Thursday, January 21, 2010

Episode 8: Getting Away With... Murder?

In the early morning just after dawn, a note was left on DCM’s front door: “Meet me at the circus. Ask for Rodant. Be a good elephant and bring your trunk. TT”

It appeared that the Tookah was ready to come out from hiding and close the pearwood deal, so after hearty breakfasts, quiet meditation and a few #2s at the Iron Stoat, the gang set out for Amos Andy’s Circus for Underprivileged Children.

The circus was quiet when they arrived, and were soon greeted by Luigi Pantaloon, the circus’ resident strongman. After an animated exchange, Luigi introduced them to Rodant Kapoor, a short, sneaky sort of person with a big nose, whiskery moustache, two large buckteeth and a long, ratlike tail. He beckoned the group to follow him to yon Tent of the Stench Kow, Fearsome Cattle of the Nine Hells!

As the group followed Kapoor, Takemiya fell back and circled around the tent, donning the Helm of Telepathy. He began to concentrate on the group entering the tent as well as the three beings already within. At first he was hit with a wave of nausea, drunkenness and strange, gnomish thoughts. But then he hit upon a stark raving sober mind deep within the recesses of the massive tent.

Inside, the group found the Tookah had morphed into the form of a Stench Kow, and other than being utterly sober and in danger of being mounted by “El Gordo”, he was grateful to be alive. He hired DCM to find out why Harry Dimples was murdered, and DCM in turn brought him in on a plan to frame Ragnar’s corpse for both Harry and Pomegranate Shen’s murder…

This was just about the time that Takemiya detected a murderous presence outside the tent. Warning his colleagues in the nick of time, he allowed Saladin to cast a Gust of Wind spell, opening a tent flap and revealing a curiously-colored tiger...

Luckily, a drunken guido lept to action, knocking out a tooth and rendering the cat unconscious. Iryien then spied a curious onlooker and gave chase, only to lose her quarry in the woods, a most embarrassing situation for a Ranger. The spectre of her overly critical mother didn't help matters much.

Xoe then paid a visit to Ben Firenze. He illuminated her on the status of a number of the items they recovered from the Hammer of Grapthar, not least of which were a cursed Gem of Rotting and a Ring of Delusion. He also informed her that the ‘lacrosse stick’ they’d been carrying was indeed of devilish origin, but not inherently dangerous.

Ben then learned of DCM’s involvement with Marguerite and the attempt on the Obelisk. Ben voiced concern that someone was trying to gather items that may be phylacteries of Loca’Luongo, the Left-Leaning Lizardman Lich of Lungfish Island. He revealed that he has discovered two such items, a portrait of King Vespasian Balderacchi of Egalugabulus and the famed Salt Cellar of Queen Nix. Both items were in Loca’Luongo’s inner chamber when he was discorporated by a band of adventurers two centuries ago. Ben then went on to explain that there were most likely six and a half of these phylacteries, as six –and-one-half was the most significant number in the Lizardman cosmogony.

Ben also revealed that a Gem of Recording had been found on Harry’s body, and it may very well provide a link between Ragnar, Count Fundus and the shady underground figure, Chang Kai Eel. Xoe immediately began thinking about her date later that night…

Meanwhile, DCM had hauled the rank and decayed corpse of Ragnar (hereafter referred to as The Dwarf Burrito) out to Pancreas Point in the dingy “Mini Pearl”. Takemiya and Kobayashi had arrived hours earlier in order to stake out the point and from a bluff overlooking the strait, the pair watched a sedan chair carrying the Tookah arrive. The Tookah emerged carrying a lamp and signaled to the Mini Pearl who came ashore and executed the dark and grisly trade.

The deed done, both parties were about to return the way they’d come when Kobayashi’s Detect Harmony spell revealed a great disturbance coming from above. A hail of flaming arrows rained out of the night sky, and while Holth quite bravely too a flaming arrow to the chest, the Tookah suffered a direct hit and exploded in a shower of sparks, skin and suction cups. Xeno nobly leapt to the defense of one and all, hurling a ball of fiery death into the sky. It impacted on the hull of a strange Spelljamming vessel, one whose silhouette took on a vaguely shelled & betentacled appearance…

The fireball caught the ship’s attention alright, and it soon made to retreat from the fray but not before an unseen bowman delivered a message via non-flaming arrow: “We want the Tree”.

