!

Slow rising, Mesteno placed each foot with deliberate care when they moved off again, and where he could, even if it meant some awkwardly long stretches of stride, he set his boots upon scattered rocks which might help to muffle the vibrations.

I'm glad we didn't have to kill it, he confessed as they came nearer to the refuge of firmer ground. We did wander into its territory after all, and it's only hunting to feed. Vicious though he could be, sadistic towards sentient humanoids as he was inclined to be, animals, even of a rather fantastic nature, were never a pleasure to snuff out.

Lexius made sure to lure the ray well away from their location. He could kept exploding the ground for as far as he could see. Given how level the ground was, that was quite some distance! It didn't take them too long to get into the clear and Lexius waited until they were well beyond the ray's hunting ground and he no longer had to lure it away before he spoke again, this time out loud.

"I agree. This one must have been here for some time." He was reaching into satchel for the bone case and the map as he spoke, still walking. "We may need to relocate it." He was already pondering how to capture the thing. Maybe they could find some little baby rays.

That idea actually had the Elf pausing and half turning back to study the terrain. He had no idea if the thing was even a female and there had been no sign of smaller rays when it had surfaced. Still, it might be worth a look. No, no. That wasn't why they were out there. Tempting as it was to turn back, the Elf kept on instead, working the map free as he walked. He spread it out across Mesteno's back. Not the flattest of surfaces to work on, with a pack in the way and all that hair.

"That's assuming it won't just find its way back here like a cat that doesn't like its new home," Mesteno remarked. "Maybe we can convince the newcomers, or the Egyptians, to let it remain there as some kind of... terrible punishment for wrong-doers. They might come to exalt it, to feed it. Imagine how lazy it'd get if people were just tossing the occasional baby out there to it."

It was the first time he'd sounded even mildly enthused by the prospect of manipulating things for the pantheon, this notion of child sacrifice.

There was a trace of distraction in the Elf’s tone – busy tracking the lizard scouts and the sand ray - as he marked the map and carried on with the conversation. "That would be an interesting trait. Perhaps worth testing." Not that Mesteno's idea didn't have merit but for one minor detail or two.

"Is there anything you don't examine with a notion to experiment with them?" Mesteno asked, shooting a grin back over his shoulder. "If it's not checking what bugs are in the canal water, you want to make a study of a sand ray's territorial habits." He was not disapproving though, that was plain. In fact he found Lexius' appetite for knowledge an attractive thing, even if he didn't intend to admit so out loud.

"Hmm. Very little." The admission was serious, though he still shared a faint smile with Mesteno. "One can never know enough." He firmly believed it. "I might capture one if I can find a young one, just to learn more about how they work." The beads finally piped up again, giving a little snickering rattle. Perhaps they approved of the Elf's idea. There was no doubt they approved of his appetite for knowledge. Through them, his Guardian learned a lot.

Lexius pulled the map off the Sadist's back. "The Egyptians have never truly favored sacrifice in general, much less that of children. But I think they would protest any sort of exalting. There are no ray headed Powers in the pantheon." But they just might create one if they went with that idea! Another interesting experiment. "Of course, that would make them more unique to RhyDin."

He slid the map case back into his satchel and stretched his stride enough to pace beside the Sadist once again. Compared to Athas, the deserts of RhyDin were tame, but Lexius didn't try to talk Mesteno out of his vigilance. It was RhyDin, after all and still full of fun surprises.

The mention of the Egyptian pantheon not resorting to blood sacrifice seemed to genuinely surprise Mesteno - he was certainly ready to believe that Lexius knew better than he did, of course - but he did grin at the notion of a new, ray-headed deity emerging. "You could use your talents to create a statue out here near its territory. Make up some name for it and use Egyptian hieroglyphics, y'know the ankh and whatnot t'make it seem more legitimate."

"Not that their worshippers didn't try,” Lexius added. “And some of them, such as Mr Snout, found such attempts appealing. But as a whole it was not their most favored form of worship." His dark eyes gleamed, not quite mischief but certainly humor for the Sadist's plan. "I'll let you name it. Shall we make it a condition of our aid?"

"I have a dog called Brian." Mesteno reminded. Much to the chagrin of some. Eden had been so disgusted by it that she'd declared it Mesteno's middle name. "I really don't think I should have any hand in naming a new deity. All I can think when I see rays are those wings flapping about... 'The Majestic Flap-flap'..." That last intoned with as much seriousness as he could muster. "Maybe whatever desert tribe comes to worship won't realise how ridiculous that sounds," he added with a deviant aspect sliding across his sharp boned features.

Lexius actually chuckled (with only a minor wince!) for the name. "With such a name, I doubt it would make the pantheon." He didn't try to hide his amusement, but he didn't set the plan aside as foolishness, either. He filed the idea away for more contemplation and studied the land ahead. The night was well on and there was still the sound of activity, always just out of sight. Most things that detected them gave them a wide berth.

"This river that got... pushed underground," Mesteno made an abrupt subject change! "Just how big was it? Are we talking about something comparatively Nile sized?"

The lizards finally made an appearance again, perched on a boulder up ahead. They waited long enough to be spotted before scrambling down and darting off ahead of them once again. Lexius went right along with the change of subject, canting a look to their left where the dry basin now ran. "In places, yes. It would rival the Nile. In other places is was more modest." Like the place they had crossed. "Why?"

They were making good time now and would certainly reach the town before drawn. In fact, the dark hunks of its presence were probably now smudging the horizon.

"I was trying to think of reasons why the pantheon might refuse us," Mesteno explained as they progressed in the wake of the scuttling lizards. "If the river isn't large enough they're going to complain about the lack of ultimate potential. We need to give them as few reasons to deny us as possible. From what I can tell, your Bull rescue seems to have earned us just enough good grace to be heard without immediate dismissal, but not much more. Aside from incentive, they're going to want to know the chances of success in a war are higher than the opposition. What they're gonna point out is that Aiden's father, the most famous of the Olympians is heading them up - I really think they need to win Miss Wisdom over to swing it. 'Hey, we got the brains on our side and the war strategist, all they have is drama and some decent weaponry that we can match with Rhy'Din's advanced artillery'. You see how good that sounds?"

He stooped mid-stride to collect up a wind-smoothed pebble, banded by shades of pale sand, ochre and rose that he had no difficulty seeing despite the moon-soaked landscape. He swiped a thumb over it, inspection brief but thorough enough to ensure it wasn't actually some lurking creature, and slipped it into a pocket.

Lexius kept their pace steady and fairly swift despite the dangers they'd already encountered. They still flanked the river basin, but were now farther away from it to avoid those things that still lurked along its rim. There was still some evidence of the vegetation that had one lined its banks, mostly dead and crumbling, but there was the occasional tree or hardy shrub struggling along valiantly. Or maybe they were just luckily placed to tap into some underground dampness, just enough to keep them alive.

The Elf considered Mesteno's explanation in silence for at least a mile before he offered any sort of response, the feeling along the tie once again conveying thoughtfulness with a hint of distraction for the working of his Will. "Perhaps we should try to attend her." He meant Athena, of course. That would put them in more than the neck deep they already were, without a doubt. But it was an idea! "I do think the desert Powers are quite eager to find a strong desert home and this one is a good alternative. It will be a challenge, to establish themselves, but doable."

Had there not been a connection available that allowed him a smidgeon of insight, Mesteno might have thought something he'd said had offended Lexius, for him to keep tight lipped for a mile. Of course when he finally did speak, the necromancer couldn't help but groan.

"You're aware I don't exactly have a hundred percent success rate where speaking to Powers is concerned, right?" He didn't bother to point out that he wasn't keen on another one of them actually knowing what he looked like, sounded like, whatever other means a Power might use to identify or track him in the future. Too much exposure to them seemed as unwise as having his mugshot out there, available to any and every enemy he'd accumulated over the years.

"I am aware." Lexius assured in a mild tone. What his voice didn't betray, the link did. He was amused all over again. How could he not be aware?!

Lexius' amusement didn't aggravate, thankfully. Instead, when Mesteno reached across to grip him lightly by the nape and give him a (helpful!) push forwards, it was with a thrum of roused amusement of his own.

"A being with a nickname like hers isn't going to have time for fools,” the necromancer groused. “It'd be okay if you did all the talking, but last time I was assured I could keep my mouth shut, a certain red-headed wench refused to hear my partner in crime speak and I had to bullshit my way through it."

Even the best laid plans (and that one had been notably lacking in prep time!) could go wrong.

"You are not a fool." Lexius interjected. He meant that. "Your impulse control, however, could use some work from time to time." Mostly those times he was talking to Powers! "Given your success with said red-headed wench, I believe you would do well. But perhaps we should save such drastic measures until we know they are needed."
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Re: Desert Gods

Post by Mesteno » Sun Dec 22, 2019 10:16 am

[Continued…]


"Better hope the river impresses then," Mesteno muttered darkly of their underground target.

Lexius cast a glance back over his shoulder then forward again, measuring the line of the river that had once existed there. "It will impress." He assured. "It once extended the length of the desert, all the way to the ocean. If it can be restored in full, it will capture trade from every single city to the west that wishes to stretch east. That is more trade than the Earthly version ever saw." He studied Mesteno sidelong.

"I just think you like gettin' into their business so you can brag to folks how you've been cunningly manipulating Powers," Mesteno remarked, which was of course a lie, since he knew Lexius, for all his vanity in his abilities, had no real intention to be beneath the spotlight where their attention was concerned.

"I do not brag." The Elf’s tone was all faux offense.

"Of course you don't," Mesteno replied, tone indulgent as a teacher to a grumbling child. Any opportunity to be petulant!

"The important trade to catch will be from RhyDin. That will establish them and the area with strength. From there they can expand upon that base along the entire length of the desert. The opportunity will be endless. It is something I believe I will begin and invite them to participate in. With conditions." He paused there to see how the Sadist would react. Meanwhile, the abandoned town ahead grew steadily closer.

Mesteno squinted again at that dark shape drawing ever closer. It looked just a little too angular to be naturally formed.

"Your conditions of course will negotiate more power for yourself and for Jason. You'll be brought into closer contact with rare, potentially powerful items from afar all whilst having a certain... protection from the deities and perhaps somewhat elevated rank in the eyes of those locals whom you helped guide into this new bustling trade."

Lexius nodded to the man, but kept his gaze cast forward as they drew closer to the town. The structures were starting to take shape. Stone buildings going quickly to ruin beneath the force of the desert itself. There was even a bridge across the basin, though the middle of it had collapsed making it useless now.

"This will be mine, I think. Jason, of course, will have certain rights." He wouldn't deny his protégé in the slightest, but the Elf had intentions to command this particular project! "But this will be the base of my new home." Of course, it would have all those advantages that Mesteno mentioned as well. "We can re-establish the town ahead as the main trade port, but I've another location to show you further north that could be the main city."

"I can see the benefits of being close to some sort of civilisation," Mesteno admitted. "The additional benefits of one you happen to have some sort of authority in." Another sidelong look. Was Lexius going to be styling himself as some sort of judicator for the settlement? That would take some cooperation with the priests of the Egyptian religion who came to convert... "And it's probably far away enough from the two cities you mentioned to avoid territory troubles, too. You'd have to have some way for Lan to sneak in without being spotted flying about of course. Have you found a suitable cave you intent t'convert?"

Lexius kept his expression serene, giving nothing away of his intentions. A lot of it did hinge on just what the Egyptian Powers decided to do, though Lexius had every intention of revitalizing the area no matter what those gods decided. He gave Mesteno another confirming nod for his words, addressing the matter of the cities first.

"Any territory troubles should be handled easily enough, especially with Lan on our side." Lan, it seemed, was going to be part of the mythology he intended to build! He wouldn't need to sneak if the Elf had his way. "I've found a suitable area, I think. We will see if after the city." They were close now. Close enough to see the buildings more clearly. The sky was lightening, as well, showing dawn wasn't that far away.

"So you're going to 'summon' a dragon every time the new town comes under threat, or someone thinks they'd make a better authority than you?" Mesteno asked curiously. That was one way to ensure good behaviour - through fear! - yet he wasn't sure that was going to keep the flow of trade to the area steady if someone thought a dragon lord tyrant was running it. Spectacle though some might think it, sensible minds might just stay clear.

Lexius gave a low, amused hum for the idea of using Lan to inspire fear. "Not precisely. There are good inclined dragons, those that serve as patrons and defenders for civilizations that dwell within their areas. Typically the metallic versions, as opposed to the chromatic." And a city with that kind of protector could draw quite the population.

"You've had that idea cooking in your brain pan a while, huh?" Mesteno asked, a slim, sharp-toothed smile making itself known before sinking back into the usual grim, over-full line. "Lan, a civilisation's defender. They're probably gonna be there thinking he's some wise and ancient being, spin myths about his greatness - he's gonna think it's awesome. And maybe hilarious." The wild-smiling mix-blood was full of such youthful exuberance that he had to wonder whether anything really phased him, beyond harm coming to the Elf who'd created him.

"I have been pondering it." The Elf admitted with a sidelong smile in return. "Before long, he will need a purpose. Being such a protector will fit his nature, I think." It almost sounded like he'd be putting Lan up as the leader, rather than himself. But then, the Elf had always been good at being the one being the person in power. "I've no idea if anything has taken over this town." Lexius warned as they kept on, eyes narrowed some as he studied the ruins.

"Well you must have some kind of idea what might find empty homes pleasant to squat in... you know, aside from nomads taking shelter for a night."

"There were Yuan-ti that used to harry some of the caravans that came through here. Never strong in numbers, but that could have changed since the river dried up." Lexius did have an idea, but he didn't sound convinced. "They tend to favor more populated areas, however, so they may well have followed the altered route."

Yuan-ti wasn't a creature Mesteno had ever heard of, and he wondered whether Lexius had simply assumed he would, or deliberately left out any mention of its particulars just because he knew it'd prickle him with yet more curiosity! He studied him quietly a moment before fixing his eyes on the lightened sky and the town it was beginning to illuminate.

"All right, you got me, I dunno what the hell those are. Y'gonna have to educate me some more, Magister. Do they favour the populated areas because they actually eat the people, or just because they want whatever they're hauling? Are they humanoid, beast-- what?"

Mesteno's use of the word Magister humored the Elf, as it usually did, and he slanted the man another look as he explained. "They are humanoid. With a snake's head. Very Egyptian." He quipped that last with a quick flash of teeth. "They shapeshift, as well. They favor populated areas because they are typically intent on dominating other species and ruling them."

As they neared the town, the Elf finally slowed to have a better look at the ruins. Most of it was a crumbling mess, though many of the walls had survived the sands punishment thus far. But father back, more toward the north end of the perimeter, there appeared to be some intact structures left. It was hard to discern any detail from that distance, but the build up buildings certain suggested the place might not be as uninhabited as they thought.

"If not them, something else that likes to build." He murmured the opinion once he was sure Mesteno could see the same thing he was seeing.

Mesteno slowed alongside his company to better scrutinise the town. "Well if it's not the Yuan-ti that's responsible f'that, it's a safe bet that there are some in the near vicinity with intent to dominate them. Or who knows, they may already have done so. Could be old building work and we've come here in the aftermath. Won't know until we get closer." He set off again, though not directly into the city. He was heading along the perimeter, where there was less chance for an enemy to surprise them, attack more likely from a single direction, if it should come at all. "What do your senses tell you?" he asked Lexius over the slope of a shoulder. "Anything living?"

After a few seconds of delay, Lexius stepped to follow the Sadist, apparently satisfied with the route he chose. He been spinning out a few strands of thought, searching for the life the man was asking after. It took him nearly a full minute longer before he could provide an answer.

"Yes. There is something living here." He could sense that much, at least, after his brief sensory scan toward the built up structure. "We will need to get closer in order for me to tell you more." He moved quietly, the beads silent, and stretched a hand to touch Mesteno's belt beneath the jacket. He hooked a finger through the loop with no intention to halt the man. Instead, he put more of his attention into his psionic workings, allowing the man to be his guide.

Mesteno only hesitated briefly, rather than a full blown stop when he felt the faint resistance against his forward momentum. Realising that Lexius wasn't attempting to draw him to a halt, but instead had that far-away look to him that suggested split attention, he continued onward, keeping as best he could to where the shadows fell thickest from the rising sun, and slowing when there were open avenues into the ruins.

"Perhaps a nearby building." Lexius murmured. So he could see farther. The clairsentience skills were not his strongest, so they'd need to be closer.

The outskirts of the town seemed the ruin it was with very little to indicate anyone or anything lived there, at least to the south. Mesteno had been looking for signs of habitation, for any suggestion of tracks that might indicate a route was used with frequency, for the presence of animal scavengers that always tended to trail along after humanoids hoping for scraps. He saw the ransacked buildings of course, materials pillaged to support the built up area to the northern end of the town, but without Lexius' assurance that there was something living out there, he'd never have guessed it was recent.

Tracks in the loose ground finally made an appearance. Humanoid, but strangely shaped, along with the s curves distinctive to snakes, though far larger than such furrows should have been. There evidence of scavengers the Sadist sought was harder to identify. The beetles that served that function here left stranger tracks in the ground than he was used to identifying.

Finally, Mesteno spotted a building that looked adequate to their purposes, and after watching for a full two minutes for movement, reflected light, or faint sounds the errant breezes tried to disguise with a rasp of moving sand, he led the way inward, and through a doorway lacking a door, but where the walls were still, for the most part, intact, and no buildings flanking them had perches high enough for a sniper to be able to target them.

"Here's as good as we're going to get," he told Lexius, lifting a hand to grip his upper arm lightly, as if to focus him on his words.

When Mesteno touched his arm, Lexius focused on him sharply with darkly gleaming eyes. "Higher." This time, he led the way to the remains of a stairway hugging one of the walls. The roof had half crumbled in to the second story, but the passage was just wide enough to admit them both through.

Following without complaint, Mesteno tucked himself close to the Elf, and loosened his scimitar for the second time that trip. With Lexius' attention panning outward, he was content to take up the responsibility of guarding in case something should come poking into the lower level of the building in search of them. Just because they couldn't be seen, didn't mean they hadn't been sensed, either by smell, vibration, or in some manner to the way Lexius had determined that there was something dwelling in these ruins.

Crouching near a wide crack in the wall, the Elf peered out over what they could see of the town. The angle was wrong, but he could mentally hopscotch from place to place and that's just what he did, murmuring quietly.

"There are many living things, concentrated around within and around the structure. I am trying to get a view of them now."

"Wonder if it's a presence that needs encouraging to leave, or one we can liberate from the threat of some Yuan-ti and gain a little good will," Mesteno murmured, sliding a look through the crack Lexius was using.

Their link sort of tingled then, just before whatever the Elf was seeing suddenly played itself out inside Mesteno's mind. His view was of the building tops and it seemed to teleport from one to the next, the farthest one he could see. It made the destination, that build up structure, seem to come closer in abrupt, jerking motions. A few blocks out, they'd see the first signs of habitation.

A robed figure, the cowl drawn up over its head, was drawing water from a well that had once been a fountain. That statue that had toppled over when it was pushed aside was now just unrecognizable chunks of rock and the lines that had once drawn the water for it from the river were broken and filled with dust. Apparently, the new inhabitants had dug until they found liquid. Beyond that scene was the structure itself, a mishmash of rocks taken from all over the town to construct something of a warren of buildings. There was more movement there, things sort of slinking...no, slithering, from place to place.

Mesteno hadn't expected to be tugged along via the mental tie for that roof-hopping glimpse of things. It certainly made his intent to guard rather redundant. The lurching progress from spot to spot had him swaying where he crouched, and still semi aware of himself despite the visions clouding his mind, he had to steady himself with a palm thrust against the floor to keep from keeling inelegantly sideways. Lexius reached again to splay one hand wide and steadying across the Sadist's chest.

Mesteno made no sounds of exclamation, no struggle to return to the vision his own eyes presented him with, he permitted it with the usual seemingly limitless trust he offered the Elf in the use of his abilities, and did his best to concentrate on the details, rather than the experience itself.

"Should find out what that statue was," he murmured distantly. "Could be some toppled God they blame for the absence of the water. Elevate a new one in its place...-- those things have gotta be the Yuan-ti. Look't the way they move." Likely pointless commentary, since Lexius could draw his own conclusions.

