StarFall/HCC: Going Solo #4: A Desert Tale
phantom_belcher at yahoo.com
Sun Dec 5 09:40:21 PST 2010
A Division of Pullemouttayerhat Productions
A Wholly Owned Subsidiary of StarFall Innovations
#4: A Desert Tale
Part of High Concept Challenge #15
cover: A small bipedal reptilian in a red tunic holding a staff, using
it to block a blow from a black-robed elf wielding a glowing green
scimitar. Sprawled across the top of the logo are the words "High
Contest Challenge". Under the logo are the words "The New Job/
There are many worlds in this Universe, and an infinitely larger
number throughout the Multiverse. One such world is known to its
inhabitants as Ranoc, a world where magic co-exists with gunpowder
muskets and all sorts of clockwork devices.
One region of Ranoc, bounded on the West by a range of volcanic
mountains and on the South by the Sea, stretching far into the East,
is the desert known as the Vast Expanse. One river, the Chione, winds
through the Expanse, creating a fertile valley only a half mile wide
on either side. Only one city, the port of Freehold, sits on this
river, nestled in the wide delta on the mouth of the river.
Inside the palace, an old, fat, balding man with leathery skin sat
on an ornate throne. Kneeling in front of him was a tall, pale,
slender man dressed all in black robes; his hair was pulled back into
a long tail, revealing the long, pointed ears of an Elf. Three
scantily-clad women, their faces hidden by silk veils, waited on them.
"Theosonovus," the fat man asked, "you've served this household as
court magician since my uncle's reign. Am I correct?"
"Your uncle's father's reign, Lord ibn Akkab."
"I am in need of a new Vizier." Theosonovus forced his face to
remain impassive. Caliph Akbar ibn Akkab did not need to know the
*true* reason behind the previous Vizier's sudden demise. "You, my
old friend, are my only choice to replace him. Rise, Grand Vizier
Theosonovus." The black-robed Elf stood. "Now, about the mines in
the Barrier Mountains...."
"Allow me to handle that, lord. The ... infestation will be dealt
"So be it."
Theosonovus the Black bowed low, then turned and strode
purposefully out the door. He strode down three passageways and
descended a long spiral stairwell before entering his sanctum.
After the door to the sanctum closed, he swore. "*SONS!* Fifty
sons and *not* *one* *daughter*! As Vizier, I am now where I wanted
to be when this fat slob's father died. But his harem keeps giving
him sons! I will *never* rule! Unless...." He paused in his ranting,
as a thought struck him. It wouldn't be enough to marry a daughter or
even a granddaughter (he figured he could wait *one* more generation);
he'd need to eliminate most of the sons who could also claim the
throne. That could be problematic, unless....
He rang for a servant. "Have Prince Rashid see me as soon as
possible," he told the servant, who bowed low and left. Rashid was
Ackbar's current favorite, the oldest son of Ackbar's most beautiful
wife, and the one expected to be named as heir. If Rashid was to die,
the other forty-nine sons could be manipulated into eliminating each
other. But as Vizier, he couldn't do the deed himself. But he could
send the prince into the unknown with enough information to get him
"I *will* rule this city one day," he said to himself.
The Barrier Mountains, the volcanic range separating the Vast
Expanse from the Western lands, is home to many small settlements.
One such settlement, in the southern reaches of the range, is
Khenoktetet, home to a small tribe of diminutive bipedal reptilians
known as Kobolds. Khenoktetet is unique among the settlements as it
sits entirely underground, being little more than a village carved
into a cliff face. It also happens to sit near one of the largest
veins of iron ore ever discovered in the mountains.
Fenuku was one such Kobold. He stood mostly upright, using his
short tail for balance without it dragging behind him. His scales
shone green with brown 'tiger-stripes' in the torchlight. Like most
Kobolds, he was small, barely standing three feet tall, with sharp
claws on his hands and feet, and dressed in a simple woolen loincloth
and leather belt. Most of the Kobolds in the village were hard at
work in the mines; this is where Fenuku had been just minutes before
when he'd received a message. Now, he was running as fast as he could
down the tunnel, before pausing and entering the communal dining hall.