With that the ship disappeared, leaving nothing but a smoldering dingy and a strong odor of fried calamari. The members of DCM were left on Pancreas Point pondering the pieces of the puzzle that they were now a part. Of.

Friday, January 15, 2010

That Night at Chateau Moebius...

Marguerite swept into the room, motioned to the long mahogany dining room table.

"Put zem zere."

Holth and Aramis dragged the two surviving assailants into the long, ornately appointed room and set them down roughly in the two chairs that faced one another that the far end of the table. She then motioned to the chairs lining the wall.

"Please, my friends. Seet. Let's see if ve can discover the reasons for zis most impolite assault upon your persons and my.... property."

She strode with great purpose to the head of the table and with dramatic flair pulled back the hoods of the two mystery men. One of the men was young, had yellow hair and a reddish beard. He looked nervously around the room, blinking in the light, keeping a very close eye on Aramis in particular. The second hoodlum was impassive, his lank, greasy hair plastered thinky over his oily scalp. He stared unblinkingly at Marguerite.

"Zo my friends," she leaned over, hands on the end of the table, taking them in. "Who do ve haf here. Hitmen? Simple thieves? Misguided necromanzers viz poor directions und a bad map?" The blonde one was trembling slightly - either because he had never been interrogated before, or because Aramis chose this moment to start polishing a particularly nasty-looking blade in plain view.

"N-n-necromancers? We're n-not n-necroman-"

"Do NOT speak!" the oily one hissed. Gray spittle speckled the dark wood of the table and caused the younger hoodlum to recoil and fall silent.

"So you are ze vun to give orders here?" Marguerite stood tall and regarded the dark one coldly. "Zen perhaps you can tell me who zent you here und vy? Vait, ve know vy, don't ve?" She turned and regarded a marble statue on a plinth behind her. She reached out and stroked the elongated nude male figure with a tender touch. "You are vorking for a collector, no?"

The dark one kept his eyes fixed on Marguerite. He did not blink. His voice had the sound of a frog kept in a large tin can.

"We will not tell you who employs us. You will not find out who employs us. But we WILL have the Obelisk. We will stop at nothing."

Marguerite turned towards him, one arm wrapped around the statue in what can only be described as an extremely familiar way. She turned to the younger man who was at this point dewy with sweat.

"Vil you not tell us?" She glanced at Aramis, who was clever enough to know that he was having an effect on the young man. Aramis made it seem like he was casually scratching the back of his neck and let a necklace emerge from its place deep within his shirt. The necklace seemed to be made of a woven leather cord. Hanging from it like a gruesome locket was a severed human thumb.

The blond man convulsed at the sight of the grisly charm and stood abruptly. He splayed his hands out, imploring to Marguerite.

"Don't hurt me! I can tell you what you want to AAARRGGHHHHH!!!!!!" Quick as an oil slick the dark one rose from his chair and lunged at his partner with both hands. A series of sickening cracks informed everyone in the room that the younger man had had both hands broken, his shrill screams filling the room. He slid under the table, cracking the back of his head on the chair behind him. The dark one turned to Marguerite only to find a nude marble man whistling through the air to meet him full force in the temple. Marguerite let out the subtlest of grunts as the statue collided with, then traveled through, the older man's head.

The top half of his head, lanky hair and all, did a few elegant flips before it flopped with a sloppy thud onto the center of the table. The rest of the man lurched forward, caught himself on the table and teetered for a moment, as if he was deciding what to do next. Gray and crimson matter leaked out of the bowl of his skull as he reached behind him blindly for his chair and, finding it, slowly eased himself back into his seat. A small amount of blood made its way down tunic, then stopped flowing altogether. The half-headed hoodlum folded his hands in his lap and sat quietly as if he were awaiting instructions on what to do next.

Kobayashi hurried quickly to the blond man's side and started tending to his broken, mangled hands. Xeno stood on his chair and shreiked in what only could pass for 'gnomish indignation'.

""A zombie! I knew it!! Wait, why doesn't he stink?!?!"

Marguerite moved slowly around behind the half-headed hoodlum.

"Becoss zis is not a zombie. It is a simalcrum. Not undead, und derefore undetectable by such means. It is a copy, an imitation, of a living sing. No doubt ze original upon which zis one is based is either dead or captive somevere. Simalcra are difficult to detect, do not die easily and," she glanced down at the floor beneath her, "are ze bitch on ze carpets. Zis also rules out ze LESBIANs, I'm afraid. Zis is a little above zem in terms of style."