The Sadist's idea about the statue had the Elf giving a low hum of agreement, had those fingers at the man's chest curling inward a little more strongly. His gaze hopped again, a blink of a lid that suddenly had them seeing within the lightening shadows beneath the building.

There the Yuan-ti were more easily distinguished for what they were, humanoids bodies with snake heads and colorful scales that trailed down their arms. Some were in full snake form, still with two arms and hands capable of bearing weapons. Within the safety of the buildings, their cowls were thrown back and it was easy to see the majority of the population (perhaps fifteen of them altogether) were female. The changed ones looked male and were obviously guardians of some sort given the weapons hung from intricate harnesses. Among the brood, of course, were children.

"You are correct. We seem to have found the nest." Lexius commented mildly. More visual hopping took place, checking corners and angled for more bodies. It seemed a fairly modest nest, but one that might well grow quickly if left alone too long.

"Can't imagine anything would willingly live close to a nest of those things," Mesteno murmured as he watched them. No disgust, merely a mild calculating the danger they presented.

"Scavenger beetles, most likely." Lexius replied. They hadn't seen any of them yet, but Lexius was certain the creatures were there.

"Seem to be more females too, so maybe the warriors are out raiding if there's another settlement nearby of non-Yuan-ti origins." There was a spell of silence as he studied their weapons, the particulars of their movements. Difficult to gauge size, given the way they'd distorted the original buildings' scale with constructions of proportions pleasing to them, but he was trying to judge reach too.

"I guess we can either try and clear out the nest, or find out who might want this little lot... evicting so they can reclaim the territory and suggest a joint force. What do you think? Have we come equipped to handle something on this scale?" He wasn't sure whether they were venomous, whether the two of them alone could better a group of that size, but predictably, he wasn't quailing at the task.

Easing the pressure of his fingertips, Lexius tapped them lightly against the Sadist's chest as he pondered the question and studied the group. His focus sharpened on several of the guards to give them both a better look. They moved liquidly, their mostly serpentine bodies slithering along from place to place with a careful eye kept on the young ones. The weapons were a mix of swords and spears, though one of them had a slender, pale blue crystal strung from its harness. The females kept mostly to themselves, paying little attention to the younglings.

"We could best them, I am sure, but it would be premature. We need more information."

The mental survey finally found something like an egg chamber, deep within the heart of the buildings. Ten eggs were gathered together in a clutch, surrounded by large serpents that had very little resemblance to anything human. One of them uncoiled itself from the protective circle around the eggs and flicked its longue tongue through the air several times as it swayed to and fro as if searching. Immediately, the image the Elf was sharing with Mesteno blinked out.
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Re: Desert Gods

Post by Mesteno » Sun Dec 22, 2019 12:38 pm

[Continued…]


"The brood guardians are typically more sensitive." Was Lexius’ explanation for the abrupt way he cancelled his spying. He’d firmed the pressure of his hand again, just in case that unexpected change caught Mesteno unaware and rocked him. His gaze was clear, sharp, still gleaming darkly with power and completely focused on Mesteno.

"She knew she was being watched, so you cut the... I mean you drew back before she could pin a location and send some warriors to intercept us?" Mesteno asked.

Coming out of the vision he hadn't swayed in the slightest, no extra pressure into the Elf's splayed fingers, but he didn't seem in a hurry to have them retreat. Touch appeared to be permanently welcome, even if through layers of fabric and desert dust! In fact he even flashed him a quick wink when he glanced down and found it still there, quicksilver, playful, rather than intended to suggest he was about to start anything.

"You know what's a real pity? If these fuckers were more civilised and could be reasoned with on the matters of Gods, and if they didn't have such a bad reputation with other species because of their impulse to dominate, they'd probably be looked upon favourably within the Egyptian pantheon. They got the whole animal, human hybrid thing going on, they're warriors, so they could be a military force for whatever settlement was established..." And yet he wasn't keen to go wandering out there with a smile, offering negotiations this time. There were limits to his bait-playing, and it appeared this would be one of them.

"Correct." He confirmed Mesteno's initial comment, offering a bit of explanation. "They were humans once, typically. The poison and a ritual transforms them to more serpent than anything else, but the ritual also invests them with certain sensitivities. You recall the one with the crystal?" He paused only long enough for the Sadist to confirm he remembered. "A psion. The breeds tend more toward the mental disciplines than the magical ones, though it can vary."

Lexius still hadn't removed his hand from Mesteno's chest no matter how stable the man seemed. Maybe it was the wink that him finally sliding it up to curl his fingers around the side of the Sadist's neck. He didn't mind the dust in the slightest. "They are civilized, after a fashion. That simply aren't inclined to let others be. And you have the right of it concerning their reputation." A well-earned one! "Some of the Pantheon," he continued with a meaningful quirk of lips (yes, Sobek!), "will like them very well."

He brushed his thumb slowly along the front of Mesteno's throat, caressing his Adam’s apple as he looked back through the crack in the wall. "Some have been known to be more agreeable, but they are few and far between. It may well be worth trying to find one of those types."

Like any man, he rather liked hearing that he was correct in his guess-work (often even when his guesswork pessimistically suggested they were going to be up to their necks in the unpleasant stuff!), so there was a thread of pride in the tie, even if there hadn't been any praise to accompany it. Lexius was wisely sparing with it. Those rare occasions he did offer it were all the more noteworthy as a result.

"That seems like potential for a shit storm," Mesteno offered the forecast with a dire tone! "The very Power who dislikes you out of this particular pantheon, and here we are introducin' him and his fellows to a region where there's reptiles he'd like. Right where you intend to have a front doorstep, I might add. I can see there being some power struggle," he did not intend that as a pun, "where a little revenge might be sought if these Yuan-ti were somehow brought into the Egyptian fold."

But of course there was a distraction. Lexius' hand in its roaming over scarred skin felt the way words had thrummed in throat, though now that subtle vibration had ceased. Muslin couldn't stop a determined Elf! Lexius seemed determined, in that moment, to have Mesteno closer, for he bent the tips of his fingers just so in a subtle sort of tug at that dire predication.

The subtle tug drew him from his crouch and into a more comfortable kneel beside Lexius. Thumb's path tempted him to tilt his head, to make more room for it the way a feline arched into anything tactile it enjoyed, but he stubbornly resisted, and watched the Elf watch him, instead.
Lexius’ faint half smile turned into something deeper and more wry. "Thankfully, he is a minor Power among them. Still capable of causing trouble, but at least we will know what to expect."

"Where do you suggest we go from here?" Mesteno asked, deliberately pretending not to be aware of that touch, though the tie betrayed the effort it took.

The Elf studied the Sadist in silence for a good long while, thumb now tracing a path along the man's sharp jawline, before he deigned to answer.

"We should skirt around the rest of the town and continued north to the place I told you about. But I am trying to decide if we should go now or wait until later." He quirked up his slanted brows a bit, inviting the man's opinion on the matter. Pay no attention to the way his gaze slid to study Mesteno's mouth.

"If we go now, before the sun's up too far, they may still be sluggish,” Mesteno murmured, very much aware of where Lexius’ attention was. “The longer we remain here, the more likely some patrol will come upon us..." Logical. Safety first thinking! Surely those things were appreciated? And yet he dipped his chin sharply, smudged his mouth against the base of Lexius' thumb and caught the slight swell of flesh there with a pinching scrape of teeth. "If you think this spot has merits enough to pause a while, or you need to rest, I won't protest."

"Hmmm." That sound was all about agreement with the Sadist opinion. The Elf was fully aware of the dangers and seriously considering the more efficient, if brutal, course of action to take so far as the yuan-ti were concerned. Yet he didn't seem willing to do anything about the matter right then. Perhaps later, after more study and some preparation on both their parts. Certain not until they'd met with the Egyptians to feel out their intentions. None of this needed to be revealed during that initial meeting, though Lexius did wonder if the Pantheon would send some proxies to investigate the area just as they were. That was something else to add to the list of things to watch out for.

In the meantime, though, the Elf seemed far more inclined to watch the Sadist.

Mesteno's answer concerning their next move was both logical and practical, obviously the safest and wisest course of action for them both. Lexius was well aware of those facts and in full agreement. They should move on now, before the rest of the nest they'd discovered stirred itself to life as the cold of the desert night slipped away to be replaced by the burning day. Absolutely the right thing to do. But then... Mesteno was subtly resisting his touch mean to angle his head just so, then further rebelling by biting his hand. The next hum of sound that left the Elf's chest was more like a growl.

"It is not the location that intrigues me nearly so much as what is in it." His eyes had narrowed to fine slits, fingers twitching a moment before he pressed them harder, trying to tip the man's head. "But there are merits." merits that would likely get them discovered. Neither one of them was quiet as a mouse when engaged in more physical pursuits, and the Elf was definitely thinking about engaging and enjoying those thoughts.

"That was a smooth line," Mesteno murmured, his indecent, debaucher's mouth cutting a wicked smile. He allowed the tip of his head, a longer stretch of scarred, brown throat exposed where the muslin couldn't reach, the tendons elegantly strained as if to deliberately draw the eye. Not the virgin pale throat, flawless and smooth some might prefer, but that little flutter-pulse movement under the skin...

"We should go." Lexius finally agreed, with no little reluctance.

Mesteno made a soft sound of disappointment for the ultimate, but predictable decision. "Before the day is out, we are doing something indecent in this damn desert," he informed him with all the authority he could muster when it was riddled with the corruption of frustration.

Tempted as he had been to try and steal a kiss at the very least, he decided to deny himself, and allow some of that deliberate build up Lexius seemed so fond of. So long as neither of them had come up against something that got the better of them by the time it came to camp, he was intent on getting him howling loud enough around the fire (he'd decided there was going to be one!) that he might as well have been singing a song. Tipping his chin low again, he snapped his teeth near the hand that'd been tormenting him.

The patter of a pulse didn't hold quite the same fascination for Lexius as it did for the Sadist, but the Elf drew his fingers along the skin there as he finally pulled his hand away and gave a soft hum of amusement for the snap of teeth.

Mesteno angled a nod towards the stairs they'd climbed. "C'mon, you damn tease."

Lexius laughed, a quiet and rich sound, as he rose to withdraw back down the stairs. The beads might even have clicked out a little snicker.
"I do not tease." He murmured as he went, keeping half at eye on the Sadist lest he decide to get frisky despite the current restrains he was practicing. "I build anticipation, which I have every intention of fulfilling. Eventually."

He led them back out from the building, his psionic senses leading. That bit of foresight helped them navigate through the town without incident, though there were several places they had to pause and the morning shadows beginning to stretch out from the stone as the sun finally poked its head over the distant mountains. By the time that orb was two hand spans high in the sky, they had left the danger and the town itself with its strange inhabitants behind and we back amidst the desert wilds. The heat was already starting to ramp up and Lexius began to ponder their next course of action.

Mesteno unzipped his jacket and loosened the muslin looped about his neck further, though he didn't remove it entirely just in case the winds picked up and he needed it to avoid breathing in the grit. There was no sweat yet to prickle his skin, no flushed redness to suggest he was struggling despite the constant movement. He kept himself hydrated with the occasional sip from the canteen at his hip, and had lowered the aviators over his eyes, better suited to nocturnal light levels than the brilliance of the desert, but he complained not at all.

"We can keep on until the next destination and find a place to rest. As I have deprived you of sleeping for the evening, I will leave the decision to you." Lexius said with a sidelong smile to the man.

"Do I feel as if I need to stop and rest?" Mesteno asked. It might have sounded like a proud man scoffing to an onlooker, but there was genuine curiosity in that query. He wanted to know if Lexius could feel the state of his body as well as he could his mind should he care to. Notably, he seemed unstrained by the walk. He was not what one might strictly call fresh, but it was plain there was no fatigue, no risen heart rate that might indicate exertion.

Lexius could, indeed, sense the man's physical state. He also knew the Sadist had more staying power than most, so a check was hardly warranted just yet. But this wasn't a trip to the Planes with a time sensitive mission attached, so the Elf wasn't inclined to push the man any harder than he felt like going. Of course Mesteno's would choose more! It was that chain of thought that put the twist on the Elf's faint smile.

"You do not." He confirmed. "Onward then."

Lexius put action to the words and stretched his stride back to the same, ground eating pace they'd used to get to the town. As they went, he took the time to point out plants (what few there were) and discuss the finer points of their use. He also brought to Mesteno's attention the ground itself, explaining tracks and furrows and sweeps of sand in one direction or another that explained the way the wind blew over time across the expanse.

Thankfully, Mesteno was an eager student, and whenever he spied something unfamiliar Lexius didn't take the time to point out, he was asking for the particulars before they roamed past too far for him to get a closer look. If they were to be held up, this more than anything would be the cause. Now and then he took samples of what he found, the plants of little use to him personally but he thought the Alfar Godsmen, or his alchemist friend Yevgeny might benefit from having them. Where possible, he harvested their seed pods and tucked them away inside the little vials he'd brought along, taking care not to actually endanger the plants themselves when they'd fought so determinedly to survive the arid climes to begin with.

For a man so heavily involved in death, he seemed to have a healthy respect for life. Perhaps it was this quality which could be held responsible for his obstinate refusal to go wandering straight down the darker paths to corrupting power. Snakes at the ends of those tracks they found, he confessed a desire to milk venom from for study (he even had some jars with a seal suitable for pressing their fangs through if they could be caught) but he was strictly opposed to killing them, even if they were eager to take a bite out of him.

As the sun rose higher, and the heat rose about them in shimmering curtains of air, his breathing finally became subtly more audible, his hand reaching more frequently for the canteen, and it was more a need to be out of the heat than weariness that finally compelled him to suggest a stop at the next place to afford them some shade.

Lexius had drawn the muslin over his head by then and he was keeping a closer track of how much water the Sadist was drinking. He wasn't overly surprised when the man finally called for a break.

The ground had become rockier the further they went, though there were still plenty of yellow sand dunes stretching away in the distance. The dry river bed was still off to one side of them, but the rolling nature of the terrain was masking it from easy view. Lexius took advantage of an outcropping of rock now too far distant and turned their footsteps in that direction.

"We can rest here for a time." He offered, gaze narrowed as he inspected the underside of rock just barely wide enough to offer some shade from the sun which was almost directly overhead by then. Crouching ad squeezing would be required for them to fit.

"You sure you'll fit through there?" Mesteno had the gall to ask as they neared the sheltering rock. Of course he slipped in first, that wretchedly deviant gleam in his eyes as he peered over the edges of his shades at Lexius and then slipped in amongst the cool rocks, moving far enough in to make room for the Elf to join him.

Cool enough there that he stripped off the protective layers and set them aside to press as much skin as he could against the rough surface, left in just his tank top, faintly dampened with sweat at the neckline and between his shoulder blades.

Lexius unshouldered his pack and followed Mesteno under the rock with a soft snort for that look the man gave him. "Perhaps I should find shelter of my own, so as not to crowd your bones." He did crowd, too, rolling his shoulders against the man as he pushed back the cloth from his head and got comfortable. The Elf was sweating, himself, but didn't seem overly eager to flatten himself against the rock like the Sadist was doing. He reached to take that canteen to refill it from his own water skin.

"Our destination is not much farther, but we can rest until twilight before we finish the last leg." He gestured out beyond them in the direction he planned to take the man. "A few miles from here, the rock drops into a depression. Like a bowl. There used to be a well of water there, as well. An offshoot from the main river which runs there." He swung his arm about forty-five degrees to gesture toward the dry basin.

Mesteno introduced an elbow to his ribs half-heartedly, and turned his head to nudge nose and mouth in against his ear before leaving him alone. This pitifully cramped nook in the rocks was no place to be entertaining the kind of thoughts he'd had back at the snake-infested village, though such things came unbidden anyway before he resumed trying to lower his body temperature via stone.

Lexius jerked his head a little to the side, more an automatic reaction rather than one that offered any disfavour with Mesteno's nuzzling. He winked to the man, sidelong, and took a longer drink for himself before he capped the skin and set it aside.

"I wonder if the diversion of the water back below ground will have pushed more up through the surface there," he mused, the thought of that much water resulting in some natural thirst that wasn't aided in the slightest by hearing the liquid spill from Lexius' water skin into his canteen.

"I doubt it." Lexius answered as if he knew and went right on to explain. "The water that still runs underground here is far less that what used to run through the river. It has been diverted and blocked at the source." And they would be visiting the source to investigate the why and how of that!

Mesteno wet his lips, but was careful not to indulge in more than small sips. There was no more sense in ending up waterlogged after exertion than there was letting a horse guzzle after a hard, sweat-inducing gallop. “Is that where you're planning on having your place?" Because even if he was playing guardian to the Egyptian's new place of worship, he knew he'd want some privacy. It seemed close enough to what they'd left behind.
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Re: Desert Gods

Post by Mesteno » Sun Dec 22, 2019 1:52 pm

[Continued…]


Lexius dampened a strip of muslin freed from around his neck and reached across to slide it across the back of Mesteno's neck as he continued. His legs were still in the sun, but that didn't seem to be bothering him any. "That is the place, yes. It is back by an extensive all and would be good for a dragon."

Mesteno helpfully dragged the thick fall of his bound hair out of the way over a shoulder to make room for the dampened cloth. It was almost frigid compared to the heat, but like anything in the desert, it soon warmed, and he knew that moisture would be licked clean away between the combination of his own unusually high body temperature and the simple, dry heat beyond the shade they were occupying.

"If we find this diversion, unblock it, or let the Powers unblock it as the case may be," for their little local-aweing miracle, "who's to say the well won't be effected? You may end up with more water than there was originally. Though..." His brow creased into a frown, thoughtful. "I suppose that would be useful, since you were able to utilise the water at the other cave for the bathing pool and the general water supply. You'd need more'n a trickle to get anything like that again."

Lexius lingered close once the cloth was in place and drew his cooled fingers along the Sadist's neck then down over his bare arm until the tip were settled inside the crook of his elbow. Surprising, perhaps, how coolness there might help his body heat stabilize. The skin was nice and thin, as well, ripe for caress he doled out as he spoke.

"We'll make sure, as best we can, that the offshoot caverns that once fed the pool have not collapsed. That is typically what happens to such underground routes when the pressure of the water no longer exists. That is also the danger in widening any current channels. But, as you say, it may the rush of returned water will carve out something bigger on its own. We will need more, one way or another, to support any population. If need be, I can tie something into the elemental plane, but there are risks to that."

Behind the shades, Mesteno’s eyes hooded as he stretched out as much as the cramped nook would allow. "Because risks have always put you off things before," he drawled, the sarcasm layered on necessarily thick. "Might bring more of those sand rays flapping to the surface, or disturb something making use of the dried out channels where the water used to run. Should probably be careful. Find out whether there are any caves that nomads or caravans have started using as rest stops that might end up flooded. Don't want anyone trapped down there."

Not that he had any personal interest in their safety of course, but it was the same reluctance to needlessly cause a loss of life as there had been earlier. Imagine if there were horses with them!

"Have you got anything specific in mind for the new place? Some kinda mental image of how you want it to be? Please don't have floral curtains..."

Lexius pinched that sensitive skin between his fingertips hard enough to leave a mark. Perhaps Mesteno was looking too relaxed. Most likely it was just the trailing comment that had earned him the minor bruising. And the sarcasm. Lexius remained mildly amused. His mood certainly was fine out there in the desert with such fine company. His fingers moved on to Mesteno's wrist, but by then they were losing the coolness.

"Once we finish this investigation, we'll do a thorough study of the riverbed all along its length. That will require Lan's assistance." The Elf slipped his hand under the back of Mesteno's wrist then, lifting it right up to his mouth so he could lick along the delicate underside. Maybe it was another cooling technique? From the way his amethyst eyes darkened, though, probably not. He was just making more promises. "I've several ideas in mind." He assured. "The cliff backing will be riddled with caves already, so it may be similar to the place you know."

"It worked well. No reason the same set-up shouldn't work in another cave system," Mesteno managed, though there was a certain absent-mindedness to his tone that suggested as much as he was interested in the ideas Lexius had for his new home, he was having a little difficulty concentrating. Try though he might not to respond to the mouth at his wrist, he failed with such immediate thoroughness that there was a sense it embarrassed him, and he closed his eyes rather than shoot an accusatory look across at him.