The dining hall was usually empty during the day, except during
mealtimes. At present, only two Kobolds other than Fenuku were there,
seated at a table on a raised dais, lit by a beam of sunlight from a
shaft carved into the mountains above: the chieftain and his wife, the
"Welcome Fenuku," said the chieftain in greeting, using the speech
of the outside world. It was a speech that few in Khenoktetet could
understand; Fenuku was one of those few. "Please, sit. We have a job
for you, one sssuited to your talentsss."
Fenuku shifted uneasily as he sat on a nearby stool. "What kind of
job?" he asked, responding in the same speech. With a suppressed
shudder, he remembered the *last* "job" these two had sent him on; he
almost didn't survive the experience.
"We want you to go to Freehold," the shaman explained. "Obtain a
meeting with the caliph, and arrange a trade agreement with him. Get
what you can from him in exchange for any iron we could sell him."
"And what'sss the catch?" Fenuku knew the chieftain and shaman
well enough to know this wasn't the entire story.
"I had a vision lassst night," the shaman explained. "Sssomeone in
Freehold meansss usss harm. I do not know a name, but it isss an Elf
dressssed in black. Find out who he isss, and keep him from harming
Fenuku sighed. He had a good idea who she was talking about, and
the thought of facing the caliph's court mage, Theosonovus the Black,
sent shivers down his spite to the tip of his tail. Fenuku was an
accomplished mage in his own right, but the Elf certainly had more
experience - magical and otherwise - than a Kobold would ever
possess. "By your command," he said finally. He stood up and headed
out the door. Once out of earshot of the tribe's leaders, he said to
himself, "I have a very bad feeling about thisss."
The sun was peeking over the distant horizon as Fenuku came over a
rise in the desert. Before him, where he expected to see yet more
desert - he was still a few days' hike from the river basin - he saw
what looked like a military encampment. Taking a deep gulp, ignoring
the sense of dread coming over him, he strode towards it.
This sense of dread grew even more as he was soon surrounded by
spearmen, all pointing their weapons at him.
"Identify yourself, Kobold!" one of them, better dressed than the
rest, ordered him.
"Fenuku of Khenoktetet," he replied, "and ambassssador of our
village to Freehold." This encouraged laughter from the spearmen,
which the well-dressed leader stifled by raising his hand.
"You will come with me," the leader stated. Not daring to
disagree, Fenuku followed him to a large tent. Behind him, several of
the soldiers snickered to themselves; his hearing was sharp enough to
hear their comments, which he figured wise to overlook.
Inside the tent, he saw a tall, even more well-dressed man. "My
lord," the soldier's leader stated with a bow, "this is Ambassador
Fenuku of Khenoktetet. Ambassador, may I present Prince Rashid ibn
Akbar ibn Akkab of Freehold." Fenuku bowed in greeting.
"A Kobold ambassador?" Prince Rashid asked, cocking an eyebrow.
"Please, sit." He motioned to a cushion, which Fenuku sat down on,
flicking his tail trying to get somewhat comfortable. "Leave us,
Captain." The soldier bowed and left the tent.
"Your Highnessssss," Fenuku started, "I've been sssent by my people
in the mountainsss to try and open a trade agreement. What I sssee
here, however, isss that you may have other plansss towards usss."
"Very observant," Prince Rashid said, taking a seat on a nearby
chair. "I take it, then, that you're of the tribe infesting the iron
mines in the Barrier Mountains?"
"'Infesssting'?!" Fenuku nearly spat in surprise. "We have lived
there for ten monthsss, and never encountered another perssson there
before lassst month! One who tried to kill usss, I might add."
There was a brief pause as the prince listened to this. "You will
drink this potion," the Prince said slowly, handing Fenuku a crystal
vial filled with a clear red liquid, "and tell me what really
"What isss it?"
"A truth potion. Nothing more. Made by my own private alchemist."
"How do I know I can trussst you?"