She moved around to the younger man who, thanks to Kobayashi was sitting upright.

"Who made zis man? Who sent you here?"

He looked up into her eyes while rubbing his sore but mended hands.

"Leroy. Leroy Jenkem."

Marguerite met his gaze with considerably more steeliness.

"Vell now. You take your friend here back to Mister Leroy Jenkem und tell him to stop trying to make ze mess wiz my carpets, yes? Ze LACA is not vizout its resources. He knows zis. If he is not careful, ve will piss on HIS carpets next, ya? Tell him vat I said. Go."

Kobayashi helped him to his feet. He limped around the table and helped his partner up from his chair and meekly led him out of the room.

"Do you know who this Leroy Jenkem is, Marguerite?" Saladin stepped forward, picking his way through the bits of gore on the
obviously expensive rug.

"A shit-stirrer. Literally. He runs ze large vaste disposal conglomerate in Rozecrantz und Guildenstern. Pay toilets. Luxurious latrines. Hauls your muck und makes it disappear. Zey say he's vell connected in ze Undermountain. Ve have always wondered vere he puts it all." She smiled wanly to herself. "He also is romantically linked to my sister."

A hiss escaped more than one person in the room.

"Oh, don't vorry about zat," she said to with a dismissive wave. "Everyone who's anyone is romantically linked to my sister. She is Lady Listing, wife of Lord Leonidas Listing. She is also the ze Grand Tsarina of ze GOLPHers - ze Guildenstern Organized Ladies, Prostitutes und Handmaidens. Very powerful organization. Ve sometimes do functions togezer. After all, ve have similar purposes: Ve broaden minds und zey mind ze broads."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Count to Three

The Three Counts of Lungfish Isle owe their present status and position to one very small event over a century ago. Back in the Year of the Buggered Hedgehog, a halfling by the name of Otis Redherring left his family’s farm in Middle Constantia in search of the relative excitement and adventure of morel hunting in the northern part of the kingdom. He struck off alone and on foot, and eventually found his way to Lungfish Isle, where rumors of patch of “Butterfield Eights” proved too much to resist.

He eventually found his way to a grove near what is now known as Far Arden - and that’s where “it” happened…

Redherring was rooting around a rotten log at the bottom of a dry river gulch when, quite suddenly, the ground opened up. Rank and bilious odors knocked the halfling on his backside – and barely kept him from falling into what appeared to be an ancient dungeon. His sense of adventure quickly dried up and he reported his find to the authorities.

The first tentative explorations of the dungeons led to the discovery of a large, organized lizardman population led by Loca’Luongo. For years, battles were waged above and below ground. Eventually, with the help of reinforcements from Constantia, Loca’Luongo was defeated. It was then that the Treaty of the Three Counts was signed between Prince Hiram and King Rubio VII of Constantia, placing three Constantian nobles under Prince Hiram to share the profits and perils of protecting the island from all above and below ground dangers.


Arguably the most brilliant of the three, Count Claudio worked his way up to Count of the Palace, the most prestigious of the Three Noble Positions. He resides in the palace with Prince Englebert and oversees both the other two Counts as well as all diplomatic relations between Lungfish Isle and her neighbors. A delicate understanding of both Muralian culture and customs is required, as the Empire's philosophies don't always mesh with those of the Constantians.


The robust and energetic Count Pylorijk is the current Count of the South. From his keep above Guildenstern he keeps an eye on the ever-developing economy of the island. A former whaler, he is grounded (some say TOO grounded) and has very practical and pragmatic views of what makes Lungfish Isle prosperous.


The Count of the North has weathered some political ups and downs in years past, having once held the post of Count of the Palace. A loss of face in the eyes of Prince Englebert caused his ouster from the palace, and only his hard work and due diligence building up the military forces of Lungfish Isle has kept him from being sent back to Constantia altogether. He resides in the stockade at the heart of Plank Town, although he is frequently seen out and about on the island with the usual escort of a dozen highly-trained bowmen.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Prince Englebert and Lungfish Isle

To understand the relationship between Prince Englebert and Lungfish Isle, one must understand Lungfish Isle's place in the Muralian Empire. Situated at the extreme western frontier and separated from the body of the Empire by the The Spine of Kri, Lungfish Isle has, for as long as it has been a part of the Empire, been considered a backward and provincial principality not worthy of great expenditure or expectation.