Still waters. Calm air. Peaceful thoughts. No. None of it helped.

Lexius eventually tormented him to the point that Mesteno finally requested he use his psionic talents to induce slumber, shuffling about as best he could to lie on his side and make a pillow of the Elf’s leg.

Lexius didn't need to brush his fingers against the man's temple to do his work, but he did so anyway.

The hours passed without incident and the sheltering shadows of the rock stretched long enough to cover a good portion of the landscape, the sun sinking behind their position. Mesteno's head was positioning on Lexius' pack by the time he woke up as the Elf himself had taken some time to do some investigating of their immediate surroundings while the man slept.

So he was he was crouched beyond the rock when he murmured Mesteno's name and brushed his thumb along his brow. "Mesteno." It was not fully dark, but twilight was well on its way. The temperature was far cooler, at least. Pleasant, even!

The touch brought him wide awake, not startled, but certainly with more immediate clarity to his mind than he was accustomed to waking up with naturally. His eyes focused sharply, adjusting to the dimmer light, and he felt the cooler lick of air with a delicious little shudder of relief. He knew it would only get cooler now, so once he sat up, careful not to bump his head on the rocks, he reached immediately to pull his tunic and jacket back on.

"Time t'get moving, right? Any trouble while I slept?" He saw no sign that they'd had anything competing for their spot.

"I fought off an army of murderous beetles and had to rescue you from a hungry cobra, but otherwise it was calm." Lexius said it all with absolute seriousness. But there was a tell-tale glimmering his dark, amethyst eyes that betrayed the truth. The lizard still hanging out on Mesteno's ribs clung for a time as the man straightened himself up, then it leaped to the ground to go scampering off into the thickening gloom. Lexius offered Mesteno his canteen to drink from.

"I slept through all that? Y'so heroic," the necromancer crooned it, made an effort to look like some moon-eyed, adoring victim peering up at their rescuer, but it was not a look which sat well on a face so sharp and hardship hardened as his. "I guess I'm in your debt.”

"I expect to be very handsomely rewarded." Lexius assured with a swift, toothy smile and an actual wink! It happened so quickly Mesteno might doubt he'd done it. "Are you hungry at all?" He knew the man didn't need to eat hardly ever, but still he asked. Maybe the extra exertion would prompt his appetite for something other than blood.

Mesteno palmed the taut stomach south of his ribs with a couple of pats. "I'm good without. Don't wanna go getting a paunch." As if there were ever such a risk.

Lexius drank some himself then slid the skin away, reaching to pat the Sadist's stomach himself while the man was busy settling his pack. "I doubt that will ever be a concern."

Once the Sadist was clear of the pack, the Elf stepped off, easily settling into that same pace from before, half an eye kept on his companion as he moved. Before long, Mesteno was matching his usual leggy prowl to Lexius' stride to keep them abreast.

"Warn me when we start nearing the location, hm? I want to know what critters naturally lurk about there, not have 'em all spooked. Not that it'll do me much good when m'current company happens to hold the lifetime achievement award for never shutting the fuck up." Oh the lies! He angled a wicked-keen smile at the Elf, made sure he could see it too.

The accusation had the Elf barking a sharp laugh. The idea was so preposterous he couldn't help it! And if the sand itself reached up to try and trip Mesteno (and it did, but only to tug lightly at his heels) then the Sadist only had himself to blame. Even the beads were snickering again, breaking their lengthy and unusual silence to offer their own opinion on the matter. "Of course." Was all he actually said before falling silent (perhaps pointedly) for the rest of the journey.

Mesteno did his best to disrupt that by asking more questions. His curiosity was unfaltering, but when there was nothing within range to ask about, or nothing new they hadn't already covered, he took to reciting what he'd learned of what he could see, helping to further ingrain the facts. Occasionally, he inserted something ridiculous, created a new desert marsupial critter that hopped and carried eggs in its pouch instead of live young, just to see if he was listening.

The Elf scoffed quietly at each ridiculous example Mesteno offered up, but found he had very little to correct the man on otherwise. They did pass a few hardy cacti peculiar to the more rocky zones of the desert that he pointed out to the Sadist, adding to his knowledge of what was edible or poisonous or medicinal. He even paused to collect a few samples himself from a rare specimen or two.

True to his word, it only took a couple hours at that ground eating pace for them to reach their destination. The ground remained more rocky than sandy, though the dunes were never truly out of sight, and became more uneven the further thy travelled along. Lexius did give Mesteno a warning when they were getting near. As the night before, there was very little wildlife to be seen despite the tracks and scat they might run across proving it was there!

Up ahead it seemed the earth dipped down suddenly into the large bowl the Elf had discussed. The yipyipyip of some kind of canid did echo in the distance and, as they reached the edge of the cliff to look down into the bowl, there were long, distinctive scratches on the rock suggesting something scalier lived there. They got a glimpse of it winging across the sky in the distance. A wyvern, perhaps.

Mesteno examined what lay below them with one foot edging forth onto the lizard scuffed rock. He examined it with narrowed eyes, speculative.

"Good defensive position. Shelter from any sandstorms that come whippin' in this way," he murmured.

Night had fully fallen by then and Rhy’Din’s twin moons had yet to rise, but the Elf crouched down anyway there at the edge as they examined the terrain. He brushed his fingers along the claw marks edging the rocks and narrowed his gaze on the outline of the wyvern winging away before dropping his gaze down to the basin. There was evidence of the pool that had once rested at the centre, ringed by trees now mostly dead, and a broad sandy area before the cliffs began to climb unevenly. There were breaks in the wall where an entrance for overland travellers could be made or shored up to further the defences.

"Yes. A few strategically placed guards up here will give a good view of any on approach. But it seems very little water reaches here anymore." Still, there must be some if the wyverns called the place home! "We would have to relocate the wyverns."

"Already thinking about how a community might do here, huh?" Mesteno asked with a crooked slant to his smile. He wouldn't necessarily call it optimism where Lexius was concerned so much as he would determination. The spot, at least structurally and in terms of its situation seemed ideal, so he wasn't surprised to see him now keen to make it work.

The pair made a thorough examination of the area, walking its walls and discussing the potential for the Samahar nomads to relocate to the area. Not surprisingly, much of what Mesteno suggested as they went about their survey had already featured on the Elf’s list of plans. This, he determined, was not ideas just plucked from the air as they toured the area, but something he'd probably been considering ever since he decided to close up the old caves.

"That gap over there looks like a good spot t'lay out the welcome mat," Mesteno suggested. "I can see it now. Maybe put an arch over the top, have it flanked by a giant pair of Lexius statues - have 'em holding a crook 'n a flail just to piss off the Egyptians." He tried to keep a straight face as he said it, but was about as successful as always.

Lexius reached out casually to shove at Mesteno's shoulder rather than using any mental tricks to try and trip him up again. "You sound a man eager for war. The point is not to offend them too terribly." He wasn't even going to address the idea of a statue of himself! Pausing to study the location Mesteno had proposed, he did get that thoughtful look again. "But perhaps the crook and the flail alone, on either side of the entrance." They were strong symbols, but general enough the Elf thought they might well fit.

"Well, not sensible from a peace point of view perhaps, but from an aesthetic one? Imagine how famous they'd be, those statues with chests thrust boldly forward and chins tipped high. You'd have no end of admirers seeking you out. Lan'd love it. Y'know, maybe he and I should go fly the river together. We'd come up with some great ideas between us."

"Perhaps not." Lexius’ tone was clipped, but amusement and good-natured exasperation still ruled the tie, completely belying the hard look and abrupt tone. The Elf was rather good at masking his internal feelings, but this time he was counting Mesteno being able to feel what others could not. "The very last thing I need is anyone seeking me out." He added, quite serious about that! He rather enjoyed his privacy, which this place would put a serious enough crimp on if he got it up and running!

After a time, their exploration taking them on scrambled climbs and across the basin floor, the Elf looked across at Mesteno again, as he had once before. "It is important to me that you approve, as well, as I expect you to be spending some time here." He wouldn't scrap the whole idea based on the Sadist's opinion, but he certain would make accommodations for the man. Especially if they would encourage him to visit often.

Mesteno eased down to sit where they'd crouched before, a faint smile flirting at the corners of his mouth, though never pulling any broader than a suggestion. "You could pick somewhere I hated and I'd still come out t'spend time there with you, just so you know." Not that he was suggesting he go find somewhere so grim! "So long as you get the water supply improved and find a way to relocate the wyverns, I think this spot has a lot going for it. And from what I saw of the Samahar, they're good allies to have. Bit of a buffer, a support network in case the Egyptian lot get a little too pushy in things. This could definitely work."

Investigating a cave, the pair disturbed a bulette, a sand shark of the ‘eating machine’ variety, and constrained it whilst the Elf shamelessly confiscated one of its eggs for the sake of experimentation. He settled the egg into a box and snapped the lid back closed, little crystals flashed briefly with some internal light. The boxed egg went right back into that satchel to be guarded by that chatty gem.

Only then did the Elf move toward the captured bulette, crouching once again near the stubby tail. "I will send this off and we can watch what kind of havoc it causes." Their target? The Yuan-ti.

Mesteno slanted a curious look at Lexius for his plan.

"Are you going to teleport it, and then us after immediately? Do I need to unbind it from the shadows before you do so?" He seemed to pause there to think, then sliced a motion through the air like abrupt dismissal. The shadows wouldn't be maintained through the teleportation, he had no doubt of it. Instead, he reached to take hold of the Elf's shoulder as if readying himself for another nauseating jump from one place to the next!

"We can watch from its vantage." Borrowing the bulette’s eyes afforded Lexius a strange, washed out view, and sharing across the link he had with the necromancer. A second later, the Sadist's shadow unravelled when what they held disappeared.

It was not the first time Mesteno had seen through eyes other than his own, and he was not alarmed by it, but his hand tightened on Lexius’ shoulder in order to fix himself as firmly in reality as he was in the land shark's world. He was by no means weak minded, but that didn't mean he didn't have some paranoia about slipping too fully into that bestial mind somehow, and never finding his way back to his own body.

"Those looked like competent warriors we saw,” he murmured. “Be a shame if they took it out in just a few seconds."

The bulette might have burrowed if Lexius had teleported it farther out, but the Elf put the creature amid the buildings not too far from the main complex they had spied on earlier. There were some yuan-ti within the creature’s line of sight and, now freed and still furious, the thing came charging out of the darkness straight toward the nearest snake body. It leaped up into the air now that it had the room and ability to move, taking the lazily patrolling guard completely by surprise. Four claws and one massive bite later and the snake-man was down.

It was a strange view, with no sound to accompany the sights, though that might be fortunate given how it was chomping through the guard. Shadows moved in the creature's peripheral vision as others came slithering to aid the downed guard and the bulette turned its attention from its current meal to potential others. Off it went, half surfing through the ground and spears or swords came jabbing at its armoured hide. It wouldn't go down too quickly, but the sheer numbers it would face (and greedily try to eat!) would eventually be its downfall.

The overall response time to the initial attack wasn't too bad, but only three other actual guards had shown up to help their fallen brother. They'd been in full snake-man form and managed to eventually dispatch the thing only once the crystal bearing yuan-ti had come on the scene to help with a bit of mental prowess. Lexius withdrew them both from the bulette's vision rather swiftly.

The tantalising glimpse of the crystal bearing, psionic individual was over far too soon for Mesteno to make any judgement on its abilities, but he didn't complain of Lexius' decision to abandon the bulette's vision before they were detected. The abrupt disconnection had him wheeling an arm outward for a little more stability, rough fingertips against the rougher wall of the land shark's cave.

"Like you said, an eating machine," he remarked as he reacclimatised to his own vision. "But did you see? So few warriors. Either they're so far spread out over the town that they couldn't reach the trouble fast enough, they had some out on patrol or raid, or..." Did he ever stop speculating? "They just ain't got as many competent bodies as we thought."
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Mesteno
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Re: Desert Gods

Post by Mesteno » Sun Dec 22, 2019 5:46 pm

[Continued…]


Lexius uncoiled from his crouch to stand beside him instead, a hand at his spine for balance. "I think the majority of the warriors are elsewhere. Even still, that may not be too many extra bodies to contend with. Perhaps we will see more by the time we capture and send on a wyvern."

Once he was sure Mesteno was steady again, he stepped away to toe the few bits of bone remaining on the floor before giving the cave one last look. "I will set a few wards here. Just to see if anything else comes wandering along. We should spend the day here before moving on, but not in this cave." It stank!

"Let's just hope they're not out there tracking us at the psion's instruction. Could be they're heading for the basin even as we speak," Mesteno pointed out.

"They did not detect us." Lexius assured confidently as Mesteno headed for the exit. He was slipping a few crystal fragments from behind his belt. "I will be down shortly. Try not to become wyvern food." A quick tease given before the man disappeared.

Lexius set his wards not only in the bulette's cave, but in several places around the whole of the basin before they left. They saw no actual wyverns nor did they discover any eggs or nests. Maybe the wily creatures were smart enough to know they were there and avoided the place until the bulette ate them or the moved on. That suggested there might be water to be found somewhere else, but within the area there was only the stingy pool.

They spent the next several days travelling overland, following the dry riverbed, with a minimum of teleportation. Mesteno got to experience every shade of sand and rock to be found and quite a bit more vegetation than he might have expected. Spring came even to the desert and it seemed every plant was working overtime in budding and trying to spread its seed. The farther north they travelled, the fewer dunes they saw, the ground becoming high desert scrublands. There were places where they crested a small hill to find it rolling over with flowering plants, turning the drab desert into a riot of colour.

Humans were also scarce, though they did wander across the tracks of an obvious caravan route. If there were nomads, they remained hidden.

The untamed territory plainly did Mesteno good. Out under an open sky, and lacking the trouble of the pantheon seemed to suit him. The sun darkened his skin all the more until he almost looked as native to the climes as the nomads might, rather than of blood descended from the Mediterranean. Of course the effect was ruined by the fact that the same merciless sun that further bronzed him was lightening his hair, lifting the threads of gold spun through it by several shades, making the ruddier shades less like old blood and more like something fresh-spilt.

He complained now and then that there was sand everywhere (in his clothes, in his hair!) but not once did he protest the extent of their travel, and his insatiable appetite for knowledge soon had him spending their stops making notes in another of the leather-bound books, lest he forget anything when they returned. He even made a few ballpoint sketches, betraying a talent for artistry he'd made no mention of whatsoever, nor likely ever would. Of course he was delighted when the vegetation became more prolific, and there he coaxed the Elf to linger a little, even succumbing to the terrible, modern habit of taking a few pictures of certain vistas with the battered phone he had shoved in the bottom of his pack.

The only likely hindrance he eventually come upon was the lack of food. There was no crowds in the desert to sip from gently, and the life forms were often small, creatures which wouldn't survive the ghosting of his hungry soul tugging at the matter of their own. Still, he made no mention of that either, and the need never became a gnawing, pressing issue.

Strangely, the Elf's skin didn't really darken much despite all that sun exposure, especially when compared to Mesteno. His short hair, of course, remain black beneath the usual pale streaks of sand that tended to infest it. Lexius didn't seem to mind the tiny grains getting everywhere, even in the food he ate. Of course, he was used to it and had a trick or two to keep his more sensitive parts sand free.

That they did not encounter any others was as much by design as by desolation of the place. Given their path was along a dry river bed, they weren't travelling where others were likely to wander. Lexius felt no compulsion to change that even when he detected that low level buzz in the Sadist that he'd come to associate with the passenger’s hunger. He made no more mention of it than Mesteno did and didn't seem concerned in the slightest he might be the next snack. He was more than content to make the journey undistracted by more than Mesteno's enthusiasm for the landscape and learning.

The mountains that had once been distant were much closer, looming high on the skyline to the north like up thrust, jagged teeth. They'd come upon another caravan track earlier in the day where it swung in from the west to parallel the bank and it wasn't long after evening had taken a full grasp on the desert that Lexius paused to study the horizon where specks of light were illuminating the darkness like distant fireflies. They'd found the one of the caravan stops near a well where water could still be accessed.

Little puffs of dust spoke of the lizard scouts streaking back to them with their report. One of them climbed Mesteno's leg while the other climbed Lexius'. They didn't make sounds, but the way they scampered and bobbed their heads were certainly expressive.

"There is a caravan at the well." The Elf reported a few moments later.

Meeting them would normally not have been an issue for Mesteno, but it was with a certain dread that he realised this group might be one that ended up under the yoke of the Egyptian Gods, potentially because of their own manipulation. It brought the reality of what waited for them back in the city slamming back down around him entirely without subtlety.

"Do you want to do down 'n meet them?" he asked, no preference making itself known in his voice, for he was entirely too torn to have made a choice.

Lexius contemplated the lights in the distance and what he was feeling from Mesteno for a long while, the easy expression he'd been wearing for days now replaced by his more usual neutral look. The abrupt shift of emotions in the man troubled him. He was also weighing the pros and cons of mingling with the caravan and probably listening to more of whatever his lizard had to say. Finally, he slanted a look to the man and answered.

"The caravan itself is probably from beyond the desert, but there will be natives in the village around the well. I think I would like to know where the caravan itself is headed." He continued as he stepped back into that comfortable pace they'd covered dozens of miles at. "If we can learn more about the natives, that would be well. I would know where the majority of the river town went. This well could not support the population that once lived there."

"Can't argue with that," Mesteno agreed for the Elf's reasoning, stepping into motion alongside him with his usual, seemingly tireless stride. There was the sense that he was trying to apply that same logic to his own unease, and in time as they travelled it lapsed into resignation. They'd chosen to come exploring for more than just a break from the city and to scout for a new home for Lexius. He'd known that all along. Returning with no progress made on the more pressing matters would be fool-hardy.

They'd spent the bulk of the evening at the well, bartering not only for the right to draw water from the natives that controlled it, but also with the caravan that had stopped over to do the same. Their needs were more modest than the three large wagons and the eight people that managed it.

That Lexius spoke whatever derivative of the local language certain helped, as well, when it came to the robed and stoic controllers of the water. He let Mesteno do all the talking with the common speaking caravan folks, who were much more amiable with someone who didn't look like he’d crawled out of a dune.

By the time dawn broke and they had all moved on, the Elf had learned a bit about the locals and the more recent stories of the area. He hadn't taken the time to share any of it, though, insisting Mesteno catch some sleep instead. The bulk of the next morning was spent with some hard travelling toward the nearby mountains and they had reached the foothills before the weather became too oppressive to continue on. Lexius finally found them a spot to halt for the rest of the day, sheltered by the skimpy shade of a tree that was growing almost vertically out of the side of a shelf of rock that pointed like a finger across toward the mountain range.

Once they were settled and had cooled somewhat and had a lizard guard keeping watch overhead, Lexius ate and eyed the Sadist evenly, asking his own question before Mesteno could get the chance. "What did you learn from them?"

Mesteno was making the most of the shade-cooled rocks, lounging back against them as if they were pillows stuffed with goose-down rather than viciously angular and gritty with sand. Pack abandoned beside him, its straps had begun to chafe at his sharp boned shoulders, and he'd shucked off his shirt to give the raw looking bands brief assessment before cleaning them up as best he could with the meagre first aid items he'd brought along. One slick layer of balm later and he seemed content to relax with his canteen loosely cradled between palm and chest.

"Interesting bunch," was his initial comment, tilting his dusky skinned face towards him so that he could watch. For no other reason than he enjoyed the view of him, even if he did happen to be eating. "Seems like they'd be worthwhile recruiting to any trade routes you plan to establish. They're comfortable enough with folks from wetter climes, seem to have decent goods, didn't try'n cheat me."

His bartering with them had been brief; a simple, watered silk scarf the colour of Gem's eyes that he'd purchased on a whim for the little elven woman, no doubt reminded of her. He had been notably awkward about talking to them to begin with, as if he were loath to learn to like them in case his previous pre-occupation with the Egyptian pantheon's influence over the region saw them become adherents. Unsure how they'd be effected, his conscience was behaving mercilessly, and it was only after a young woman had taken to teasing him about the purchase he'd made, that he'd relaxed enough to ask them about their travels.

