Eyes narrowed in concentration, Naivara manoeuvred the treasure chests one by one up out of the cave, following a few steps behind as they floated along. The sand below each sealed box swirled gently as the edge of her psionic field passed over it. A few caravaneers watched her with interest, until Rhotan Vor snapped at them to stop lounging and see to making the skiffs ready. Up at the top of the canyon, Wil and Ku-ki’cha crouched behind a dune, each scanning the horizon with their sensing eye. The newcomer, Braz, had reported that House Tsalaxa were sending a force in pursuit from Silver Springs and they could be expected within the hour.
As agreed, some of the company were laying false trails leading into neighbouring caves, hoping to confuse or delay the pursuers. One unfortunate fellow had disturbed a group of hejkin, and had come screaming out of the cave pursued by three of the odd little creatures. Fortunately Graven, Braz and Althaea had been close by and after a short, but by no means easy battle, the creatures lay slain.
Eventually the last chest was loaded and the skiffs set off, taking care to camouflage their tracks as best they could. The canyon narrowed as they went on and eventually came to a dead end. Fortunately, there was another trail leading upwards a little further back, and after a time the caravan reached the top of the canyon and headed out into the desert. The sun set, and the moons Ral and Guthay bathed the land with their pale rays. It would remain thus for two days.
The caravan travelled on for two days non-stop in the hope of gaining a lead on their pursuers. At the end of the second day of travel the company halted and camped. The desert did not grant them an undisturbed rest though; a silk wyrm had followed them for a time and chose to attack the camp. The adventurers were hard pressed to defeat it, though fortunately the creature’s hiding place yielded three healing fruits.
On the third day the party was threading their way through the dunes when they spotted five figures approaching from their left; three elves and two goliaths flanking a human. The elves fanned out, climbing on to rocks, and began firing arrows at the convoy. One struck Graven. Braz concentrated,then seemed to fade from view and began moving closer to the ambushers. Naivara sent a mental message to the human, saying These aren’t the skiffs you’re looking for. I think they are, came the sardonic reply, but the psion had already established her mental link and let loose a cortex-frying pulse of energy, staggering the human. The two huge bodyguards glanced at their captain, uncertain as to what to do. Just then a miniature sandstorm rose out of the ground and charged at the human. This was too much and he fled the field.
More arrows were thudding into the skiffs and the drivers dived for cover. Out of nowhere Braz’s thrown dagger impaled itself in an archer’s chest, then Ku-ki’cha sprang up on to the rock and swept another’s legs from under him. Meanwhile the two goliaths were approaching at a lumbering run. Wil moved up to engage one while Naivara fey-stepped behind them, intent on finishing off the human. Ku-ki’cha was mildly surprised to see Braz appear out of nowhere next to one goliath, then intrigued as the half-elf conjured a cloud of flapping black shadows that seemed to claw at his huge opponent. The goliath roared in anger and pain and clouted Braz with his greatclub. The monk dropped lightly behind the giant and kicked his ankle, hoping to overbalance him into his comrade. The goliath stumbled but did not fall and Ku-ki’cha got a solid blow for his pains.
Althaea was fighting a third archer sword to sword, mocking the elf in rhyming couplets as they dueled. Abruptly her enemy collapsed and she noticed Braz’s dagger protruding from a joint in his armour. Graven continued to direct his familiar against the human. The man checked his flight and reversed direction, heading back towards the melee, and raising his arm. Ku-ki’cha was suddenly enveloped in flame and Naivara noticed the ground around the caster blacken and scorch. Graven saw it too and stretched forth his will towards the thri-kreen. Your pain is my pain, he thought, grimacing as he took some of the insect-man’s suffering on himself. Braz noted the defiler’s arrival and gestured towards him, hurling a handful of icicle-sharp darts of cold energy. The wizard reeled as they hit home. Ku-ki’cha judged distances then stepped into the middle of the fight, placing himself within reach of every enemy except the archer fighting with Althaea. Wil, who was trading blows with one goliath, was startled to see it seemingly hit by a claw-stroke. How did he do that, he’s miles away, thought the ex-legionary, not that I mind, he added to himself before returning to his task. In quick succession, the monk disembowelled the defiler and the other goliath with a series of unearthly quick and powerful blows, and wounded the last elf archer to such an extent that he fell to a simple mental thrust from Naivara. The slugging match between Wil and the second goliath ended with Wil wounded but triumphant. A search of the bodies yielded some much appreciated supplies and some purses of gold coins.