The current dynasty, the Wei'chi, have a history of sending their more marginal and incompetent family members to oversee the island. The Year of the Forgotten Toad saw the arrival of Prince Hiram, a notorious opium smoker and gambler whose excesses in and about the Capital City caused the Emperor a great loss of honor and caused him to send Hiram to the Island to live out the rest of his life wasting away amongst the locals. This was also the time of the Fall of Loco'Luongo, where if not for the military assistance of the Kings of Constantia, the island would have fallen under the Lich's rule forever.

A string of erratic and weak rulers saw the balance of power shift gradually to favor the Three Counts, and by the time Englebert
arrived on the island in the Year of the Philisophical Raptor to replace his adulterous and nymphomaniacal half-sister Bersheba, the role of Prince of the Isle had been reduced to a mere title with little actual power. Other than replacing one Count with another in the constantly shifting political dynamic of Lungfish Isle, Englebert's succession transpired with a minimum of fanfare.

It was not long before their current ruler's foibles made themselves apparent to the inhabitants of the island. He rarely appears in public, choosing to speak through Count Claudio on most occasions. He will give visiting heads of state an audience, but only within the strictest and most formal confines of Muralian tradition. Some say it has to do with an infirmity or a phobia, and the family's reputation for sending 'damaged goods' to oversee the island bear this out to some degree.

Regardless of his physical frailties, Englebert enjoys being associated with the military, especially his Sky Legions. The few portraits that exist of him show him in military garb, and it is rumored that he is a highly ranked baduk player and military strategist. It is doubtful, however, that he would ever obtain the opportunity to be of any assistance to the Empire in this respect.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Episode 7: Special Deliveries!

Having moved the Obelisk to Der Mobile and arranged with Wilbur (of Wilbur's Wrecks) to repair the Hammer of Grapthar, Gorth led the members of DCM Enterprises down to the Champs Colisee to the worlds-famous BEER TENT! to rustle up some muscle.

Spanning over two full acres, the BEER TENT! offers every kind of food, drink and service imaginable. After scanning the prospects, Gorth managed to find a trio of brothers - Athos, Porthos and Aramis - to act as a friendly, fearsome bodyguard to Xoe later that evening. Xeno spotted a golden-skinned, battle-scarred Giff named Holth who was tired of working a lame-assed ship and wanted to end his career in a hail of musket balls, bits of bone and blood.

One must agree, he picked the right ship.

Der Mobile then took to the skies and headed back to Lungfish Isle. First stop - DCM HQ, where Xoe, Athos and Porthos were surprised to find Sergeant Longbottom of the Watch waiting for them. Apparently a knife found at the scene of Pomegranate Shen's murder brought Xoe to mind, but some smooth talking (and ankle-showing) on Xoe's part alleviated his suspicions for the time being. And she got a dinner date in the bargain.

The Tookah failed to show - though hardly surprising, given the Gazette's characterization of the previous evening. Xoe began to contemplate how to find where he was hiding. Hmmm....

The rest of the crew headed to Rosencrantz to deliver the Obelisk to Marguerite Moebius. Rosencrantz was famously described by Takemiya as "fucking picturesque" - a Swiss-style town full of ornate architecture and portly burgomeisters strolling down flagstoned strasses wielding ornate golden walking sticks.

As Der Mobile docked and offloaded the Obelisk, Kobayashi noticed a couple of unsavory characters eyeing the ship. Saladin took decisive action and strode over to the pair, asking if there was anything he could do for them. The pair stank of aniseed and carp, and were easily coerced into divulging their mission: they were on the lookout for the Hammer of Grapthar. Although they could not be convinced to reveal their employer, they proved worrisome enough for Kobayashi to delve into his priestly divinations and cast a 'detect harmony' spell as the rest of the crew headed out with the Obelisk.

As Saladin led the horse-drawn carriage through the town on the way to Moebius' chateau, Iryien watched Kobayashi fire up his brazier. Soon after, a tortoise shell was placed on the coals and heated up, and Kobayasi chanted the words that would focus the local energies around the shell at the moment it cracked, revealing (through the pattern of the cracks) what underlying forces (chaos or order, harmony or unrest) were at play.

A minute later, the shell shuddered and cracked, crumbling into a heap of smoking black ash. And instead of a pattern of cracks, the ash piled itself into a small, pitted obelisk, reeking of rot, disease and decay. Kobayashi and Iryien rushed above deck, carrying the smoking remains of the shell to warn the rest of the party, but they were too late. The horse-drawn wagon had already left town, and was climbing, climbing towards the chateau....