"They avoid the first town we saw, know about the Yuan-ti squatting there already. It's not the only place they've spread to apparently, but they couldn't tell me whether the other spots were nests or just... outposts of some sort. There was another caravan they'd occasionally come across they passed by derelict and burnt out not too far from where we are now, so it might be that we come across a raiding party up ahead." He didn't sound particularly concerned.

Lexius wiped off his fingers as he listened, his gaze similarly focused on the Sadist and for much the same reason. He did look away, though, to pull out the map he'd been marking during their trip. There wasn't a lick of breeze to offer any relief or pull at the skin once he'd laid it flat on the ground between them. "I believe they may turn into more of a problem than not." He offered that as he made a few notes. They were still largely paralleling the dry river bed, but Lexius chosen route had taken them farther from the crumbling banks.

"The locals commented on the sporadic traffic of the caravans that head north. Most do not return and those that do tend to bypass the well. Did any of them mention an approximate location of the derelict? Or the other possible yuan-ti outposts?" His brow was furrowed a little, thoughtful.

With a soft grunt, and the faint skittering sound of dislodged sand more commonly attributed to Lexius, Mesteno sat up in order to lean over and better study the map. He'd seen it enough times over the past few days of course, and took some pleasure in seeing how far their feet had carried them.

"They mentioned some landmarks they used to guide them," he remarked, resituating his weight onto an elbow and hair impossibly tangled spilt over the rocks behind him. He pursed his lips faintly as he studied the maps, no doubt looking for the landmarks they'd spoken of. "Day 'n a half's journey north of our last stop, where there's a group of tall rocks clustered t'gether they called the six sisters. Used to be a regular stopping point 'cause of the shade."

The map wasn't the least bit crude, but much of the text was written in the Elf's distinct, spidery script rather than in common. He obviously used some sort of shorthand, as well, to make it that much harder to read. The land feature Mesteno mentioned was easy enough to identify, though, and Lexius made a notation there. "We can reach it tonight." He assured.

He made other notations as the Sadist directed based on his conversation with the travellers then left the map open between them on the ground in case either one of them thought of more after studying it. It served to help illustrate his words, as well. "In two days we will reach the base of the range. Depending on the conditions, another three to make it to the source of the river. If this area had become dangerous so far out, it may take us longer."

He turned his gaze back to the Sadist, a vague smile twisting the corner of his lips. He wasn't amused with the subject matter, more the state of the man's mane of hair. "Perhaps I should have traded for enough water so you could bathe in more than sand."

"Not everyone can automatically clean themselves with a thought y'know." Mesteno was pretending to be defensive, as if Lexius had insulted his general hygiene rather than simply the state a man could reach during a hard-paced trek. He did his best to clean himself up of course, with what little water there was to spare, but he'd have to agree he'd smelled fresher. That perhaps he should have brought a comb rather than relying on fingers to detangle. As long as they'd been out there, he'd even begun to get some stubble prickling along his jaw and upper lip, though it was, as he'd warned, far from the dark shadow, designer stubble some men could boast before a day was out. A hirsute man he would never be.

"Two of us alone are going to look easy pickings, so I don't doubt there'll be trouble, especially if those rocks're as good for ambushing as they sound. Most places are so open we'd see 'em coming a mile off, so we can make a fair pace across most of it. What's a skirmish or two anyway? We can both use the exercise." As if the walking were far from it.

Evidently content with their inevitable walk into danger, he lifted his eyes from the map and narrowed his gaze on the Elf. "What did you learn from the locals beyond the caravan troubles? Have they been attacked at all?"

"They have not. Not directly. They commented on the weather being more chaotic than usual over the past few seasons, especially higher in the mountains. But the well continues to run enough to supply the caravans and travellers that pass through this area and that keeps them here rather than moving on to more stable areas."

The Elf reached out then, without any warning at all, to drag his thumb along the man's measly scruff testingly. He hummed low in his chest.

Perhaps in different company Mesteno might have been self-conscious about it being touched (after all attention was not what it needed!) but he didn't complain about Lexius acquainting himself with it. In fact he looked amused more than anything, and perhaps a little indulgent. "I hear if you stroke it enough, it grows thicker 'n more luxurious," he lied, the deviant edge to his smile blatant.

The sketchiness of the stubble didn't deter the Elf. The brush of his thumb across the prickly hair turned into a full palm rub. Mesteno shamelessly lifted his jaw a shade further to welcome it. Just then he might have been some pantherine big cat, soaking up the affection offered by a pandering hand, eyes slitting so that their faint and lucent glow barely made it out beneath the tilted lash line.

"Did you sense any deception amongst them when you spoke to them?" he asked of the locals. "Just seems odd that they haven't suffered any direct conflict. Maybe I'm just a suspicious fuck, but it's not impossible they have some system in place to inform someone ahead of a caravan due to head through."

"I sensed no deception from them, but I did not speak to all of them,” Lexius admitted. “It may be as you say. Or it may be whatever lies ahead knows that to tamper with the well will lessen its potential for prey. If prey is what it seeks." Mesteno might be looking like prey right then if Lexius' intent expression was any indication.

"Seems to me," Mesteno murmured, a languid cadence to his words, "that you might have some notion of what this thing might be, and what it preys upon. Seems to me," he repeated, with a slow rising brow, "that you aren't sharing your suspicions. If I'm going to rush in somewhere playing the reckless fool, I got a right to know what I'm up against." Subtle reminder. He turned his face abruptly, and nipped the heel of the Elf's palm sharply with those keen edges incisors. Trap sprung!

The low hum that had been building in the Elf's chest was released as something more like a growl when Mesteno's bit his palm. It wasn't so surprising, that assault, so Lexius didn't jerk his hand away. He pinched at the side of Mesteno neck, instead, a bit of teeth revealed behind the curl of his lips.

"How will biting me induce me to tell you anything?" He wasn't exactly denying the man's rumination, but he wasn't just offering up whatever thoughts or suspicions he might be having, either. Rather than continuing to give the Sadist easy access to his skin, he pulled his hand back and licked the faint mark on his palm before he spoke. "Besides," he murmured, more than a little droll, "you will be reckless no matter what I tell you."

"Recklessness is for young men, and we know I'm past prime," Mesteno drawled. "You're going to try and use me as bait again. Just like you did with the squid head, just like you did with the gorgon, and just like you did with the sand ray thing, levitating me up there first. I dare you to be the bait for once."
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Re: Desert Gods

Post by Mesteno » Sun Dec 22, 2019 7:00 pm

[Continued…]


"You've yet to reach your prime, methinks," Lexius admitted. His passenger was tempering him if nothing else. And his encounter with the Well and his Guardian had certainly rejuvenated him physically, putting to rights much of what had been wrong. "I make poor bait." He assured with a grin sure to be familiar to the Sadist. A little deviant and wicked.

"Realm full of twenty-somethings and twenty-something fakers with faces that oughta be plastered on glossy magazine covers - prime in this city is a pretty narrow band. Then there's the handsome, ageless sorts y'couldn't fix a number on if you tried," he murmured, and the rather direct look implied Lexius might fit into this category, for although he lacked the baby-faced softness of those young-things, he wasn't full of fault-lines, and had that peculiar quality that came of having seem centuries, rather than mere decades.

"I have only your assurance on the bait thing," he pointed out, examining the deviant smile rather distractedly. "I think you're just trying to... cleverly manipulate me into letting you throw me into harm's way again."Wassamatter? Scared of being bait?"

Perhaps it was the accusation of manipulation that had the Elf’s smile deepening, growing a touch more vicious. "I am a poor manipulator." He lied without a trace of remorse. "I would not want to deprive you of something you obviously excel at."

"I am not certain what it might be ahead,” he admitted after a moment. “Something tied to the desert, seeking to build its power. A genie, perhaps." He wasn't convinced that might be it and he paused there to see what Mesteno might have to say about the idea.

"Perhaps it's not the locals at the well the thing is in league with then, but the Yuan-ti," Mesteno mused.

"Mm. A Djinn in a type of Genie, yes. There are several different breeds of them." The mention of the Yuan-ti actually had his thoughts going in another direction. "That may be. In fact, it is far more likely. Which would rule out a Djinn, unless it had been corrupted somehow. They are generally aligned toward goodness than evil. An Efreet or a Jann, perhaps."

"Corrupted? All sortsa things could get corrupted out here. Dangerous place. Can't rule it out. Even elves, I hear." Now and then, Mesteno simply enjoying the opportunity to flirt, and the look he turned on Lexius was far from subtle. "Efreet... specifically fire entities, yes?"

"Aye." The Elf answered then, vocabulary dissolving into the archaic for the Sadist's flirtation. "Efreet are of the Plane of Fire usually. But this mountain is not volcanic." Which wouldn't make it an appealing base of operation for such a being.

Mesteno wore a slow blooming smile, and it quickly stretched into a Cheshire grin at the ‘tell’ in the language Lexius used. "It would make sense that it wanted to keep everything dry here," he ventured, "Maybe it's trapped and making do with desert heat instead of lava. I don't know.”

"You are completely distracting." Lexius’ murmur was thick and it certainly wasn't a complaint despite being an accusation.

"Yeah?" Mesteno asked, unrepentant, grinning again like he was proud of himself, the bastard. His hand had wandered over onto Lexius’ thigh. "So tell me the plan. I know you have some half-baked notion of how it's gonna go down when we reach the rocks."

Lexius unfolded one leg, a dark frustration shimmering along the link which was, for once, reflected in his expression. "No." His tone was only slightly clipped! But he dropped his hand to Mesteno's to keep it in place lest the man take it away. Then he was reaching for his pack. Coffee was in order!

Mesteno laughed, full throated, head at a slight, backward tilt for the bark of it. Plainly he found the Elf’s frustration highly amusing! Flicker flash of light in his eyes, vivid-wild with amusement, and beneath the hand that came to ensure his own remained, he squeezed warmly. No, he wasn't planning on taking it away anytime soon. He wanted that physical connection, even if he already had the mental tie.

"Given I do not know the lay of the land or any real details of what may be up here, I have no concrete plan." He went on more mildly as he rummaged. "Perhaps we can find a ruined caravan. If so, we might find more evidence that will give us a better direction. Otherwise, we shall simply need to stay alert as we progress."

"If all we see are Yuan-ti clues, and nothing more sinister, we'll be no better off. How far away do we have to be from whatever's lurking in that mountain for you to be able to... feel it out? Can you do that?" Mesteno paused before he clarified, watching as he rummaged for coffee paraphernalia, "I know you can sense when there's something living, but can you detect sentience, or some kind of… Signature energy without being up close and personal with it?"

He slumped back, leaning his shoulder into the Elf's. He'd leave it there for as long as the mildly sweaty Lexius could tolerate his closeness.

Coffee might seem a ridiculous idea in the waning heat and considering his own elevated temperature, but Lexius more than welcomed the continued lean against his shoulder as he spoke and the coffee began to brew with the heat instigated from his thoughts rather than a fire.

"Clairvoyance is not my strongest skill." He admitted. "Especially of a place I have never been. Sensing life is very much tied to that skill and often it must be within view or of a known area. For example, if I am facing a wall, I know there is another side to it so I can extend my senses there. But if I do now know of the wall then I cannot search beyond it." He paused to make sure Mesteno was follow his explanation.

"So with the mountain, because you don't know it's internal structure - fissures, caves, where the rock is just a dense solid mass with nothing beyond it - you can't use the clairvoyance because you don't know which way to... what, sense? Is that the right word for it?" It sounded oversimplified, but perhaps Lexius was just using basic terms because he thought Mesteno would be more likely to understand. "Either way, you should practice and get better at it. You're never too old for practice. Gotta say though, it's a relief to know you're not brilliant at everything." Cue the shameless grin!

"That is the essence of it, yes." Lexius’ lips pulled into a faint smile then when Mesteno suggested he practice. "I have been practicing it for several decades, but I shall continue as you suggest." A bit droll, that, as he fetched a mug and poured the coffee. He didn't have a separate mug for the man, but he did offer his own after taking a slow, careful drink.

"Hmm. Once we are closer, or if we find any evidence we can tie to the perpetrators, then it will be easier. The Yuan-ti don't often work with others, less so for them. It will be something very powerful, indeed, to induce their cooperation."

"By induce, you mean terrify them," Mesteno remarked with a wry smile, as he declined the coffee. "Then again, if they've got psions amongst them powerful enough to detect you, maybe the Yuan-ti were picked out deliberately by this entity. It recognised them as being valuable allies and bribed them with territory - We are of course makin' a pretty big jump assuming this thing is actually plotting all this. Making choices and not just chaotically acting in its own interests. The Yuan-ti might just be reaping the rewards of its presence, being opportunistic in areas they couldn't spread into when there was a higher population of humans because of the water."

"I'm not certain their psions are that powerful." Lexius admitted. "But there is no reason to chance it." Hence the reason he'd broken off their spying so abruptly.

Mesteno sipped from his canteen, always sparing despite the fact that Lexius seemed to be able to offer him endless refills from his own water skin. Likely ingrained habits from years before when there hadn't been such reliable supply. "We should get moving, don't you think? Hurry up with that coffee, even the smell of it's makin' me hotter."

The Elf scoffed lightly at the lie and took his damned time with the coffee. "It is meant to be savored." He informed the man. When he finally did finish it, the sun was sinking away fast on the horizon.

Eventually they were back to travelling, but it wasn't until well past dusk that a lizard came scampering back to report the remains of a caravan ahead. By then they were heading uphill, climbing toward the ‘Six Sisters’ landmark the caravan folk had spoken of. Skinny, vertical lines on the horizon. It looked like two to begin with, until the closing miles separated them out, and they could see that they stood in a rough crescent formation.

They were banded monoliths of variegated, rosy hues, something like quartz at one level, a paler, and buffer shade above it where the rock was softer and had weathered to narrower proportions than the sections above. It was easy to see why they'd been dubbed the sisters, not merely because of the somewhat feminine shades, or the faint glint of the quartz, but because those narrower sections gave them a pinched, waist-like effect.

Lexius determined (through lizard vision) the area seemed abandoned and on they went to find the broken and skeletal remains of two wagons strewn about the approach.

Mesteno moved slowly, despite the lizard-sentinel’s lack of visual on anything living in the area, looking for lumps in the sand, anything poking up out of it that might need recovering. Thankfully, the caution proved unnecessary. Aside from the recent tracks of something dog-like, there was little else to indicate anything had been close to the rocks or the ruins. The winds did a damn fine job of clearing away most of the evidence.

The wagons were scattered among the rocks, but there was nothing left of whatever cargo they had carried. Nor were there any obvious bodies. Just like on their approach, nothing seemed to out of the ordinary beyond the fact they were obviously derelict wagons.

Mesteno's unique senses proved more fruitful. There was a body decaying well beyond the rings of stones, toward the north and the mountains, but well off the path.

Lexius was wandering through the remains of the wagons finding only bits of cookware and scraps of cloth that had likely been the covering rather than any cargo.

"At a glance it looks like a typical raid," Mesteno remarked as they stood near the caravan remains. "Something made off with the goods, killed the people... Gotta wonder whether the cargo was just a bonus though, and there was more to it than larceny." He still liked to throw that word in every once in a while.

After assuring himself there were no remains amongst the wagons that his senses might have failed to catch for some reason, he pointed in the direction he intended to go, one hand light around the grip of his scimitar more because it found its way there naturally, comfortably than because he predicted trouble.

"Something died up there. Dunno whether it's someone from the caravan or one of the raiders, but if there's enough left of 'em to get a few details, it's worth a shot." And off he tromped, evidently secure enough in their seclusion that he didn't think there would really be any ambush waiting amongst, or beyond the sisters.

Said body was decaying swiftly and in several different pieces somewhere amidst the dirt and scrubby little plants, nowhere near the path the caravans followed away from the Sisters. Animals had definitely found it and had their way with the deceased humanoid and, along with the punishment doled out by days in the burning sun, there wasn't much left of the corpse but gnawed bones with scraps of flesh and clothing and dried sinew.

There were more dog-like tracks in the ground around that area even if they were few and far between and they seemed to distract Lexius from following along as Mesteno investigated the remains. Instead, he was examining the track patterns he could find with a vague frown. One of the lizards was perched on the jawless skull of the victim, blinking rapidly at Mesteno as he moved about.

"Could be they were taken prisoner. Slave trade?" Mesteno was plucking ideas from the air, too uncertain of the region and its traditions to know whether such practices were accepted, as they seemed to be back in the city to such great furore from the Governor's cliques year after year. Not that anyone had any true power to do more than complain noisily about it. "The one they did kill, maybe he just put up too much of a fight. Hired muscle or something."

Of course he was enormously disappointed the decomposition so advanced. Worse yet, the remains so scattered that even had he attempted to extend some energy on reversing the decay, it wouldn't have done any good with so much of the tissue vanished into the guts of the local canids. He sat down in the sand beside the jawless skull, eyeing the lizard perched there, and then casting a bleak look out over the jutting, striated forms of the sisters.

"Whatever did it is long gone. If it were Yuan-ti, I don't imagine the dogs would've come slinking in until they were well clear." Rusty smudges, darker patches in dust and across rock around the body might have been from a battle or from the work of the wildlife, but it didn't look to him as if there was enough to suggest any other deaths.

Lexius nodded to Mesteno's guesses, rising from his crouch. "It is not unheard of." He admitted. The slave trade was alive and thriving even beyond RhyDin city and the desert regions weren't immune to the practice. Lexius toed aside what was left an arm then stepped more carefully to close the gap between himself and the Sadist. He slid a hand across the man's shoulder and gave a light squeeze. That disappointment was palpable!

"These tracks belong to jackals." He informed the man quietly, his gaze panning out to the night darkened surroundings. "Very large jackals. We shall need to keep an eye out for them going forward." There was something thoughtful in his tone as he considered the possibilities. The lizard took the time to scramble off the skull and onto Mesteno's boot.

At mention of the jackals, Mesteno narrowed his eyes on the scattering of prints they'd left behind, lips pinched to a thin, thoughtful moue.

"Jackals aren't particularly large animals normally," he remarked, not with any measure of scepticism, but because the Elf's choice to remark on their size had him wondering things. "Is there any chance that these aren't the run of the mill specimens? Maybe something... enhanced? You know I'm beginnin' t'wonder whether the Yuan-ti brought 'em along as a hunting pack, the way men would. You never know what can get domesticated."

The lizard's descent to his boot drew his eyes from the tracks, and then he craned a look up at Lexius, studying him as best he could from below. "You wouldn't normally be concerned about jackals. What're your thoughts?"

Looking down to meet the Sadist's gaze, Lexius' amethyst eyes gleamed darkly as he spoke. "That they are enhanced." he admitted, lips quirking a little more toward a smile. Mesteno had guessed his concerns exactly with that idea. "Yuan-ti, jackals," he continued, "all very much desert creatures. Which leads me more to the idea it may not be an Efreet's hand behind this at all, but another, similar type that would be much more familiar with the denizens of the sands."

"Of course they're enhanced," Mesteno drawled, a wry edge to his tone, and to the slant of a smile that flashed the bright, white lines of his teeth. "Nothing we're dealing with out here is normal, expecting the jackals to be..." Yes he was deeming himself an idiot for not having figured it out first, without needing it implicated.

Lexius patted the man's shoulder then stepped away. "Unless you wish to do more here, we should move on." This time he was the one studying the pillars of rock. Very much crystals, those, and susceptible to psion and magic manipulation. "They may well be using those as eyes."

Mesteno levered himself up out of the sand with the pack riding low, the straps having slipped down into the crook of his elbows. He took a minute to shrug it back into place, and then eyed the sisters gravely. "If they're using them as eyes, that means they may well have seen us out here snooping around. We've lost the element of surprise. Lead on," he encouraged - he'd keep up as ever he did, content to match Lexius' pace. "And while you're at it, tell me what kind of elemental entity is able to use a buncha rocks as eyes. Unless I'm being dense again and it's a rock elemental."

Lexius knew that being overheard was a possibility nevertheless, so the Elf didn't answer Mesteno's question until they had moved further away from the landmark.

