Our pursuit of the crystals has led us out into the desert, towards the jungles to the south. Though we are without Bastian's wagon, we are much better prepared to handle the heat as we make our way through this sand-crusted oven; the Endure Elements spell has proven most useful to us. It would seem, however, that we have made a most promising, and yet disturbing, discovery, along our way.|
We discovered a camp, apparently deserted. A closer inspection by most of our group revealed that the camp was not, in fact, deserted, but rather that it had been raided, and that someone had been carried off. I myself was rather intrigued by the great hole in the sand nearby. Upon closer examination, I learned that the hole, which I had originally thought as the result of some great Fireball explosion or perhaps the breath of some elder dragon, had actually exploded up from below, rather than exploding down from above, as a fireball or dragon's breath would have. I found this most intriguing, and I was not much enlightened by the discovery of a twisted piece of metal, such as might be used to ring a barrel. I was not to bring it together until a short time later.
Thereafter, we prepared to move out, but we stumbled upon something which was to prove even more illuminating in the midst of the current dilemma. We almost literally stumbled upon a cadre of goblins. As it turned out, they were not only innocent of what happened at the camp, they seemed willing (indeed, eager) to trade for information, and a guide to our destination. After some minor argument from our new minotaur companion, Arung (many likeable qualities in him, I respect his search for his perfect weapon, but very gruff), we proceeded to bargain with them for the information we needed. The goblin leader sent for one of their desert rangers, I suppose, and marked where we needed to go (and avoid) on our map. He also showed something which I'm sure will keep me fascinated for several weeks. Apparently, this was a camp for a gnomish scientist who was conducting some kind of research or experimentation. The hole in the sand was caused by some odd-looking black dirt. Along with the gnome's journal, I am sure that I can figure out all the mysteries of this most unique black sand, but time was pressing, for more reasons than one, for in addition to our own quest, it seems the gnome in question was not killed, but kidnapped by some very large rats.
There was not much discussion; if what this gnome carried with him in his considerable intellect were passed into the wrong hands, it could prove critically disastrous, as I was about to prove. We spent a festive night with the goblins; drink flowed freely and most tensions were loosened. For the first time in I can't remember how long, I uncased my flute, and began to play. I was surprised at how well I managed, as out of practice as I am, but the sound was pleasing enough, and it reminded me of more peaceful days, when I used to practice at home, when Arilaw, and Emlan, and even Durtaril and my parents when they were home, would come and listen; I remember too the stranger in the midnight-blue cloak who used to stop at the wall every so often as I played. In any case, it was a much-needed reminder of why I'm out here, mucking about in the sands and snows and distant lands.
The next day, we parted ways with the goblins, after they failed to produce a guide, and we took several barrels (there were over 30 of them in the hollow we brought up out of) of the black dirt with us. During the day as we walked, I continued poring over the gnome's journal/workbook. The dirt, according to his account, reacts violently to heat, strongly enough that simply being out in the open desert sun as long as it has might trigger its explosion. I quickly got Anwar off the camel she was riding, for she was sitting on one of the barrels. I proceeded to walk the barrel well away from our troop and set it on the ground. I ran back towards the group, stopping at what I thought a safe distance, and motioning Dolartu for a little assistance of the fire persuasion...I'd never seen it rain sand, before. But now we had a clearer picture of the volatile power contained in each of those barrels we carried.
It appears that our explosion attracted some other attention, for we immediately came upon a fellow who had heard it came to see what had happened. It turns out he was from a tribe of nomads, and he invited us back to his camp. We graciously accepted his offer, and after eating and plying him for information, we went to sleep. It could not have been terribly long, however, before we were awakened by noises all around us. We found Threnody standing nearby, as calm as you please, and things went quickly downhill. While the rest of the group prepared themselves to deal with the tribe of nomads, who were in reality wererats, and probably the very ones we were searching for, Jacques and I took it upon ourselves to confront Threnody, but with words instead of weapons. I spoke to her of the pain, the incredible loneliness I knew she was feeling. I tried to assure her that we did not need to be enemies and that I knew her and pitied her her suffering.
We prevailed, of course, but Threnody took severe umbrage at my words. They provoked the most violent reaction from her that I have yet seen. In short order she had carved my stomach nearly to ribbons, and would have similarly rent the rest of me had I not managed to move away. Though the bloody parts of me would naturally disagree, I cannot but see this as a good thing; this is really the first emotion from her that I have seen directly that has not been smirking disdain. I will crack that shell she has built up, no matter how much more blood it costs me....