As the wagon pulled through the horseshoe driveway, a footman rushed out with his footstool to help the passengers debark - but then everything went black. Suddenly, crackling bolts of negative energy were flying through the magical darkness. Everyone leapt from the wagon - Takemiya to commune briefly with the horse (before it was killed), Xeno (to avoid being killed) and Saladin to inform the mistress of the house that "we have a delivery!" whilst people around him were being killed.

Four black-robed assailants were using wands to lob dark bolts at the party, and decisive action was needed. Takemiya quickly employed the Sticky Hand, disarming (and disabling) one hoodlum, while Holth used his head (his forehead, to be exact) to bludgeon another to death. Aramis employed time-honored methods of 'advanced percussive maintenance' to quickly silence his attacker (forever) and Xeno put a hurting on the chateau before his evil counterpart was subdued.

It was at this point that Marguerite Moebius apologised to her guests, had everyone in for vodka and lemon squares and explained that the Obelisk was intended for a retrospective art show of the artifacts of Loca'Luongo, the Left-Leaning Lizardman Lich of Lungfish Isle. He had been vanquished some 250 years ago, but his taste in art could not be denied. There was some resistance from various parties concerning putting this show together (not least of which were the LESBIANS - the League for Equality, Stability and Brotherhood In All Necromancers), but no clear motives have yet been determined. The four assailants (two dead) seem to be members of this allegedly 'legit' association.

Marguerite paid DCM for their troubles and asked to keep in touch - she was obviously impressed with DCM's tact, composure and overwhelming use of force. More mutually profitable business potentialities could be reached here...

And with that, the evening came to a close. Many questions to be answered, clues to uncover and bad guys to obliterate when next we meet in...

Episode 8: Getting Away With... Murder?


And, for reference, Monday's edition of The Gazette:

Xoe's Vision

Xoe sat on the railing of the Hammer of Grapthar, listlessly watching the surface of Maeda slip beneath her. Xeno and Saladin were being given a talking to by Gorth over the chain of command on a spelljammer, and she was glad for once to be out of the loop. She peered down on the rust-colored forest that skimmed silently beneath her and noticed that it looked more like moss from this height. And here she was, sitting calm as you please on a railing that was no more than two hands-widths wide, more than 10 miles from the surface.

And she felt peace.

Maybe it was the silence. Maybe it was the wind. Maybe it was the fact that she hadn't been shot at, crashed upon or accidentally killed by her brother for almost three hours now. Whatever it was, it was nice. And now Long Lake was coming back over the horizon again, the wide slice of it sliding down over the surface of the moon like a jagged smile descending. As it crept close, it caught the sun just right and for a moment lit up in a white, reflected crescent that looked quite striking against the red moon and the orange sky...

White, red, orange...




White. It was the first thing that gave him away, lurking in the shadows. Too bad Xeno had picked just that moment to whisper "Where'd he go?" - a whisper that, down here, was tantamount to a scream. The white stripes had moved then, faster than Xoe had thought a human could manage, from behind the musty urn up the wall and onto the ledge. He was FAST! Xeno cursed and pointed his finger, but not before Saladin had managed to gasp "NOT HERE!" Xoe had made it up to the next urn in the row before Xeno had reconsidered, and the two of them debated what methods were called for to subdue an agile opponent in low light utilizing heavy cover.

"It takes a thief," she thought to herself as she crab-hopped up between the urn and the wall, coming to rest on the marble ledge that ran the entire perimeter of the long-abandoned temple. She crouched low against the wall and looked back towards the entrance for any signs of their  prey. Those stripes should be an easy spot, even in the low light of this... tem... ple...

The stonework above the ledge was a mass of colored layers. Whatever infernal sect once inhabited this place, they had, taste. White marble, red marble, gold marble... all of it in narrow bands that would just about match the horizontal stripes on this bastard's exquisitely crafted leather jumpsuit. Did he PLAN this? Is this his hideout? Quickly she scanned the whole upper level - he was lost to her, and wouldn't be found again until he moved. And that gave her the creeps...

Suddenly, light and thunder burst into the room below in the form of three armored men. "Oh great," she thought, "the cops are here." Tin stars gleamed on the puffing chests of the two dwarfs and one halfling as they stormed into the chamber - axes, swords and torches waving nervously in each and every direction. A confusion arose between the newcomers and Xeno's group, and while voices were raised and fingers were pointed, a section of the wall slowly detatched itself and crept silently around the ledge towards an opening in the wall opposite.