"A rock elemental is one, though I doubt that is the culprit in this case. They have very little concern for the human world." The Elf was leading them north again, headed back toward the main track like any normal travellers would. He intended to keep to it for a while before diverting them off into the wilds once again. It would help him decide if they were being watched from afar. Half his attention was to those mental threads he was weaving around them to check for just such a thing.

"Psions in particular are very attuned to the energy and capabilities of crystals, but mages can utilize them as well. And it is a very known and recognizable place. Remember, those with clairvoyance need only know where to look in order to see from afar. We have already seen there are psion's among the Yuan-ti. If they are working for this other entity, then they could be watching for more prey to pass this way." They were now that prey.

Mesteno didn't like having the sisters at his back, didn't like the way they suddenly felt like a coven of witches boring holes into his spine, even through his pack. Now he'd come to think of them as conduits for the preternatural, he'd begun to consider the potential for them to act as portal stones too. Someone talented enough could ward the presence of such a thing to keep others from identifying it. Lexius was going to have to put up with all sorts of suspicious threads distracting his company's mind! He wasn't so talented at multi-tasking them as the Elf.

"A mage would be a challenge,” he muttered. “I can't imagine what mage would want to keep this region free of people through scaring them into avoiding passage through it though. What do they have to gain by keeping it barren of water? Unless when the river ceased to run, it revealed something of value."

"Mages are insane." Lexius was with it enough to answer the question and actually display a bit of his usually well-hidden bias toward the breed of them in general. Of course, Mesteno could be classified as a very specialized mage, but he wasn't ruling out the man's insanity either! "One can never be truly certain what motivates them to do anything. Perhaps it is collecting people and goods to sell to funds its research into whatever it may have found out here." Now it was an it! "I believe we will find out the truth sooner rather than later."
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Re: Desert Gods

Post by Mesteno » Tue Dec 24, 2019 8:00 pm

[Continued…]


Lexius was of the opinion that Mesteno's idea about something valuable being revealed with the river’s cessation…wasn't a bad one at all. "I believe we will find out the truth sooner rather than later." The Elf offered as they continued on, toward the mountain and the source of the problem.

Something complicated prickled from Mesteno’s end of the bond. A slim needle of self-doubt that insanity was a fate he couldn't avoid. They'd discussed his determination to avoid the necromancy stereotype early on in their friendship, but he knew it would be foolishness to consider himself immune to the lures of power. That he might not blunder into corruption somewhere along the way.

"I can remember someone else bein’ distinctly anti-mage," he remarked wryly. "Maybe," he went on, leaving behind his concerns in favour of more speculation, "there's power to it. Maybe he's using the energy of the river, convoluting its cycle to power something. Or himself. A huge natural force like a river isn't something to be scoffed at. Shit, what if it's a trapped water elemental and it's gathering the water instinctively to keep itself safe because everywhere else is so fucking dry?"

"Either is certainly possible." Lexius agreed. Apparently, he enjoyed Mesteno's creative guessing and was more than happy to indulge the man in hearing more as they travelled. He was probably also amused with the fact the lizard was still riding the Sadist's boot rather than risking an encounter with any stray jackals.

They travelled on for two more days without encountering any other signs of trouble. If something had observed them at the Sisters, it was keeping its distance, perhaps luring them in further. They reached the foothills of the mountain and began to make the climb up from the desert floor. Trees started to appear, dwarfed as they were, but the temperature remained dry and hot. Lexius had angled them further away from the now rocky riverbed and off the caravan route completely, which would have been easier walking, but certainly left them more exposed.

Mesteno kept his feelers sprawling wide, but he was talented enough to be able to discern the tiny deaths of the local wildlife and things too old to concern them, and began to despair of discovering anything as the mountain loomed over them.

"Nothing," he muttered into the silence as they scrambled up and over a particularly ankle-unfriendly section of rocky ground. "No ambush, no Yuan-ti, not even a damn jackal. This close, whatever is in there has nothing standing guard... strike you as odd?"

The Elf's brow was furrowed in a way that suggested he was annoyed with something. Not unlike the thwarted Necromancer.

"It is odd." He fully agreed as he paused to scrutinize the darkened landscape ahead. "But there is something." He went on, sounding grim. "I can no longer find the scouts." It may well be they had run across some natural trouble, scurrying into a web or being pounced on by a passing fox. Still, the timing seemed suspicious.

Lexius waited for Mesteno to move beside him, unfolding the map he'd been marking, and gestured to a spot that didn't seem too terribly far from their destination. "We are here. If we press, we can be in the range before the morning, but it will be two more days of hard travel to reach the source. If you wish to take a risk, we can teleport here," he touched another spot on the map, beyond where the source of the river was marked.

"There was a distinctive rock formation there I can use as a guide. But if it is gone, the teleportation will be...difficult."

"Were you watching through their eyes at all over the past couple of hours?" He knew better than to think that Lexius spent all his time with a multiplied view of the world thanks to the Lizards. The energy it would require, let alone the risk entailed by split attention just wasn't feasible. But perhaps a dip in and out of those scurrying little reptiles' minds? "Didn't see any sign of anything unusual? I dunno about you, but I haven't seen any animal tracks for a while, no leftovers, no droppings. How likely is it they just became a meal?"

"I noted nothing unusual." Lexius only checked on the creatures every so often, ensuring they were on track and didn't forget they had tasks rather than just running wild. "But the wildlife does seem scarce. More so than it should be this early in the season." Spring was a time where things should be out and about more often but, like Mesteno, he hadn't noticed much of that activity. "It may be that something larger is keeping the area devoid of other predators. Its range would be wide, indeed." A casual observation. Even annoyed with the loss of more lizards, he wasn't too worried yet.

Moving close, Mesteno leaned over the familiar map and did his best not to drip sweat upon Lexius' careful craftsmanship. "Perhaps if you told me why the teleportation would be difficult? Are we talking about difficult for you to take us, or am I going to come out the other end feeling like I just got dropped on my head?" He wasn't keen on the notion of being debilitated, but the short-cut would help them avoid any ambushes along the way.

"Typically, teleporting blind risks emerging encased in something solid or over nothing at all." Not a good thing! "I have protections against such an occurrences," he assured before Mesteno could refuse ever to teleport anywhere with him again, "but those protections, once enacted, will shuttle us randomly to the nearest acceptable location. That is often physically jarring once we rematerialize. It is a risk, but if we are being watched and monitored now, we would elude that scrutiny and they would lose the advantage of knowing where and when we are coming."

"We'll teleport," Mesteno decided, willing to take the risk only because of the safeguards. The physical debilitation was something he’d suffer with resignation, and just hope he didn't further dehydrate himself puking! "Maybe we could have a lizard remain at this spot and watch through its eyes so that if anything comes to investigate the spot we vanished from, we'll see what it is."

Of course there was only one candidate for that job, and it happened to be the tenacious little thing still clinging to his dusty boot after all this time. He was loath to sacrifice it to some potentially spiteful stalker, but perhaps if Lexius were able to give it some place to hide...

"Do I need to do anything? Or do I just close my eyes and ready myself for the migraine?" he asked with a tight smile.

Lexius meticulously folded the map and slid it away again, eyeing Mesteno and the lizard that was trying hard to be a bootlace. It was a little difficult to see since it seemed capable of changing colours to match its surroundings. "No. We will keep that one. Try not to step on it." He added that tease with a quick wink, as he curled a hand over Mesteno's shoulder then took to studying their immediate surroundings closely.

He stepped away a second later to gather up a few rocks, adding another downside to their chosen option as he worked. "If something is watching, it will know one of us, at least, is a psion." That didn't seem something he was going to let stop them! He would much rather take back some measure of surprise, no matter how risky it might be. Crouching near the largest rock, the Elf began to arrange his rocks on the ground, pressing them in rather firmly so they would not easily be disturbed.

"This marker will help me find this precise spot again. Leaving it may well draw something out to investigate or destroy it. I will know if it is tampered with and will be able to look back here, perhaps in time to see what it is that does the tampering."

"We can do more than leave something for it to disturb. How about a trap?” Mesteno suggested. “Like we agreed, we haven't seen much out here in the way of animals. It's unlikely I'd accidentally harm anything but a creature in pursuit of us. I can set something nasty enough to kill or cripple anything that comes to investigate here." Much like the wards on his property. They weren't easy to create, and he hadn't the same tools and supplies available to him out in the desert, but he'd brought small measures of ingredients he'd thought might be useful, and there was enough blood in his heat-raised veins that he could spare some for currency. "That way we have a body, or a subject to interrogate when you look back."

Lexius finished setting his stones and stood again, brushing the excess dust from his palms as he eyed Mesteno anew, considering the offer. He finally smiled one of the sharper versions of a smile and offered the man an agreeable nod. "That is a very fine idea." He not only approved, he was encouraging! His decision not to leave the lizard was mostly practical but there was a note of sentiment to it, as well, especially considering the Sadist seemed to have taken a liking to the little creature.

Stepping back from his rock pattern, he folded his hands behind his back and quirked slanted brows to the man. "Shall I stand here or elsewhere?" He'd never seen the man practice this sort of skill and was very interested in how he would go about it. "Do not forget to explain all that you are doing." He counselled gravely.

If his throat weren't so dry, Mesteno’s laughter might have been barked and bold. As it was, the heat had him reduced to offering a breathily amused sound, the white span of his smile flashing broad in his tawny-tanned face. It appeared he was pleased to be of use on this occasion for some reason other than being tempting bait.

"I think you'd be safest... maybe twenty, thirty feet out," he decided (lying, and the tie told it true as much as the wicked gleam in his golden eyes). "Gotta keep you safe, y'know?" There were murmurs about delicate elves that probably left him deserving a kick or a shove, but Lexius was too mature for such mischief, and Mesteno was already kneeling in the dust not far from the stones the psion had set in the ground.

The Elf scoffed quietly for the false counsel, but he did move enough to get out of the man's way as he approached the stone work. He might have given him a mental nudge (shove!)

Mesteno shrugged his pack off and reached for the small, reinforced, leather covered attachment at his belt. It was rectangular, opened up with a stud fastening, and from inside it he brought out three stoppered glass tubes to eye the contents, before reinserting two of them and keeping the remaining one. There were skinny, brown fragments inside it that looked almost like the roots of dead grass, and Lexius questioned, Mesteno confessed it was dried, preserved sections of human nerves.

"I figure we'll cripple it, give you something living to examine when we come back - you might get things from its mind that I can't pluck from it in words. So nerves." Pain. He was going to incapacitate the thing so brutally it couldn't slip away.

Rather than protest the cruelty of the trap, the Elf gave an approving nod for the idea. "Practical." Clear praise. "And interesting." That for the usage of the item. He didn't find it gruesome the man kept such things in his collection. "Does it have any connection at all to the source? And was that source human? If so, will it affect non-humanoids?" Now he just sounded like Mesteno and the fact wasn't lost on him. Amusement trickled along the bond and even glittered a bit in his dark eyes.

"Human tissues are pretty reliable. They're not always first choice - you can specialise a trap for a particular species by using their parts - but where you're not sure, where you want general, effect-everything standard, you're pretty safe using human. I guess we're fairly generic, have enough DNA in common with enough species to be useful in that respect." Not a quality he was sure most would be pleased about.

The little twig of desiccated nerves Mesteno buried whole, smoothing sand over it thickly enough that the wind wouldn't immediately unearth it should they pick up. A splash of blood - his own - like watering a plant left a ruddy stain over the point where he'd buried it (catalyst, currency, command - blood was invaluable where necromancy was concerned, and of course he explained this too as he worked).

Lexius knew the importance of the blood in Mesteno's particular trade, but that didn't mean he was a fan of leaving it behind even for the sake of the trap. Still, he didn't try to stop the man from finishing his work, merely frowned subtly to himself and monitored the entire process closely.

Mesteno sketched a broad circle, making the stain its central point, and crouched over it to begin the more delicate work of inscribing symbols into the dirt, working in sections as if they were divided by the spokes of a wheel - but close inspection would prove each wedge identical.

The inscription could have been scrawled once, he explained as he hunched over it, careful not to let his sweat drip onto his work and contaminate it or blur the edges, but the grip of the trap would have been weaker. The repetition, branched out as the nerves branched, an echo of their shape, served to make it more intense, and once the final mark had been made, there was a pulse of something palpable - if the Elf sensed it of course - an odd gravity towards the centre of the circle, as if setting foot upon it might pinion someone to that place, immobilising them on the spot, unable to escape whatever agony it inflicted. The shallow marks seemed to deepen, to become more sharply defined, the grains of dust and sand compressed so that any tighter and they might become the rock they'd once been weathered from, but it all vanished from sight when he swept more sand over it all, and nothing at all on the surface remained to tell of its presence.

He sat back then, satisfied, and dusted his hands off on his filthy breeches.

Magic wasn't something Lexius could typically feel in more than just the general sense, but the Sadist working it seemed to be an exception. The Elf rolled his shoulders subtly as the symbols along his spine itched with the setting of the trap. The sensation faded even as the visual indication of the markers disappeared and Lexius hummed a thoughtful note of sound before he spoke. "You will feel when it is triggered?"

"That's a good word for it," Mesteno agreed, preferring it to his own selection.

Whilst the work hadn't looked particularly taxing, and seemed to have cost him little physically, the concentration, and the stooped posture had been a tall order out in the desert heat, and when he moved to his feet, there seemed to be something lacking. The suggestion that his reliably unflagging energy had suffered a little for it.

"I'll feel it," he confirmed, "or if we're not too far away when we come out from the teleportation, we'll probably hear it. Whatever steps in it is going to be hurting until it howls itself silent. Out here, sound carries." Miles.

"We will be too far away." The Elf assured as he studied Mesteno critically. A rest would be in order after the teleportation. That Mesteno was sweating was enough of an indication that the environment was starting to get to him.

Giving the ground a final, critical look over to be sure he'd left no obvious signs of disturbance behind, Mesteno moved to stand beside the Elf, and offered him a grim smile. "I'm ready to go whenever you’re inclined. You should maybe let me be facing away from you though," he advised.

Lexius smiled faintly and slipped to stand behind the man instead, dipped his head toward the side of his neck and coiling an arm across his shoulders and chest. It was a steadying stance, for sure, but the closeness of body to body helped to make it something of a distracting one, as well.

Mesteno lifted a hand, fingers curling about the wrist bones of one sleek, elven arm, and gripped tight. He knew what was about to happen, and was beginning to brace his knees in preparation for the jarring emergence.

Lexius clicked his teeth together close to Mesteno's ear before he spoke. "We will go..." and then they did.

"I'm--," ready. Mesteno didn’t have chance to finish the word.

There was a definite wrenching that preceded its reappearance, as if they had been battered by an unseen wind even if they didn't really exist. The cause of it became apparent once the view stabilized with them standing on a boulder above the shattered remains of what had once been a peculiar rock formation. All of it had been shattered by something or other, leaving behind a trough of jumbled rocks.

Mesteno could easily have pitched right off if not for the Elf's stabilising presence. The need to sink low, to steady his centre of gravity hit harder than usual, and he moved to try and kneel, to get as much of himself safely down and onto something he could tangibly perceive was solid.

"Gimme a minute," he breathed out, folding over to touch his brow to rock. Not for the first time he was glad of his empty stomach.

Lexius gave a low grunt when they reappeared, taking the brunt of the relocation. He didn't let it distract him from throwing up some swift mental wards to further shroud their position, but he wasn't letting Mesteno sink down to the rock alone. Kneeling seemed to be called for, so he knelt behind the man, his arm slipping away enough to allow the Sadist to press his head to the chill granite though his fingers still curled strongly around one shoulder in case either of them wavered.

The bottom of the trough had been the Elf's initial destination. Given it was now filled with rocks, the protections he'd spoken of had shunted them upward, onto the boulder, instead. On the bright side, it was notably cooler than it had been in their previous location. They were higher up, on the actual mountain now, with a faint breeze carrying the scent of some type of nearby trees rather than the desolation of the sands.

"Take your time." The Elf's voice was mildly strained. It was advice he fully planned on taking himself, though he did run a look across the landscape.

Mesteno fumbled a hand across to grip a palm over Lexius’ knee as if to be sure he'd stay put. Was pleased he'd taken the same measure, either simply because it kept him close or because he knew it'd really been as bad as it felt. His breath came quick, shallow but not ragged, and the faint sheen of sweat on his skin had worsened enough to become a drip in places.

Lexius was in no rush to stand himself. He covered that hand on his knee with his own and breathed slow and steady through the physical and mental vibrations the rough transitions had created.

They appeared to be in the bottom of a dry gully with the walls crumbled down rather recently to make the river of boulders. Nothing seemed to be lurking on the edges waiting to spring on them and they were still a little too low to see past the rim.

Several minutes later, Mesteno levered himself onto all fours and squinted out across the rock-strewn gully. "The Hell happened here?" His first eloquent question. It was messy enough he couldn't imagine it had been lying this way for millennia. Lexius' knee was finally freed from his hand, and he rocked back - world spun mildly - to sit heels to haunches. "Did you mean to put us here?" And then... "Are you all right? Shit, I felt what that cost you."

When Mesteno straightened up, Lexius wrapped his fingers under the man's braid around the nape of his neck. "There used to be a stone bridge there." He answered quietly, voice still a bit rough. "It seems whatever destroyed it took out the majority of this area." Apparently, whatever had taken over the source of the river didn't want anyone having easy access to its stolen domain. Lexius dropped his gaze to the jumbled mix of rock, eyes narrowing. "We can climb out easily enough, but we will need to have a care for the path. We are well away from the former bridge itself, but the field may be unstable still."
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Re: Desert Gods

Post by Mesteno » Wed Dec 25, 2019 3:21 pm

[Continued…]

"It'd take an impressive amount of force to make a mess like this," Mesteno remarked, knuckling sweat from his brow, sleeve tugged carelessly over the back of his hand to mop away the moisture that'd plastered wisps of hair to darkly bronzed skin. He'd long given up on any notion of getting his clothes clean when they got back to RhyDin. "Kinda like what was left behind after you and the mindflayer went at one another in the canyon that time. Could be a psion we got out here after all, or a group of them... unless this was the site of some battle and the bridge was just taken out by one side or the other for strategic reasons."

One hand found its way to the small of the Elf's back. Splayed there, remained there, as he repeated the question gone unanswered. "Lexius." Firmly. "Are you all right? S'gonna take some effort to scramble outta here, even if you think it'd be easy normally, but at the moment we're in the perfect spot for something to take a shot at us. Couldn't be more on a pedestal if we tried." He offered him a smile that cut more in one direction than the other, smoothed the hand a little further across to grip his waist. "Want me to carry you a while?" A tease.

The Elf scowled briefly at him, the expression fierce before it dissolved back into a vague smile. "I do not need to be carried." He assured, investing a little haughtiness into his tone in return for the tease.

"That's a shame," Mesteno murmured, the opportunity to flex his flagging muscles snatched away cruelly before he'd even had chance to prove himself incapable. Still, he was bright eyed for the haughtiness, and the crooked smile he wore broadened before it slipped away.

Lexius turned his gaze toward the nearby wall of the gully as he considered the Sadist's words. "I'm well enough to climb." He knew that link told more of the story and Mesteno wouldn’t be mollified with a simple assertion he was fine.

He shifted against the touch to his back as he continued. "Perhaps the bridge was taken out simply to make the area solitary. If so, we should watch for wards or protections when we come up the far side." It was part of his distraction, looking for such things. So far, he'd found nothing. He was finally pushing back up into a stand.

Moving to his feet cautiously, Mesteno peered down over the side of the boulder, took a moment to investigate the best way to proceed, and then moved to its edge. It wasn't particularly dignified. He took his pack off and let it slide down ahead of him (evidently unconcerned with contents - everything was reinforced in there) before scrambling down in a slithering of grit and dust, one palm burning with a fresh scrape but otherwise none the worse for wear.

It was cooler down in the shadow of the boulder, but the footing was certainly nothing short of treacherous, and despite the Elf's protests on the matter of assistance, he positioned himself at the base with intent to help steady him when he reached the bottom so that they could head for the side of the gully and begin the slow ascent.

"If the river gets kick-started with a lot of force, these rocks're gonna be a problem. Might even dam it up a little and cause it to flow in the wrong directions," he pointed out, flexing his fingers before reaching up for the first handhold.