"What do I have to gain from poisoning a Kobold?" the Prince
stated. "Nothing. I could have you publicly killed as a spy just for
showing up, and the men would believe it. Even if they didn't, none
among them could do anything about it. What you gain from taking my
word, however, is my knowing that what you speak is the truth."
Uncorking the vial, Fenuku downed the contents. It was bitter,
tasting like almonds roasted in hops. "That tassstesss horrible," he
"Now," Prince Rashid commanded, "tell me how long the Kobolds have
been in the mines, and who was there when you arrived."
To his surprise, Fenuku repeated exactly what he had said minutes
"I see. My apologies, Ambassador. Now, how hard would it be for a
company of spearmen to enter the mines?"
"Very. The entranccce is twenty feet up a cliff faccce,
accccessssible only by laddersss and ropesss. We have archersss and
crossssssbowmen ssstationed near it who would fire on you before you
could sssee them. We have even recccently acquired a hwacha from the
Far Eassst. And farther in, we have the passssssage filled with
trapsss and other obssstaclesss. We can flood the passssssage, fed
from a river a half mile away from the entranccce."
"That is all, my good Kobold. Wait here and be silent for a bit;
the potion will wear off in an hour."
With that, Prince Rashid left the tent, leaving Fenuku to his
An hour later, the Prince returned, followed by a man carrying a
tray. "You must be hungry," the Prince stated. "Join me as I break
my fast." Not wishing to offend his host, Fenuku shifted over as the
servant uncovered the tray. The tray was filled with sausage, bacon,
hard-boiled eggs, and fruit-filled pastries. A bottle of a light
fruit juice sat nearby. "I apologize again for the truth potion," the
prince said, "but I had to make sure you weren't trying to deceive
me. I suspected the new Vizier was up to something when he asked me
to lead this expedition."
"'New' Vizzzier?" Fenuku asked between bites.
"Yes. The former court magician, to be precise. Theosonovus..."
"The Black," Fenuku finished. "Thisss might explain thingsss."
"You've heard of him?" the Prince asked, quirking an eyebrow.
"Jussst rumorsss, but nothing flattering."
"I suspected as much. Your tale earlier confirmed my fears. Our
nation needs the iron, and your village sits on the richest veins of
iron we know of. He sent me out here to get me out of the way,
probably hoping I'd be killed during the assault. Then, one at a
time, he'd send my brothers out here."
"But why?" Fenuku asked. "It makesss no sssenssse to wassste your
line like that."
"Actually, it does. My own servants tell me Theosonovus is after
my father's throne."
"Thisss could work to both our advantagesss," Fenuku stated. At
the prince's confused look, he continued, "Hear me out. I wasss
sssent to open a trade deal, yesss, but alssso to ensssure the
village'sss sssafety. The new Vizzzier threatensss both of usss. If
you return to the cccity with me at your ssside and a ...."
"... and a trade agreement to get the iron cheap, he'll be
thwarted, at least for a time. None of my brothers would dare stand
against me, but many of them would move against each other, especially
with the Black One's urging. With my return, and your aid and a deal
for your village's iron, he'll have to make another plot."
The prince rang for a servant. "Tell the men to prepare for the
march home." He turned back to Fenuku. "We'll have a few days to
work out the agreement during the trip back to the city."
The city of Freehold, Fenuku soon came to the conclusion, was Human
in every way. The three pristine stone pyramids that sat over it,
relics from an ancient time ten thousand years before, contrasted
greatly with the dirty streets and noise of the marketplace that
surrounded him as he rode on a camel beside the prince. The people he
passed looked up at him in surprise. During the last few days, as
they journeyed eastward back to the city, Prince Rashid had insisted
that Fenuku be dressed in finery fitting his station as ambassador.
His formerly drab brown loincloth had been replaced by a red tunic
with gold thread trim, fastened around his waist by a belt. In his
hand, he held a mahogany staff with a large quartz crystal set atop
Fenuku's first impression of the palace was that the Human leaders
loved to show off their power over their followers. The palace was a
beacon of decadence amidst the squalor of the peasantry.
As he followed Prince Rashid into the main hall of the palace, he
caught sight of many people staring at him. The one that seemed to
stare the most, he discovered, was the elf in black robes.