A moonlit day went by. The skiffs trundled along, their sails filled by a light eastern breeze. Ku-ki’cha dozed in the lead vehicle, watching Althaea trudge along at the head of the column. There was a shallowly-sloping dune ahead and the convoy slowed a little as it hit the incline. Three riders appeared over the brow of the dune, seated astride crodlus. Althaea’s keen eladrin eyes made out the twin-eye insignia on their gear. Looks like we’ve got another fight coming, she thought, but maybe I can talk us out of one. “Well met, travellers,” she trilled, “how goes the day?” The middle rider, whose expensive-looking clothing marked him as the leader, laughed unpleasantly. The bard had now noticed that all three were cradling loaded crossbows. “Let’s dispense with the pleasantries, shall we? You have something which belongs to House Tsalaxa. We are here to take it. How that happens depends on you.” Kalak’s blood, news travels fast out here, thought Althaea. “Sir, I do not understand, we are but a simple band of travelling minstrels bound for Tyr.” As she spoke she noticed one rider had circled around to the caravan’s left flank.
Back on the skiffs, Rhotan Vor poked his head over the gunwale. “What’s this? Why is she-” he began, but Wil pulled him back and hissed, “Get under cover… sir. Looks like another fight coming.” He concentrated on the leader’s crodlu and sent a mental thrust towards it, hoping to panic the beast. It shifted uneasily and chittered a little, but its rider jerked its reins and it stopped. Then, with no apparent signal, the lone rider on the right raised his weapon and fired. Althaea cried out as a bolt hit her. So much for talking, she thought and drew her longsword. The single rider turned his mount and headed back towards his companions.
Crossbow bolts began to thud into and around the skiffs. Graven sprang down and ordered his familiar to attack. Braz swung himself lithely over the side and jogged alongside, using the hull as cover. Ku-ki’cha levelled his blowgun and fired, but the motion of the vehicle caused his shot to go wide. Let’s see if this’ll work again, thought Naivara, and sent a message to the lead ambusher, You need to retreat now. As she expected, she heard only laughter, but the link was there, and she followed up quickly with a mind thrust. The leader clapped a hand to his head, but did not fall. The caravan continued to move, and the three riders started forward to intercept it. One spurred his mount forward and splinters flew as it pecked furiously at the lead skiff’s left front wheel. Wil had engaged the leader directly and had called down what looked like a miniature electrical storm; this arced off the man as he tried to wield his rapier and hand crossbow.
The three riders were close together now, fighting hard. They had hoped for an easy victory but were unwilling to give up with their prize so close. Out of nowhere, Braz appeared behind the leader, crouching on the crodlu’s scaly back. He raised his weapon and hundreds of small shapes, like a cloud of black thorns, streamed forth and down into his enemy’s back. The man’s spine arched and he bellowed in anger and pain. As he looked up a shadow crossed his vision and he noticed that the thri-kreen had leaped off the skiff and on to the back of another crodlu. Immediately after he felt his chest sliced open by a flurry of claw-strokes too quick to follow, then the monk’s obsidian-hard limb end smashed him to the ground in a bloody dead heap. Ku-ki’cha’s position allowed him to strike at all three raiders, killing the leader, wounding another, and knocking the last from his mount. Braz swiftly sprang on the fallen ones, gutting them in a few heartbeats. As the crodlu beneath him began to bolt, the monk alighted gracefully and surveyed the devastation he had wrought.
Rhotan Vor was mightily pleased with his bodyguards’ martial prowess, and complimented their valour with much enthusiasm. “Nearly there, nearly there! Just a little further and you shall all be rich.” “I hope that’s the last lot”, remarked Wil, wiping his sword on an unbloodied part of a raider’s robe. “Maybe, maybe not”, Althaea replied. “These three couldn’t have come from anywhere but Tyr – they weren’t carrying enough supplies. Maybe there won’t be another ambush till we get there – these boys were tough and maybe House Tsalaxa was counting on them to get the job done.” “No doubt”, added Rhotan Vor. “My guess is that Haneth Tsalaxa sent these thugs after us – he’s their agent in Tyr. We should be careful – if we reach the city and divide up the treasure unmolested, it will be a great coup against that House, one which they will neither forget nor forgive quickly.”