Lexius flexed a bit of mental effort to make the decent far more gracefully. Controlled levitation had its advantages. Safely grounded, he offered a nod of agreement. "It will take some work to clear."

The Elf left off chatting in favour of the climb out of the gully. The climbing required more than a little effort and reaching the top would demand a bit of acrobatic manoeuvring, but it was well within their skill level.

Fatigued, and hindered badly enough by the weight of his pack, Mesteno had a slip or two, a few bloodied fingernails he swore over, and he was panting by the time he reached the top, the sweat dripping off him to the point he actually begged a pause for a couple of minutes before they moved onward.

Night was waning by the time they reached the top, staining the sky to the east pale peach.

Out of the gully, there was a more mountainous landscape with widely spaced trees that were obviously more hardy than lush. It was far greener than the desert, at least, and there was even a rabbit that went bounding away from them as they moved away from the edge of the gully.

Mesteno’s eyes tracked the bounding creature, and he felt a startling pang of hunger. It appeared that a combination of all that physical exertion and a couple of weeks without sipping from the sprawling populace had actually gone some way to kindling an appetite. Limits were always interesting to stumble across, but he hadn't quite reached the point where his stomach was going to rumble.

"Let's find a spot to drop for a couple of hours," he suggested without shame. "I'll take first watch while you meditate."

Lexius brushed the grit from his hands and eyed Mesteno sidelong for that little pang of hunger he sensed, but made no comment on the matter.

It was probably telling he did not argue the order of the watch duty. Instead, Lexius nodded and set off to find the space. Once they found an appropriate space, guarded by three trees huddled close together, he set a few crystals at wards and advised Mesteno to give him two hours and no more. The Sadist was intended to have the same amount of time once their roles reversed, but he’d only rested about an hour and a half before the trap he had set back in the foothills suddenly sprang shut on an unsuspecting victim.

Mesteno’s eyes simply snapped open, unblinking, far-seeing, as if he'd gone from the immediate, comforting blackness of deepest sleep to keen, predatory alert. Had there been some danger present with them, he'd doubtless have been on it like a flash. Instead.... "Looks like pursuit caught up to where we were earlier," he whispered.

It was distant of course, and he had to strain somewhat to feel it, but feel it he could. Some poor wretch caught in the sickly gravity of that circle, unable to escape the nerve scraping agony he'd prepared for it. Mesteno sat up, faint trickling of dust out of his hair.

"Can we get back to it easily enough?"

Lexius heavily lidded eyes trained on the Sadist. He'd been doing some metal hopscotching, checking the terrain that they would face on their way toward the source of the river. He abandoned that effort in favour of fully concentrating on Mesteno.

"We could." He confirmed Mesteno's question without delay, already turning his thoughts to the symbol of stones he'd left within the area of Mesteno's trap. "It would require teleporting again, however. And would put us back in a known place." He pondered a moment as his mind’s eye focused in on that spot so many miles behind them. "I can bring it to us." His eyebrows quirked a bit upward a moment later even as his mouth set in a grim line. "It is a jackal." He informed the man. "There is more than one, but only one is caught."

"A jackal." Mesteno stated, rather than questioned. It was not 'my trap got wasted on a jackal!' but more a touch of guilt that it was a simple, wild animal that it had seized upon. Given longer, that would have churned right up and left him nauseated, until he recalled... "You said the tracks we saw by the caravan were larger than they shoulda been. Maybe it's not y'regular jackal. Better bring it here anyway so we can see whether it's a risk. Might have some kind of tie to the Yuan-ti, maybe a collar or a brand or... something."

"It is too large and too distorted to be normal." Now that he had an 'eye' on the beasts, Lexius could see that they only mildly resembled the natural variety of the creature.

He unfolded from the ground, moving to stand at the edge of the invisible boundary warding he had erected via the crystals. "I will bring it into this space, which should keep it masked if something is tracking it." He only gave the Sadist a few moments to process that warning before he was reaching out across the miles to snatch the creatures from the trap and teleport it to the space in front of them.

Already filled with agony and confusion, the creature appeared in a rush of air, slumped onto the ground. It mottled fur was patchy, its limbs a little too long and gangly and its face didn't seem to have fully transformed from human to jackal, leaving it look caught halfway between with partly misaligned jaws that were, nevertheless, filled with lots of sharp teeth. It panted and huddled on the ground, now pain free but dazed by the unexpected teleport.

Mesteno loosened his scimitar in its well-worn scabbard in readiness. Truly he wasn't even sure whether he'd need it. The pain might have been cut off, but that didn't mean the nerves weren't still firing, that muscles likely to have spent the past moments rigid with tension weren't sore and weak. It would be a miracle if the creature could stand.

"This..." It was revolting, but there was no need to point that out. "A shifter. No wonder they were larger tracks." He made no approach, but his wintry appraisal seemed to suggest he wouldn't be leaving his blade where it was for long. The thing needed putting out of its misery, and not just because of his trap's effects. There were plenty of 'wrong' looking things n RhyDin, but this was so blatantly ill-formed that it couldn't have been intentional. "The virus that made it gone wrong? Or did we just catch it mid-change so it got stuck there?" Not that it truly mattered he supposed.

For all that distortion, its paws were perfect, if overly large. The thing did not even try to get up, but continued to lay there and pant even though its ears twitched and its muscles shuddered at the sound of Mesteno's voice. It knew there was danger but it just couldn't seem to pull itself together enough to respond.

"If it was the virus," the Elf replied confidently, "then it was warped itself." Perhaps a created one rather than the pure strain. Lexius had a wealth of experience with shifters, though they did tend to vary by breed and his specialty was more centred around the wolves given his history with them. "A forced change, I think." Much like his forced teleport, which the thing wasn't responding too well at all.

Mesteno addressed the creature next. "Do you speak? Can you speak?"

He was only answered with a weak, guttural snarl.

Lexius was walking around it as it tried to heave itself up without success. "We may not be able to reverse this." He was working again, stretching out tendrils of thought toward the thing's mind. It was saying something when his expression twisted faintly upon making contact. “The mind is as twisted as the body."

Mesteno lifted his hand away from the scimitar to wreathe his arms loosely as he considered the facts.

"So this isn't some willing pack creature that's chosen to serve someone. If the mind is fucked up, and the virus is warped, what we've got is a slave jackal-mutt. Given what we saw back at the caravan, I got a feeling I know where our target has been picking up their test subjects. Probably any nomad that wandered within range of the river north of that well we stopped at, any bandit or explorer..." He tried to recall what the caravan folk had told him about the ones gone missing, but he couldn't fix on a number.

Instead of saying more, he gestured to the pitiful wretch, an impatient wave that had nothing to do with the Elf testing his patient, and more a simmering anger towards whatever had afflicted the human beneath it with the corrupted virus. "Might as well put it out of its misery. I'll let you do the honours."

Lexius nodded his agreement with the Sadist summation. Thankfully, whatever he was doing to mentally touch the creature didn't convey down the link that tied them together. Lexius was purposefully keeping Mesteno as isolated as possible from such exposure lest it overwhelm his untrained psyche.

Pausing beyond where the beast was now trying to lurch into motion, Lexius folded his hand behind his back and went still. The beads, however, chose then to rattle at his side, the sound soft but somehow managing to thrum just under Mesteno's skin. The sensation actually seemed to tug at his energy, poked at his soul, as the Elf did whatever it was he was doing.

Lexius wasn't completely unaware of the anomaly, and his gaze rose from the distorted were-jackal to the Necromancer. The creature spasmed and shuddered and that seemed to demand the Elf's full attention back to it to ensure the tendrils he was working into it to choke its heartbeat actually did their job.

The necromancer maintained his distance. His revulsion for its state made a complex tangle with the anger bubbling away like a pot approaching the boil. These humans that had been turned, for it seemed most likely they'd not been volunteers, were nothing like the twisted spectacles Jetrell threw in the line of fire. Those followers who'd willingly gone over to him, or the bodies lacking souls - they didn't suffer as this thing did, and he found himself eager to watch the light in its eyes fail. To see it slumped and still rather than have its torment prolonged.

Instead he was distracted by the odd sensation of the beads' obtrusive demand for attention, or rather, for that of his passenger. It had been watching, in that subtle way it was prone to as death approached. It was lethargic, hungry, perhaps had even been hoping the mind inhabiting the fleshy shell it wore might see fit to take advantage of the situation. Prime opportunity after all. It did not like the attention of the beads though, and like an old wolf pestered by a pup it slunk further into seclusion, seemed to condense itself as if loath to be reached.

And of course Mesteno wasn't permitting it. Scruples. The soul in there was likely a victim, and he wouldn't hunt it when it finally found release of its warping. He simply watched stoically as it went through its death throes, silent and grim faced.

"There's going to be more of these. And we're going to have to kill them all, aren't we?" he asked when it seemed to be over.

Lexius dropped one hand from behind his back to touch the restless string of beads and the sound stilled, the sensation slowly fading away. The Elf did not raise his gaze from the twitching creature again, even after it went fully still. It was no easy task even if it seemed so, and his concentration remained blade sharp on the prone body which did not reassume the original shape of the host now that it was dead. Lexius frowned mildly and hummed a thoughtful note of sound.

"Mm. Yes, I am sure we will. Unless you wish to capture them and investigate a cure." He didn't sound completely turned off by that idea! But then, it was quite the puzzle and would probably present a real challenge, "I'm fairly certain they will not give us much opportunity to do so, however."

Lexius turned his attention to their immediately surroundings and, finding an appropriate patch of rocky ground, he mental dragged the corpse there to burn before they left. "We should continue on once this is complete."

"Y'probably right," Mesteno admitted. "Even if we managed to slip past them all without drawing their attention 'n just left 'em to it, how can we even be sure they'll survive without whatever made them this way to control them?" The grim set of his mouth grew even worse, a full blown grimace. "I can see it now. Left to run loose, they'd take out the folks at the well we stopped at and every caravan they came across." The tie betrayed the slant of his thoughts; maybe they could trap them. Trap them and get word to the locals and leave the decision in their hands. Yet that seemed a coward's way out, transferring such a responsibility. Ideal as finding a cure sounded, he didn't hold much hope for being able to avoid a confrontation with them.

Shouldering his belongings again, he waited for Lexius to do as he would with the remains, and moved on in the direction of the gully they'd teleported into led. "So... what kind of creature could be responsible f'that? We back to mages?"

"We should ensure it is handled ourselves." That in response to Mesteno's initial comments, which he hadn't answered at the time. "And yes. Magic is a reasonable explanation, though I could not tell you for sure the type. It does not seem to suggest any sort of Genie, however. It does not seem to be their...style."

"Can't say it does," the necromancer agreed, the faintest thread of humour touching his tone. Of those he'd known to be djinn, genie, or however else it might be termed, none had taken it upon themselves to create packs of twisted were-jackals. "In fact it seems so botched I'd be most inclined to say it was some idiot human playing around with shit he's no good at. Hey--,"

That last word lifted somehow, as if the proverbial lightbulb had just illuminated something in his gloomy head.

"Anub--um. Jackal-headed Egytpain deity," because stating his name would be bad! "Do you think he'd be interested in them? Maybe have some way of... even if not saving them, taking them under his wing and giving them some peace?" Idiot, expecting selflessness from a Power.

As they walked, Lexius was working his psionic tricks. The warding crystals he'd collected from the ground were set to floating around the both of them, tiny little fireflies of light that bobbed and moved randomly, yet were never quite close enough to be touched.

He didn't answer right away, but this time it had more to do with working through the ramifications of that idea. Finally, he shook his head a little. "There is no telling what that one might do. We have as much a chance of earning his disfavour or approval by interfering in a matter associated with his patron creatures."

Lexius eyed Mesteno sidelong before he continued. "Again, probably best simply to deal with them rather than leave them open to manipulation. If he were to cure them, they would mostly likely become a quite devout following."

More disfavour from a Power was something Mesteno could do without, and his shoulders sagged, a measure of despondency to his posture as they trekked onward.

"You're right, of course," he conceded, thumbs hooked beneath the pack-straps and eyes on where he meant to set his feet. Content to leave the issue of the were-jackals behind until they ran into them again (and he was sure they would, closer to the opposition's lair) he lapsed into quiet for some time, but did break his silence to ask, "Is there only a single way in that you know of? No rear entrances we might sneak in through?"
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Re: Desert Gods

Post by Mesteno » Wed Dec 25, 2019 4:00 pm

[Continued…]


The ground was starting to slope down, as if they were now going down the mountain rather than up, which was precisely the case. The decline wasn't steep enough to really reveal more than the rock and tree covered terrain ahead, but it was obvious enough to make the attention Mesteno paid to his footing more than worthwhile.

"The lake is in something of a depression that is perhaps...five miles distant from here. There are several approaches to it, but all of them from this side of the mountain will be elevated. If there is a way into the mountainside and tunnels leading closer to it, I am not aware of the path. I've had little reason to do more than see and mark the location of the source of the river and that was many years past." He didn't seem to be in a rush for how close they now were. In fact, the Elf's pace had slowed as they moved and his attention on their surroundings had sharpened. Only one mile along and any sign of wildlife had disappears, though there were the occasional buzz and cheeps of insects, proving the area wasn't completely dead.

"Like a crater?" Mesteno asked, attempting to visualise what he spoke of. "Or just the natural weathering when the water leaked up there?"

Lexius offered a single nod in acknowledgement before continuing on. Hs voiced was pitched lower when he finally answered the question. "Perhaps a crater. It would explain the lake building there."

He, too, seemed intrigued by the possibilities in that idea. The Sadist's active imagination certainly seemed to interest him, as well. "Given Rhy’Din’s rather turbulent nature, it could have been caused by anything." A meteor, a mage exploding, a gigantic earth elemental slamming its fist into the ground. Nearly anything! It only took a little longer before the edge of said crater came into view, though that sight was obscured by more than a few of the scraggly trees that grew from the rocky soil. More of them were collected that close to the lake, further blocking a clear line of sight.

They were about a mile out when Lexius halted abruptly and put up a hand to stop Mesteno as well. There'd been no effort to hide the dark char mark running like a chalk line across the ground, disappearing in the distance to the left and right. If one squinted, they just might see the air shimmering like heat waves even in the cool of the evening. Then something howled and yipped in the distance.

Mesteno’s footfalls scuffed to a stop for the upraised hand, and it didn't take a genius to figure out why. He examined the mark without comment, drawing conclusions, and turned his head sharply in the direction he caught the jackal's sharp yip.

Finally, he moved sidelong, investigating to see if he could determine how far around the perimeter that charred mark stretched, whether it were broken at all, or whether there was anything dead stretched across it that hadn't been so cautious as they in trying to get to the lake. Some poor, dumb animal with a thirst. "Gotta find a way around it, or find a way to tear it down. Bet you whatever put it here'll detect it if we do though. Think it just kills on crossing, or is it some kind of alert 'n nothing more?" Just barely loud enough for his voice to carry!

While Mesteno ranged to the side, the Elf took the time to look behind them. They just might have passed something not so obvious if the jackal call was any indication and the barrier before them was meant to keep them somewhat stationary while the dogs came out to deal with the intruders.

Further along, Mesteno found a tree split in half by the invisible barrier, charred on both sides, but no obvious dead animals. The line kept on going as if it just might surround the crater fully.

"Something this large would take quite a bit of power to maintain at lethal levels,” Lexius said. “It will certainly delay us, which may be the point." Again came the yipping. Closer! "We most likely triggered something far more subtle further back." The crystal floating in the air nearest Mesteno suddenly seemed to go rogue and zoom straight for the shimmering barrier. It passed through with a mild crackle.

"The Hell did we miss?" Mesteno asked, disgusted that they'd been so sloppy as to be oblivious to some kind of sentry system. He returned to the Elf's side to await the appearance of the local guard canines.

"Nothing obvious." The Elf assured. He still couldn't detect anything out of the ordinary that might have given them away.

Just because the crystal had passed across the boundary line didn't mean he was confident they'd manage the same with equally little trouble. A crystal wasn't a living being made up of nerves and fragile tissue after all. That crackling might just have been an electrical current capable of immobilising them as surely as his trap had been able to fix the agonised jackal in place earlier. He gave the line a dubious look, and still refrained from an approach.

"I guess this is where we start some jackal culling then," he muttered, without any hint of relish. He'd known it was coming after all. Instead of removing his pack for the sake of movement speed, he left it on as an extra barrier to any attack from the rear, and settled his hand about the grip of his notched old scimitar. No tricks or spells at this point, though he did let his soul energy seep from its usual rigid channels to fill him to the extremities, a brooding, sullen presence that churned like dark smoke just under his skin, ready to be wielded in case the numbers threatened to overwhelm.

The jackal creatures did not call again, but there was no doubt they were headed their way. Lexius recalled his crystal (which sparked again briefly on its way back) then gestured for the Sadist to step closer. "I believe they must be tracking the crystals." And he'd made it easier by testing the barrier with one. Nothing to be done about that, but Lexius didn't seem content to stand and wait to do some killing. "We will let them continue to do so. If they range far in the pursuit, we can deal with them later."

The Elf grasped Mesteno's shoulder, then took his hand. "Do not let go of my hand." He warned gravely rather than explaining what he was about. Branches were breaking not too far away, after all! “And be still."

Mesteno gripped the Elf's hand firmly, though without crushing those fine, delicate elven fingers. "Always tellin' me to be still," he complained with a touch of humour. "Just you wait until I start tellin' you to be." He was talented when it came to making things sound lascivious, as he did then!

The world sort of began to fade around them. It didn't disappear completely, but all the colours drained from everything, turning the land and the sky and even each of them into shadows of grey and silver that oscillated weirdly to the eye.

Mesteno flicked his focus about to try and determine what the Hell had happened, then pinioned Lexius with a glance.

"We between planes?" His voice echoed strangely when he spoke, mashed together as if coming out in a rush. Mesteno had seen the Elf do this before, usually to avoid being attacked by something as he had when they were out on the promontory and his soul had rebelled at the thought of containment. He'd never thought to find himself there though! Nor, apparently had his soul since it felt very much as if it were holding still the same as he was.

They'd become ghosts. Or at least, they seemed rather transparent, anyway. When observed closely, their bodies seemed solid in some places and see-through in others. Even the touch felt slightly tenuous, normal across the fingertips but less solid across the palm, as if their skin and flesh and bone might sink into each other if they pressed too hard.

The Elf kept the chatter mind to mind. We are phased between reality and the spaces beyond reality, no fully in either place. Movement can betray us.

Ahead of them, the barrier that existed in the real word didn't seem to extend beyond it except in the thinnest of anchoring tendrils that shimmered in and out of view.

The crystals had not phased with them and, once Lexius was done, the ring of them shuddered off to the side, following the invisible wall along a path away from the incoming jackals. Those beasts would appear minutes later, moving completely wrong. One second they rushed, the next they seemed to be in slow motion, in the next second moving at a normal pace. The 'pack' consisted of three of the malformed beasts with one of them larger than the other two and much more completely changed even if it was still abnormal.

Being phased into this odd domain for once made Mesteno not merely cautious, but a little afraid. His pulse had quickened, and the glances he darted towards the movement beyond their position were hasty, as if he thought to take his eyes off the Elf would result in him having vanished when he looked back. He said nothing to begin with, not until the twisted jackal shifters made their appearance in pursuit of the fleeing crystals and the potential for escape from the non-physical realm beckoned to him, tempting as a light at the end of the tunnel.

Let's not wait too long to get across that boundary. If they catch up with the crystals and realise they've been led off, they'll be back to investigate. It was true enough, but certainly the eagerness to his words was a reflection of his discomfort rather than any real worry about a direct confrontation with the guard dogs.

I have you. Lexius offered the assurance with utter confidence and in direct response to the spike of Mesteno's worry. If the man watched too closely, he just might see the evidence of the assertion, as well. Like the tendrils that marked the barrier, there were thin, ghostly strands of power circling not only the Elf, but extending out to wrap around the Sadist's ghostly form. The hub of it all was a massive knot of fluctuating power where their hands were joined. The skin to skin connection was vital.