>>Theosonovus,<< he thought to himself.
Prince Rashid stopped about twenty feet from the throne and
kneeled. Fenuku, having been instructed on court etiquette, followed
"What is this creature with you, my Prince?" asked Theosonovus.
"He is Ambassador Fenuku of the Kobold village of Khenoktetet," the
Prince replied evenly. "It appears as though we have been misinformed
as to the mines. The Kobolds of Khenoktetet have asked, through
Fenuku, to begin trade relations with us."
"Preposterous!" Theosonovus spat. "They are infesting our mines."
"The mines were empty when they arrived," the Prince continued.
"The cost of trading with them would be far less severe than the cost
of taking it by force. They have a heavily fortified and defensible
position; we would lose hundreds, if not thousands, of people taking
the mines from them."
"And what is it the Kobolds offer?" the Caliph said, speaking for
the first time.
"We wissshhh to sssell the iron we mine," Fenuku said simply. "In
return, we asssk that you would sssell your sssurplusss grain."
"Grain?" Theosonovus asked. "Incredible. Kobolds don't eat
"That isss true, Your Excccellencccy," Fenuku stated. "But our
"Fenuku and I have come up with a deal that would benefit both of
us," Prince Rashid stated. "Father, I ask that you approve it."
"I don't think you should," Theosonovus advised the Caliph. "This
could be a trick."
"It isss no trick," Fenuku called out, standing up. "We are
Theosonovus waved his hand, and Fenuku was sent flying backwards.
"Sit down, whelp."
"By the ancccient lawsss of the Chione River Delta," Fenuku
declared, standing back up and grasping his staff, "I challenge
Theosssonovusss the Black to a duel of magicsss before the Caliph!
Let he who isss lying be revealed!" With that, he thrust the staff
forward, sending a beam of bright light lancing from it towards the
elf. Theosonovus barely had time to put up a blocking spell,
unprepared as he was for this assault; the beam fizzled against the
"YOU *INSECT*!" the elf called out. He leapt forward, drawing his
scimitar as he did so. Green energy surrounded the blade. Fenuku,
meanwhile held his ground, muttering to himself. The blade rang
through the air, only to bounce off an energy shield that had appeared
around the Kobold.
"You sssent Rassshhhid to die, Black One," Fenuku accused him. He
concentrated, gathering his energy into the staff.
"And what if I did?" Theosonovus replied. "What's one dead son
when there are forty nine more where he came from, and the prize is
the iron we'll get without dealing with your kind!" He slashed again
three or four more times with the sword, each time only glancing off
the Kobold's energy shield.
Fenuku didn't reply. Instead, he slammed the end of the staff into
the floor. The floor rippled as a shockwave shook the building,
sending Theosonovus back before the floor erupted. Stone and dirt
fell all around them. "Ssso you admit it?"
"ENOUGH!" Caliph Akbar ibn Akkab stated, standing up from his
throne. "Theosonovus, you shame your past service. Fenuku
Earthshaker, I am in need of a court magician, if only to keep tabs on
my new vizier's plots. Will you accept my offer?"
"On one condition," Fenuku stated calmly.
"That it isss underssstood that my loyalty isss to my home village,
not you or Freehold. I will do nothing to harm my people."
"I would accept nothing less, my friend," the Caliph stated.
"Theosonovus, have my servants prepare chambers for the newest member
of my court."
"As you wish, sire," came the cold reply. Fenuku met Theosonovus's
eyes. There would be further confrontations in the future; both knew
it. Part of him dreaded the confrontation, but another part of him
looked forward to it. Tonight, though, he had a few letters to write;
one to his people in Khenoktetet, and one to a few friends from even
farther west. He just hoped his old friends could help him out.
But that's another tale to be told.
In case it wasn't obvious, Theosonovus the Black is filling the role
of "The New Job", being given the role of Vizier in the Caliph's
court, and Fenuku filling the role of the "Underground Realm".
Somehow, though, when writing, Fenuku also ended up with the new job;
two new jobs, actually. That wasn't planned, but came as a nice
touch, I think.
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