"He doesn't know I'm up here," she thought as she watched the hooded figure creep stealthily along the edge, eyes trained on the squabble below. With two quick leaps, she hopped silently from an urn to the back of the large lizardy statue in the center of the temple floor. She eased her crossbow out of its holder and moved around the creature's shoulders to get a better shot. She could now see the white, red and orange stripes clearly outlined against the black of the opening, and raised her crossbow to fire...

Suddenly his head shot around to face her and even in the gloom she could see his eyes peering out from the mask that obscured the rest of his features... She had surprised him! But the shock was hers as well at having been eyeballed at a distance behind the head of some strange reptilian deity. He was good. REALLY good...

As she locked gazes with him, spellbound, she saw his right arm emerge from behind his back - she fired! The bolt struck him full in the chest, and only her acute vision helped her see the figure waver slightly before pulling a dark orb into view. The groups below heard the exchange, and were now aware of the two of them. The figure stared right at her, and even as Xeno began his chanting, his eyes smiled at her as he lobbed the orb slowly and at a great height above the men below.....



Below her the lake spun silently on its way. Tiny dots buzzed up from the surface and back down again, congregating at the far end of the lake. The sense of peace and calm was still with her, even as she remembered the conflict with the striped stranger. She had to admit - she was more than a little intrigued.

She wondered if they would ever meet again...

Saladin's Memories

Saladin stormed out of the cellar, revolted at what the tree was being subjected to. Harvested! Bit by bit! For profit! Not for the first time he wondered how he ever got mixed up with such an amoral group of beings. First the bear, then the crew of the Grapthar... These gnomes certainly have very different views on the sanctity of life. Xeno's even built a contraption to accelerate the root's growth so it can be chopped off and sold to the highest bidder... Disgusting.

As he climbed the small hill to where the tree sat, burdened as it was with layers of baubles, twinkling lights and lurid decorations, Saladin wondered if the tree was aware of anything like 'dignity'. It seemed to be sapient, of that there was no doubt - he felt it in the dismembered chunks of wood, and it felt his presence in return. But could it feel embarrassment? Shame? Whatever the reason behind the horrid trappings, he was sure the tree knew it was part of some weird, gnomish joke...

Saladin ducked under the canopy of obscene pink leaves (my gods, he thought, they've been painted!) and looked for a bare patch of trunk to place his hand. Above a dartboard, and in between what looked like two wooden humanoid females clad in grass skirts (and little else), Saladin found a patch of smooth, golden bark. Placing his hand on the warm surface, he closed his eyes and...

...he was on his knees in the hot sand, a harsh wind spitting and swirling about him. Through the smoky lenses of his headpiece he could see the shrunken, dessicated tree, all but dead, tilting at an obscene angle, some of its roots exposed to the scouring wind. Grief flooded him, as he recalled a hundred such trees in this place - a sacred grove where he'd come all his life to pray and find peace. But the Defilers were hungry and never ceased in their quest for more magic, more power. He would love to stand up to them, to fight for the trees of the Grove... but this, this sad, dying tree was the last of it's kind, the last one left. And once it passed on, so too would his power. He'd never felt so tired in all his life.

He was vaguely aware of a shadow falling over him as he kneeled there, and only after a few moments passed did he turn to see it's source. There, silhouetted against the cruel desert sun was a man standing, watching him. Long hair whipped in the hot gusts that stung both of them, the stranger's face covered by a scarf that climbed up his face to cover all but his narrow, smiling eyes.

"Can I help you with that?" the man said, pointing to the tree. His accent was strange, not one he'd heard before, even at the mobile bazaars that crept across the planet's surface. He thought he knew most of the tribes that called this blasted planet home, but this man was not one of them. He was a true Stranger, appearing before him in this, the strangest of lands.

"The tree!" The stranger shouted to be heard above the infernal wind. "I can help you save it!" Deep down Saladin knew this was important. He knew in his being that he hadn't the ability to save the tree on his own. He was too weak, too tired to do anything but sit here and perish alongside his beloved tree. But the stranger's words passed through him now as he saw something... something unbelievable... here, in the desert? Maybe he was dying after all... Hallucinating... for behind the stranger... squatting in the sand... he had heard of such things, but only in stories... was that really a........?

Saladin pulled his hand back with a start. The tree... THIS tree...

So he had saved it after all....