This is not so different than stepping onto the Astral Plane. The Elf continued to speak directly to Mesteno's mind, the mental tone smooth and steady, rather than aloud. He knew precisely how disconcerting the shift could be for the uninitiated and he was purposefully offering something of a distraction with his comparison as he watched and waited for their opportunity to move. Timing things when out of phase was a delicate matter! Your body is more solid, of course, even if you are projecting, but the landscape is more washed out and uncertain, making the judging of distance difficult. Githyank rule great portions of it and there are the remains of fallen Powers to investigate. The color portals are vivid. He paused when the jackal pack completely disappeared, then tugged Mesteno's hand lightly.

Come. Walk normally. Even if the ground felt spongy, then hard, then completely insubstantial, he advised a normal pace and walked just that way, guiding the Sadist along past the anchoring points of the barrier and toward the trees (which remained strangely solid) that lined the rim of the crater.

I suppose I'd take this over the Astral, since there's a distinct lack of Gith, Mesteno remarked, voice tight. He hadn't forgotten the tricks they were capable of, and the seriousness with which the Elf and tribe had treated the appearance of the single interloper outside the training ground.

Physical sensation didn't run in the right places, as if the necromancer’s gravity were off kilter. I think I preferred it when you told me to be still, he muttered, still mind to mind since he'd no desire to hear the distortion again.

You become used to it. Was Lexius only response to the Sadist's complaint.

Maybe you do, the groused response, though it was half-hearted, and Mesteno’s displeasure was more aimed at his own nervousness than Lexius.

Lexius guided them further along in fits and starts of motion, though their pace remained steady. When parts of Mesteno might have lagged, he herded them along with those tendrils of power until they were breaking free of the mini-forest.

Perhaps a half a mild ahead of them was the crater, down the slope of land. It was a rather stunning sight, all silvery and grey. But what made it truly remarkable was the few ropes of what had to be magical power that were raising out of the ground like weird arms.

The Hell is that? Some kind of guardian protecting it or...? Then Mesteno recalled similar at the boundary marking. Suspected. That's a lot of magic.

Lexius studied them only for a few moments before he finally shifted them back into normal phase with the rest of the world.

Mesteno wanted to fold down and kiss the dirt for being so beautifully solid. Instead he groaned softly as if it were a physical pleasure to be back, and fumbled himself up against Lexius' back, chest pressed into shoulder blades and hands tangled into the front of his jacket to just hang onto him for a moment. Air!

The out of phase travel had helped them cover a larger distance more quickly, without a doubt, and that was the main reason Lexius had expended so much power to keep them shifted for so long. He let free a quiet breath and leaned back against the solidness of Mesteno's frame as everything sort of settled in them both. His gaze remained fixed ahead on what they could see of the crater and the small little lake down in the centre of it, clamping one hand to the Necromancer's hip to keep him from moving away too quickly.

"Yes." He finally murmured. "There is much magic here." He gestured with his free hand to the now dry walls of where the lake had once filled. "The lake itself is much diminished. I think they had made a home in the walls on the far side there." The pockmarks in the wall had probably been natural at one time, but they seemed to have been expanded.

Examining the water filled crater beyond the edge of the Elf's pointed ear, Mesteno’s brow drew tight, his frown fierce and expression generally severe as he considered the changes being described. His grip eased up, and the weight of his lean lessened somewhat, settled to counterbalance the backward pressure of Lexius' weight until they were both steady enough on their feet to be sure of their own footing.

"If there's that much power, maybe it's a group we're facing. Forget the amateur mage idea, even someone with a fucking mountain of natural ability to work with isn't going to be able to pull off permanent control of something like this, and to control the jackals, and maintaining that perimeter up there. S'gotta be something more than that."

"There is more than one." Lexius confirmed, then qualified it in the next second. "Unless it is another scion like we faced before. It was a psion that traced my crystals." Apparently, he was confident a mage wouldn't have been capable of such a feat.

Mesteno’s fingers skimmed over the hand Lexius had at his hip, a gesture that seemed to be warning he was going to move away since he didn't want the Elf tumbling over backwards, and he let him loose to stand alongside him. "Seems likely the new residents woulda made use of what was already here. We should go investigate the old homes. Did... where's the lizard?" Had it come with them!? He'd gone from thinking of sending it on scout duty to wondering if it'd suffered an ill fate in the between!

That the Elf was still working to keep them masked in some manner was obvious along the link, but it was as mild a concealment as he could muster given he wanted to conserve his power and not make another, obvious beacon for a searching mind to latch onto. "I do not think there were any former residents, but a scout along the edge would be useful." He slanted a look aside to Mesteno as the little lizard under question came out of hiding in Mesteno's braid to perch on his shoulder and tongue flick his neck. The Elf managed not to laugh.

"You should name it. And then coax it into going to search."

Mesteno grumbled, tilting his head away from that darting tongue that surely tasted nothing better than sand and salt when it caught his skin past the muslin. "Hardy little fucker... did he make it through purely 'cause he was attached to me? Or did you work to take him through with us?" He reached up to pluck the rough-skinned little animal in careful palms, and set it down by his boot, half expecting it to just jump straight back on in protest.

"Yes." The simple reply neatly answered both questions! Lexius continued to watch the Sadist deal with his new pet without offering any more advice on the matter. Yet.

"He's now called Dorian.” Mesteno announced “Dorian..." He flicked a finger towards the stretch of ground to be scouted, and did not sound as if he particularly expected the animal to comply. "Go check things out for us. And try not to get yourself killed, hm?"

The lizard scrambled back onto his boot. There were jackals out there, after all! But rather than ignore the man, it canted its small, flat head to one side to peer up, up, up at him with one lidless eye. It blinked once in response to Mesteno's words, as if to say 'are you kidding me?' That could have been about its new name or the suggestion it go scouting. It didn’t budge off his boot.

Lexius, tone much too bland, offered an idea. "Perhaps if you said please." He must be teasing! "Or promised it plenty of insects." That actually sounded more reasonable. Mesteno regularly captured insects to feed his lizards, right? “Or picked a better name." He absolutely was teasing with that one.

"I wasn't aware lizards cared about manners or names they didn't understand," Mesteno drawled - nothing wrong with the name. It was upmarket, classy - entirely inappropriate but he was giving it something to aspire to. "Not like I can keep it for a pet anyway. Kalari'd eat it as soon as she set eyes on it, and that's your fault for bringin' 'em home for her to hunt," he pointed out logically!

By then, the Elf was squinting back down at the crater. He lifted his chin toward a faint flicker of light that had appeared. "Something is moving about." About then, as well, came the distant yips of the thwarted jackal pack. They didn't sound like happy yips.

"Well, I don't think we can wait up here bein' voyeurs. We're gonna be caught between the guard dogs and whatever it is if we don't get moving," Mesteno pointed out, without bothering to glance back and see how close the hideously deformed shifters were. "C'mon. You think they'll pick up on it if I do any shadow walking out here?" The magic users he meant - he refrained for now, trusting his feet to the task of getting him to safety.
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Re: Desert Gods

Post by Mesteno » Wed Dec 25, 2019 5:27 pm

[Continued…]

The lizard in question leaped onto the ground once Mesteno stepped into motion and scuttled away through the underbrush and rocks. Apparently, they weren't moving fast enough. Or maybe the Elf had finally convinced it to do its job. He didn't speak of it, but addressed Mesteno's question as he kept pace down toward the crater. "I've no idea. I am trying to keep us masked with as little energy as possible, but there is still the possibility it will be detected."

Once they got close enough, they were able to look past the rim of the crater to the dry banks of the now diminished lake. Along the far rim was what appeared to be some sort of crude encampment, with holes that served as cave entrances into the side of the mountain. There seemed to be pens down there, trapping more of the jackal creatures with snaky guards serving to keep things in order.

"Yuan-ti guards?" Mesteno asked, squinting at the pens where the jackals were being supervised by large, sinuous creatures. "Does that mean there's another nest here somewhere and we got a really smart queen? Maybe the one back in the first town we infiltrated got word out here."

The trees rimming the crater were looking a little worse for the lack of water, and there was a thick carpet of fallen, dead leaves beneath their boots. Still, the tenacious foliage was doing its best to hang on. Lexius crouched beside Mesteno as he took a better look. The pinpoints out light turned out to be little bonfires that revealed the Yuan-ti more clearly for the warrior breeds that they were.

"It seems so, though I see no evidence of said queen. Once would think she would keep the egg layers closer, more protected here, rather than out in the sands." Something was off about it, anyway, and the Elf wasn't convinced. What else might induce the Yuan-ti warriors to be here rather than in the desert was an equal mystery. "I can set fire to the cages, which should distract them enough for us to get past them into the tunnels. Whatever it is here will be in there. You can shadow step us down into the entrance."

"You know what'll happen," Mesteno murmured, eyeing up the cages where the hideously distorted forms of the jackal beasts were housed. "Either the snakes won't get 'em out in time and they're gonna end up burning to death, or they cut 'em loose and we're gonna have a big pack to contend with all at once."

Whilst the latter possibility would make things more difficult for them, his damn scruples were nipping at him on the issue of burning creatures that were already technically victims. They'd agreed to dispose of them, but this seemed a particularly brutal ending. He chewed over the idea of creating a distraction from the shadows to occupy the snakes, but he knew he'd lose his grasp on whatever he conjured up as soon as he dragged them down to the caves by way of the Umbral paths.

"Whenever you're ready," he told him, already moving towards a craggy, shadowy patch where he could cement the shadows into something thicker, but keep a view of the cave entrances. He needed that picture firmly lodged in his mind in order to make them a pathway from point A to point B. Lexius need only join him there and hang on when he'd performed his bit of arson!

"They will not try to save them." Lexius predicted, half distracted, sure the Yuan-ti weren't any more compassionate than he was being. "But they will try to keep the fire from spreading." He'd make that more difficult by setting a few of them ablaze, as well.

Reaching out, he curled his hand over the Sadist's shoulder. "A moment. They will be able to tell we are here." He warned that before he got to work. He could have simply agitated the molecules of the structures he wished to set on fire, but that wasn't dramatic (or fast) enough.

Instead, the Elf ripped open several portals to the plane of fire, just over his intended targets. Fire (maybe even lava) poured through onto the cages and a couple of the guards lingering too close. The howling and screaming and chaos began in earnest, but at least it didn't seem the victims would suffer too long before they were completely consumed.

Mesteno was a little slack-jawed as the molten rock came spewing from the rents. "Sanctus futue," he murmured - Holy fuck. He wasn't feeling particularly eloquent!

The fire spread swiftly and hotly even after the rents were closed and Lexius gave Mesteno's shoulder a squeeze. He was ready.

He reached to clamp his hand about the Elf's wrist, making doubly sure there were points of connection as the shadows came coiling up around their legs like smoke, then more profusely until the darkness was dense enough... then through they plunged. The lightless reaches of the Umbra, the numbing cold, assaulted them instantaneously, and though there seemed to be no up nor down - nothing upon which to focus, there was solidity beneath their feet unlike the unnerving sponginess that they'd traversed when Lexius took them to the between-planes spaces.

Un-glimpsed things breathed down their necks, denied admittance to the safe paths, but stalking their edges waiting for them to set foot wrong, and the distant bellowing of things gargantuan brought tremors shaking whatever substance it was they walked upon. Mesteno ignored them all, or seemed to. The mental tie betrayed something strange. A pull he seemed to feel, or possibly just a temptation to risk-take. Something out there in the great unseen seemed to tug at the fibres of him as if it were only a matter of time... His soul seemed gently amused.

And then they were out, the light from the fires bright enough to make them squint from their shadowy cover near the cave mouths, ice clinging to them where sweat had solidified, a stiffness to their clothing that hadn't been there before.

"Cito!" he urged, evidently still stuck in the Latin tongue as he hastened into the nearest passage and away from the chaos.

Lexius gave a low grunt of relief once they emerged, the sound swallowed by the chaos that was still well underway. Lava from the sky was not something the Yuan-ti had been prepared to deal with!

The Elf stepped swiftly, as advised, into the nearest passageway carved out of the side of the hill. The tunnel was obviously constructed rather than natural, the walls smooth as glass and maybe a little taller than normal. Another tunnel bisected it from the right after the first turn and something was slithering along the ground there, moving deeper into the hillside.

Rather than avoid it, Lexius chose to follow.

Mesteno let Lexius move ahead of him without complaint. Trading places meant he could cover their backs in case of pursuit, a task he was well accustomed to. Again the scimitar was loosened in its scabbard, though tunnels were not ideal for swinging swords in.

"You feel anything?" he pressed, keeping his voice a low murmur so as not to catch the ear-holes of the snake thing (or so he presumed it to be) ahead.

The smell of charred flesh and scales and fur was wafting into the tunnels both behind them and in the wake of the slithering thing they were following. Lexius was about to answer Mesteno's murmured question when the sound of a stuttering hiss, a growl and then a shriek came from a cavern ahead of them.

"They're in the tunnelsss!" Something exclaimed shortly after that cacophony of sounds.

"The fuck is th--," Mesteno’s words cut short as the common-tongue words followed those all too animal sounds. Lexius had told him the Yuan-Ti had once been human, so it made sense they'd know the language, but for some reason he hadn't expected them to be able to enunciate it so clearly.

The Elf was then distracted by a surge of power than came blowing out from the central cavern. Concussive force that was very similar to what he'd used in the past came rippling down the passage to slam them against the walls. For as hard as the battering was, it could have been a whole lot worse if Lexius hadn't been prepared for a psion.

Mesteno's feet skidded along the smooth, stone floor, and for a moment he was unwillingly moonwalking, until his pack came up jarringly against one of the walls, sparing his head the impact, but leaving his neck with a nasty case of whiplash for the sharp, backward press. Growling, he strained to straighten his head, snarling another ugly obscenity.

Thankfully, Lexius was able to counter the surge and free them to move again. Wind buffeted them from behind a moment later, pushing them down the passage into the cavern.

There was something to be said for the grip of those sturdy boots Mesteno favoured, and bracing himself, he managed to withstand another embarrassing slide, dragging in a few lengths of shadows to play tether to his arms and waist, though he still reached in the Elf's direction to grab hold of him. Between his efforts and Lexius' grab of the cavern wall (his arm sank into it and became a little stony itself), they both remained in the tunnel which suddenly filled with firefly sparks and a sound like shattering glass.

Lexius straightened, letting go the wall, and endeavoured to smother the link between himself and Mesteno as much as he could before the jabbing sensation of a mind attack assaulted him. The spikes of the attack came through like those shards of invisible glass raining down along the tie before they were muffled.

Something did come down the hall then. That slithering Yuan-ti they'd been following, half charred and bearing a spear rather than any light. It made straight for the Elf who stood stock still right where he was, completely absorbed in the mental battle that had ensued.

"Shit! Lexius, hang on." Because of course it got worse. Had to. And Mesteno wasn't about to remain tethered there inactive while a scorched snake-man set a direct path for his Elf.

The shadows, elastic, stretched longer, like a fishing line dragged out by a particularly tenacious fish trying to swim away from what would reel it in. He went sliding headlong down the passage as the force of the pushing wind began to ebb, got his feet under him, and bolted straight into the spear-wielding creature with his sword ringing free and up to deter the first thrust of the spear, twist and knock it aside to make an opening for a neat stab.

Sparks flew, and the Yuan-ti hissed with displeasure, trying to twist it sinuous body away from the slicing blade as it closed with the Sadist. Propped on its massive tail, it was taller than him, nearly tall enough for its head to brush the top of the tunnel. It seemed to know the space was too confined for either of them to get any leverage with the weapons, so it tried to swivel around the man so it might shove him bodily in the direction it had come from where the cavern was. So it was Mesteno was bull rushed by a snake man, the spear cross wise in front of its body like a shield.

The voice from that cavern was still shrieking some words, but whatever the Elf was doing seemed to be keeping it buy enough not to enter the fray again with more spells. At least for the moment.

The shadows still harnessed Mesteno against the ebbing pull, wrapped him in frigid bands allowing enough slack for combat, but adding a little extra support to keep him on his feet when the Yuan-ti's sinuous movements threatened to unbalance him. He managed to get his scimitar up in time, flat of the blade turned against the spear's haft to avoid the keen edge from getting stuck in the press of the wood, one foot sliding backwards as he braced against the push. Of course the creature was a good deal heavier than he, and he still slid, grunting, every muscle in his lithe, sinewy frame gone taut, bones fit to snap for what he demanded of them.

He wasn't so foolish as to think he could match it for brute force, so he switched tactics, turning the shadows so that they tangled up around the snake's head to blind it, giving him time to dart sideways, behind, and let it push into empty space where he'd pushed. It ought to leave him with a nice opening to turn, the old matador grace whip-lash quick in the wake of bullish shoving, to swing out with the scimitar and try and carve a neat cleft into its spine. It might not kill it outright, but a little paralysis couldn't hurt.

The thing let out a guttural, hissing sound of pain as it flopped forward into the cavern, its whole body thrashing. It seemed to have lost control of that muscled tail due to whatever damage caused by the blade.

Beyond it, the cavern it had come from would now be clear to the Sadist. He was right at the edge of the tunnel and without the Yuan-ti blocking the view, he was able to see a roughly circular cavern with a pool of water at its centre. Hovering just above the pool was some sort of trident, the weapon aglow with a bluish light as it defied logic and gravity, the butt end of it touching to top of the rippling water. Off to the left of the pool stood a hideous looking Lamia, her lion's body covered in scales rather than fur. She still had a mane of hair flowing down her back and her human torso was draped in fine silk. She currently had both hands fisted around a long, slender crystal held by a Yuan-ti female whose eyes were glassed over, trying to yank the thing from her hold. Or maybe she was trying to let it go with no success.

"Lexius the trident!" Mesteno hissed, thinking to start towards it…

The air around the pair suddenly shimmered with heat about a second before Mesteno heard a distant warning from the battling Elf.

Close your eyes.

Mesteno only had a second or two to comply, throwing up a forearm before his eyes, and then the lightning ripping out of the ceiling inside the cavern to fork between the struggling pair, driving them apart. It was a long moment after he heard the noise of the lightning strike that he dared peer over the edge of the raised wrist to see what development had been made.

The lightning had done more than just separate the pair. In the wake of the bolt, which had blackened the rock and driven them apart with only shards of the crystal they'd been battling over now left on the ground, there appeared around the pool and the trident a flickering force field. It apparently had some protections woven around it.

The Yuan-ti was now nothing more than a charred lump of meat.

The necromancer decided to make the most of the advantage Lexius had won them - stooped to snatch up the Yuan-ti warrior's enormous spear, and took several side-travelling strides at speed only to hurl the weapon like a javelin in a shadow-assisted, over-arm arc, right towards the Lamia.

She had no chance to avoid the Sadist's shadow assisted throw and took the spear right where here humanoid torso joined her leonine, scale covered body. She howled as the magical metal sliced easily into her flesh and through the scales. Gripping the shaft with one hand, she flung out the other in Mesteno's general direction (she still couldn't see very well) and spit out the quick words of a spell.

Eight rays of multi-coloured light sprang from the palm of her hand, flashing forward in a swirl of like a rainbow on a pinwheel across the cavern toward the Necromancer.

Mesteno's immediate instinct had been to follow up the assault, press to try and take the Lamia down before she had time to recover, and he'd gone bounding, long-legged and fleet footed across the distance towards her. Without Lexius to warn him of what she was, or what she was capable of, he stumbled right into her magic assault, and didn't come through it entirely unscathed.

Several of the coloured barbs of light missed him entirely, impacting with the cavern walls in splashes that sparked fire, crackled ice, and left something noxious that must have been a poison, harmlessly away from him. He might have slipped past more of them, ducking and weaving as he was if the restraint spell hadn't caught him around one ankle. He tumbled over, shoulder, rib and hip coming down hard on the stone some ten feet from the edge of the water above which the trident hovered. It almost jarred blade from hand, yet he clung to the grip tenaciously, even when a second bolt caught him, and suddenly wiped out any vision he might have used to try and avoid the rest of the spray.

He was left as devoid of sight as the Yuan-ti he'd slain - fitting perhaps - and then bellowing raggedly as the acid lance caught him in the hip and upper thigh of one leg. Sudden, agonising gnawing as his skin began to bubble under fabric which corroded into the spreading wound. It wasn't the first such time he'd suffered acid wounds, and knew just what it was for the inescapable burning. He'd probably have choked out another howl if not for the fact that a lightning flash that caught him, arched his spine as if he meant to snap himself in two and left him spasming like a man caught in the throes of a fit.

The flashing lights winked out when the Lamia pulled her hand back to rip a dangling pouch from somewhere amidst the silks and rasp out more arcane words. Powder sprinkled into the air from the pouch and shimmered around her, suddenly cutting through the shaft of the spear still jutting from her side. She screamed as the wood was severed in two, her front legs collapsing right along with the will to cast any more spells. The barrier she'd erected was in place, a wall of force curved into a sphere around her that protected her from any more physical attacks.

Lexius had been dispersing the wild energies of the spell shielding the trident and the cavern walls shook in a mini-earthquake as he spread the effects through the surrounding stone. He’d heard Mesteno's cry and chose to chance collapsing the tunnels behind them in favour of freeing his attention enough to provide some assistance.

He stepped into the cavern as the Lamia shrieked, skirting the still twitching corpse of the warrior snake-man to move to where Mesteno had fallen. His gaze on the bleeding spell caster now struggling not to pass out, the Elf dipped to a knee to share a tattoo with the Sadist as he assessed the man's injuries.

Unable to see a damn thing (he immediately flinch upon contact when Lexius attempted to share the tattoo), Mesteno only knew that the rock beneath his back was tremoring wildly enough to leave him expecting a collapse on his face at any moment. Small blessings, the lightning bolt had done little more than skim him, and the seizing ceased, muscles viciously sore from clenching, nerve endings raw, but the rest of him otherwise unharmed.

He tried to sit up, tried to kick away from the restraint around his limb, and found the latter futile. All his struggles served to gain him was more pain where the acid gnawed flesh abraded, and he clenched his teeth against the burn, growling fiercely as he curled his stomach to sit up with his scimitar a liability, raised and pointed in the direction he thought the Lamia had been before he'd fallen in case he had to fend her off.

The Elf's touch almost earned him a clumsy slice of the blade, but the tattoo did as it was meant to, sliding unseen onto his darkly tanned skin, only to vanish as it set to work. Mesteno could feel the cessation of the burn, the way the rawness of the tissues began to alleviate, but he still panted through it, even as his sword clunked noisily against the stone floor of the cavern as his arm sagged in the knowledge of temporary safety.

Lexius finally opened up the mental tie again to speak and further assess the Sadist's condition.

She is confined. Small detail it was a confinement of her own creation! She will not be going anywhere.

Those were creations of his own, locking the Lamia out against teleportation and plane shifting, which was why the cavern was trembling. His efforts had collapsed the tunnel behind them, trapping them right in there with her, but better to be alone with the creature than have more yuan-ti barging into the mix.

Be calm and sure of your ability to see. The Elf advised evenly. He couldn't see the spell warped energies that were wrapped about the Sadist's visual cortex, but he seemed certain the man could overcome the inhibition on his own with enough strength of will.

The Lamia was barely holding on to consciousness and Lexius was trying to deprive her of it completely.
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Re: Desert Gods

Post by Mesteno » Thu Dec 26, 2019 2:00 pm

[Continued…]


The acid hadn't eaten down as far as the bone, but it was still no easy healing. The hideous, bubbled congealing of flesh, skin and fabric sloughed away as the new tissues formed beneath, filled out the craters it had eaten into muscle and alleviated the inflammation. A pity it couldn't fix Mesteno’s breeches of course. There were great crisp-edged patches in the linen extending from hip to knee all down one side, leaving the sore, lividly pink, new-born skin that formed starkly obvious.

Got 'er good with that spear, he managed, summoning up some braggart bravado just to distract from the obvious vulnerability her magic had caused. You just keep her there until I got my feet back under me. Finish that bitch off properly.

The tie more than hinted at his confusion over the matter of his blindness of course. Currently he was sure he couldn't see, given that everything was black. Why would the Elf think otherwise? Finally, he seemed to come to the realisation alone with the implications. It wasn't a physical ailing. It was just a mind trick. Being a strong willed bastard had its bonuses. He closed his eyes, knew there was naught wrong with them, believed it, and when opened, there was the world again, the cavern, the Lamia. And an Elf.

Said Elf was looking strained. He didn't yet display the signs of gauntness that told the tale he was eating away at the resources that sustained him physically, but he'd certainly spent quite a bit of power overcoming the other psion and imprisoning the Lamia, and he was spending more of it in the effort to overcome her protections. He still had one hand on Mesteno's neck beneath the fold of muslin and the disarray of his hair, touching skin, but his darkly burning gaze remained fixed on the creature where she was now slumped behind her shield.

You did. Lexius confirmed Mesteno's bravado in a distant, absent tone just a moment before the scent of jasmine flooded the cavern and the Elf peeled his lips back from his teeth in a vicious, victorious grin.

The Lamia shuddered, going completely limp and her shield unravelled with a hiss of sound. Muscles slowly relaxing and the cavern quieting around them, Lexius looked down to the Sadist with a much more bland expression, his brow furrowing faintly.

"She is out, but will not last long." The Lamia was bleeding freely from the spear wound even with the metal still jabbed into her side.
Mesteno reached over to grip his knee, and squeeze, but the Lamia's slumping and the Elf's corresponding grin were sign enough to the necromancer that he'd been fighting some battle he hadn't known.

"If you can get to the trident safely-- if you're feeling strong enough," he began, reaching out for his sword and heaving himself upright onto his leg. The muscle protested, but no one would have known it to watch him.

He made his way across to the Lamia without bothering to finish his suggestion about the trident. The discomfort had snatched away the thought process and now he was working on what he knew needed doing.

The spear he left wedged where it was. His scimitar was more than up for the job of the decapitation he intended to be her execution. He raised the gleaming steel and brought it down in a swift, vicious strike to cleave her head from her neck.

The Elf turned his gaze to where the trident still hovered above the pool. The shielding around that had not evaporated and the source of it was part of the information he was seeking in the Lamia's mind. He must have found enough for he still didn't speak up to stop the Sadist.

"She has been working with the Yuan-ti, taking in one tribe at a time. There are more of them out there. Her goal was to ascend and control the entirety of the desert region between the wetlands and the sands. This was part of that aim." He nodded toward the trident and moved to circle it slowly, eyes narrowed. "A relic that controls water."

Mesteno breathed in the unfamiliar aroma of Lamia vitae with an interest that was more than professional. It had an edge of hunger. Wiping his sword clean on one sleeve, he slipped it back into his scabbard, still favouring his leg cautiously, and turned his attention back to the trident.

"They'll be disorganised now, without their leaders. Dunno whether that's a good thing or not. They might turn their attacks to spots they left alone before, or just retreat to where they came from. Either way, we should warn the outlying settlements to be watchful."

He stopped opposite where the Elf had circled to, rather than go wading into the pool to investigate more closely. "But what left the relic here? It had to belong to someone."

Lexius paused by the crumpled form of the psion he'd bested and nudged that corpse with the toe of his boots briefly before he resumed examining the relic. "You're right, of course." He murmured. "There will be much chaos on the sands after this," And Mesteno well knew he was no lover of chaos, hence the hint of distaste in his tone and the troubled tinge to his thoughts.

The Elf frowned then, turning more of his attention to the relic. "It's still protected in some fashion. Spells." He pondered a moment longer before releasing a measured breath. Mildly annoyed. "Unravelling them and removing it will release the river." Something they probably shouldn't try and do right then. He finally turned his gaze back to Mesteno.

"The creatures outside were her creations. Again, a spell. A permanent one. I could not tell how many there are. She did not keep track."

"Well it's not safe yet to take that step,” Mesteno said. “We don't know if anyone is travelling the riverbed, need to make sure we're not going to accidentally wipe someone out because we haven't stuck with it the entire length. Better that we get Lan to do an aerial sweep when we can, do everything we can to avoid upsetting anyone just when we want them to be responsive to whatever we set up out here."

It appeared they were like-minded on the matter of the trident. "If the shields are keeping us away, they'll keep anything else out too, especially if there's no getting in here to reach it. It's as safe as its going to be."

The creatures outside though, that was enough to make the necromancer grimace. With no potential salvation, it would mean summary execution. Probably a kindness given the other options. He offered Lexius a grim nod of understanding, but did not yet turn his mind to the matter of how they were going to go about it.

"Given what happened outside and the subsequent collapse of the tunnel, I doubt any more will be trying to get in here any time soon. I'll set up warding later," Lexius assured, "to ensure minimal tampering while we take care of the other details."

Lexius moved again, stepping around the perimeter of the shielding. A line formed in the ground behind him, chipping through rock and sand to visually define the invisible spell that guarded the weapon. When he reached Mesteno, his gaze dropped to the flapping hole in trousers, and he fingered the edges of the acid melted material.

"You are well?" He'd only done a cursory check of the man before, but now he was inspecting him much more closely.

Mesteno was stood back with arms folded, and his mind on the ill task ahead of them, he looked almost as if he were snarling when Lexius came back his way to inspect the corroded fabric.

"My pride's a little sore," he confessed with a wry smile, arms un-wreathing so he could use a hand to touch fingertips to the Elf's temple lightly. "I felt what happened to you though, even if only for a moment. Don't pretend you don't have a bitch of a migraine. Meditate, recover. I can always head back out there and start the clean-up if the Yuan-ti have abandoned the place and left the mutts behind."

He didn't want to, but he would.

Fingers still toying with the frayed fabric, Lexius gave the man a vague smile for the touch to his temple and tipped his head toward the contact even as he glanced beyond the man to the bodies and the rest of the cavern.

"The tunnel is collapsed. We'll need to teleport out. We should clear these bodies and investigate the rest of the cavern here. You should collect samples. I have never seen a Lamia mid-transformations, so they should prove interesting." Strained he might be, but he wasn't down yet. They had work to do!

"That's what that thing was?" Mesteno asked, though his interest was tempered by his distraction in the way Lexius tipped his head into the touch. He slipped fingers back a fraction, into the dark, short-cropped hair without risking the torment a brush against the ear would have inflicted. Just a brief, affectionate carding through strands before it ended.

Lexius’ eyes narrowed briefly for the brushing of fingers through his hair. He took more sooth from that simple gesture than he would find in a few hours of meditation. Then the Sadist had moved on and he gave a vague noise of disgruntlement. It passed swiftly.

Now he turned to consider the bodies the Elf was peering over his shoulder at, in particular the glossy-gleaming pool of blood. "There's plenty to be salvaged from both," he agreed, wishing he hadn't used so many of his sample bottles on things earlier in their trip. Even if he emptied out the less important stuff they'd still be contaminated. Shrugging off his pack, he moved stiffly to crouch, still favouring the sore leg as if he didn't quite trust the skin to be sturdy enough to hold together. "I always thought Lamia were snakes, like naga. Does the fact that she was four-legged like a taur of some sort indicate immaturity? Or was she transforming herself via magic, the way she did with the jackals?"

"There are...breeds of them” Lexius explained. “She was of a lower breed that used to be fairly common until they discovered how to change. The lower breeds inspired many sphinx legends, though they are their own beast." He was moving to check the collapsed tunnel. "I've plenty of vials for you to use." He assured as he made sure nothing would be getting in through the collapsed tunnel.

"Well I'll be sure to collect enough for both of us in that case. We can both benefit from my kill." Oh yes, Mesteno was grinning over his shoulder at Lexius when he stated that. His kill. Spear and sword!

While Mesteno collected body parts, Lexius settled nearby to watch. He was meditating, to be sure, but he didn't surrender himself to it completely. The Sadist made much too interesting a sight to completely tune out.

The cavern remained quiet and still, the passages firmly blocked. Thankfully, the cavern seemed large enough not to make running out of air much of a concern. The pool of water beneath the hovering trident continued to gently ripple as if the water was endlessly circling. There were subtle differences of some sort in the air depending on where one stood. Some place felt more...energized than others, though it was nothing that seemed detrimental.

The trident itself was surprisingly plain, made of some kind of smooth stone that almost seemed to glow from within. The three prongs were carved to fine points that looked completely capable of puncturing easily into a body. Otherwise, there were no real markings on the item to distinguish it as the relic it obviously was.

Lexius allowed himself three full hours of meditation before he stirred back to full alertness, and insisted Mesteno get some sleep. With strict instructions that Lexius wake him after a spell of three hours had passed, the necromancer slipped into his usual corpse-like slumber, and remained that way until woken, groggy and aching but at least fit to continue.

"Have you had any success on the shield?" he asked, voice still thick from sleep.

Lexius spent much of his time clearing away what was left of the bodies before studying the trident and the pool. He was crouched down in that space where the energy had felt...different and looking rather renewed! He slanted a smile the man's way.

"You should have slept here." He advised, dark eyes sparkling with energy. He rapped his knuckles against the stone by his boot next. "It is self-sustaining and will be difficult to disrupt. I'm not certain she was the one who put it in place. How is your leg?" He was studying the Sadist closely, creeping into the man along the link, as well, to check his condition.

"I don't like sleeping in strange energy," Mesteno growled, though it was playful enough, the surliness feigned. "If I can feel there's something not quite normal, I'm gonna play it safe and avoid it in case it's bad for me, 'cause it has to be strong to prickle my senses."

He rose to test out the limb Lexius asked after. A few moments spent bending, stretching, weight bearing and then plain hopping (he was shamelessly inelegant sometimes) assured it was fully functional, and he shook his head once he was through. "No pain, just strangely sensitive. I'm used to that though."

Lexius nearly chuckled as he watched Mesteno test his leg, almost lost the battle to remain straight faced when the make took to hopping on it.
Moving across to where Lexius crouched, he settled beside him, one hand on his shoulder just for the sake of contact, though he didn't sink to a copycat crouch. "If she's not the one who placed it, was it someone else that disrupted the flow of the river, too? And if that's the case, and she couldn't use it, why be here at all?"

The Elf cleared his throat quietly and finally let his smile deepen as he man joined him amidst the subtle fluctuations of power. "You would like sleeping here. It is renewing." He'd been rather tempted to move the Sadist there while he slept, but he managed to resist in case the man take some exception.

"As for the ‘who’ and the ‘why’, I cannot say. But it is someone who understands the desert and the way the water flows here rather well." Sure, it was a mountain range, but it still qualified as the desert in the Elf's mind! "The energy you feel here is from the water. It is circulating through an aquifer, one that has been constructed precisely to produce this sort of power. Before the flow was dammed here by the relic, the energy would be negligible. Now that it is trapped here alone, it is ten times more portent. I believe she was using it to enhance her transformation." Lexius continued as he curled his hand over Mesteno's leg, tracing the pads across the new skin there lightly, testing.

Mesteno glanced down to where the Elf was examining with a vaguely amused smile. "Course I get a hole in my pants and you gotta stick your hand in there, you old lech," he accused, baring his teeth in a deviant grin. He hadn't ignored the explanation of the power though, and teasing aside, he wreathed his arms and frowned his consternation at the shield. "Be an interesting spot to attempt some spells on," he admitted, "Doesn't seem like her using it to fuel the transformation disrupted it particularly, if it's still strong enough to feel, either."

His hand slipped from Lexius' shoulder, settled at his nape for an absent-minded seeming squeeze there. "You know, tridents are objects I always associated with the sea. Or Myrmillos in the old gladiator schools. Not really a fresh-water symbol in my head. How would something oceanic end up out in the middle of the desert?"

Lexius flashed his teeth in return to Mesteno's smile and changed the path of the exploring touch to go up the man's leg and past the tattered edges of the acid ruined cloth. If he was going to be accused of being a lech, he apparently wanted to truly earn the title. Hence the way his fingertips were skimming high up where the man's leg joined his hip!

"If you were cleaner, I might take advantage of the situation." The dried grime on the man's clothing didn't seem to be slowing him down much at all despite the words.

Mesteno inhaled sharply, and reached south and clamped his palm over the backs of his knuckles, stilling the roaming hand from getting anywhere more personal. "You go reaching much further and I'll take advantage of you, even if I am filthy as fuck," he warned, only half-joking.

Lexius allowed his hand to be stilled, but he wiggled his fingers briefly in response to that distinct feeling along the tie that Mesteno endeavoured to squash. He didn't feel or look the least bit apologetic!

He did however turn back to the topic of the energy flow. "Mm. It has much broader associations. Any water, in fact, though the more popular legends tie it to the oceans. Perhaps because oceans are seemingly far fiercer than rivers." He pondered the weapon as he continued. "Still, you have a point. They are not often found among the sands. She brought it here from elsewhere and had help tying it into this place where it is now. The shield may be masking any symbols on it that might be helpful as well as keeping it from being tampered with. We will know once we break it down."

Looking back to Mesteno, Lexius smile anew. "I've warded the cavern well and looked beyond the tunnels to the outside. The chaos has calmed and it seems the yuan-ti and any jackals that survived have abandoned the area. Most likely, we will have a few days before any are brave enough to return and investigate. We should make the most of that. I have already contacted Lan to begin flying the length of the river bed."

"It's a fair bet she stole it,” Mesteno deduced, “rather'n coming by it via honest means. I don't have any links to water elementals that we could approach back in Rhy'Din, but we could ask about down at the harbour and see whether there's anyone with open lines of communication. Rough as the seas can get there, I wouldn't be surprised if they have envoys if they're not innately chaotic. They might even have deals set up with ships captains to arrange safe passage through escort somehow. Get the word put out that a trident got found and we're bound to get some interest. If we can't find the original owner, perhaps one of them might be willing to come out here and identify the trident's origins if you were able to bring them."

Plotting away, ideas spilling from the tip of his tongue as fast as they came to mind. He pinched his chin between forefinger and thumb and glowered at the item. "I guess there's no point in remaining if it's safe here. We should get back to the city, put the word out, speak to Aiden about liaising with the Egyptian lot perhaps."

"Very well. As you know the docks so intimately, I will leave that in your capable hands." Speaking of hands, Lexius slowly withdrew his own, palming that fresh skin firmly (and earning himself a filthy look from the necromancer) as he pulled his hand back and away. He slid smoothly to a stand a moment later and offered that same hand to help Mesteno up, no matter than he didn't need the assistance. "Whatever possessions she might have had were obviously kept elsewhere. I will teleport someone up her to search for anything and keep an eye on the location, as well."

"I do know them better than I should," Mesteno admitted of the harbour. Lexius had probably gleaned that a while back. "Who exactly have you got in mind to come and search around here? You better warn 'em they might be running into stragglers if they do."

"That is actually a fine idea,” Lexius remarked. “I will call for volunteers from the tribe and warn them accordingly." Time for those who wanted to break away from the nomadic, insular lifestyle to learn what they might be getting into in the bigger world.

Mesteno moved away from the pool where the trident hovered and stooped to collect his pack (complete with perching lizard) from the floor, he made brief inspection of all the fastenings, skimmed a look about in case he'd left anything during his body-part salvage, and then collected up his sword-belt, the weight of his scimitar welcome at his thigh.

"You got enough juice in you to get us back from here?" he asked, sounding a touch sceptical.

The Elf was reluctant to leave the aquifer’s energy, but finally stepped to retrieve his own things, shooting Mesteno another over those level look for the question. "I've more than enough...juice." He assured. Mesteno was suddenly being stalked by an intent Elf who reached out to grab him quickly, both with one hand and his thoughts. Teleportation imminent!

"I figured. Squishy as a water balloon," Mesteno drawled unrepentantly, both hands grasping at the taper of Lexius' waist and giving a good squeeze as if to imply him soft. He closed his eyes then, braced himself for the teleportation, knees locked and teeth clenched.

Lexius only did one strange thing. He reached to take Mesteno' pack from his shoulder about a second before the teleport struck. Maybe he thought it was too heavy for the man!

This time, the teleport went smoothly. Lexius had their precise destination firmly pictured in his mind and it took only a second for them to stop existing in that river carved cavern and begin to exist right back on Mesteno's property. They were hovering just above that nice little lake on Sanctuary's grounds. To his credit, Lexius gave him a few seconds to recover from the trip before he stepped back and removed the solidness from beneath Mesteno's feet...

The man was filthy and needed a bath as soon as possible!

[End]
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