In our further exploration of Novia, Alley and I trekked out in the Barrens to have a look around. I am happy to report that the Barrens are indeed still barren. There is lots of sand, a great deal of heat, big scorpions, but some lovely cacti. Strangely, there is also an oasis out in the desert. I thought it was just an illusion brought on by the heat or the bad mead I had previously. But not so. There is an indeed an oasis and quite a good looking one. I will say, the calm and serenity of the pool was somewhat overshadowed by the rotting corpse on the nearby rocks.

It seems some foolhardy adventurer or perhaps a lost miner or even a daredevil rock climber met his end on the rocks and instead of falling all the way down to the bottom where the coyotes could dispose of him properly, he came to rest on a rocky outcropping and was now exuding an aroma I was none too keen on.

While checking for any loose coins, I did discover he was in possession of some sort of map. I could have sworn there was a large X printed on it, but after I went through all the effort of climbing on top of the rocks and working my way down, suffering many cuts and abrasions in the process, I discovered he had nothing but some damn fool last will and testament. I was in no mood for such trifles, so I crumpled it up and threw it back at him.

We also discovered the very large remains of what we assume to be a dragon. The skeleton had long since dried out and we saw no other traces of their kind. Upon inspecting the carcass I realized it was possible to tap out a lively tune on the rib bones. I started to belt out a tune, but the oncoming scorpions told me it was time to move on. They may have had an appreciation for the music, but they’re so uncouth I doubted it.

Amidst my distraction, Alley had spied a dark and swirling vortex high atop one of the rock formations. It seemed quite sinister and fraught with danger so we agreed to go have a look. As we approached, several Sand Elementals tried to block our path. These strange creatures are a persistent menace in these parts so we had no choice but to thrash them soundly. I tried to make friends and reached out to pet one of them, but he mistook my hand or food and tried to swallow it whole. It’s my hand and I’m using it!

We worked our way between the rock formations and kept out of sight of the bandits and skeletons that skulk about these parts. We found the correct rock face and climbed up the escarpment wherein we found the portal. It was a swirling, twisting mass that fairly reeked of evil. At the top was the symbol of death and within it’s confines spat forth a Skeleton Mage. As soon as he laid eyes us on he flew into a rage! No small talk. No, “Greetings!” No, “How can I help you weary traveler?” He just let loose with the fireballs and casting aspersions. We had no choice but to defend ourselves, yet this wily devil was keen to see us fall to our doom. He retreated to the very edge where a false step would send us over the side. It was dizzying to be sure.

But we kept our wits and skillfully dispatched this purveyor of ill tidings. We then took a closer look at this portal. It made strange sounds as though whispering from beyond, but it would not permit us to enter. I even went so far as to dance the ceremonial jig, but open it did not. I made a couple of threatening gestures at it, but that didn’t work either.

It appears to be a one-sided doorway as amidst my celebratory steps, another Skeleton Mage appeared with fireballs at the ready. He too tried to draw us to the edge, but we were already wise to this game and crushed him where he stood. Why do they always have to jump through the portal and cause trouble? Why can’t they come through with a pitcher of cocktails and a deck of cards?

As the darkness began to fall, we saw that we were surrounded by many more of these Sand Elementals. They are easy to see under the cloak of night as they give off an eerie green glow. I’ve already had the misfortune of mistaking them for gems before, but not again! I’m wise to their deceptive ways.

It was also from this great height that was saw the landscape pocked with craters. If I didn’t know better I would say the ground had been struck by a mighty force. What it might have been, I cannot say, as no residue was to be found. But it did occur to me that if we filled them with water, they would make a fine natural spring and I’m sure Blake could certainly make use of something like that.

It then occurred to me, that in a desert locale like this, away from the prying eyes of Halmar and his ilk, we could open up gambling houses and amass a fortune. All we need is a few wind generators, some barrels of ale and a way to keep the scorpions from ruining everyone’s fun. Sure, it may be a little out of the way, the heat may be a touch on the oppressive and dangerous side, and the food supply is pretty scarce, but think of it! Gambling houses nestled between the rocks and surrounding the oasis. People would come to the desert to escape it all and tempt fortunes hand! It’s a good plan I’m sure of it!

If we could get the skeletons to stop with the fireballs they could make a fine wage as doormen. We might even be able to tame the scorpions and use them to ride about.

But my fanciful scheme had to be put on hold as we had more pressing matters to tend to, the escape from the rock. It would be a precarious descent under the best of circumstances, but surrounded by darkness made it a sure folly. But we had no choice. We had to take our leave. Should that Mage appear again, we could easily take a nasty tumble over the side of this small plateau and my helm is not strong enough to protect me from such a plunge.

We pressed on, slowly and carefully inching our way down. In the distance, the green glow of the Elementals moved back and forth, almost in an enchanting and hypnotic way. That is their siren call, to lull you into a false sense and then they plunge their dirty fists into the earth and pull it out from under you!

Our progress was good, but as is so often the case with these night time rock climbing ventures there was a misplaced hand hold, a slip of the foot, a twist of the ankle and a headlong plunge down the side of the mountain. This unto itself wasn’t the bad part. The bad part came as the rocks began to dislodge themselves and join in the fun of plummeting down to the canyon below. It was at this point that Alley was crushed by a mighty boulder!

In my horror and confusion I didn’t know what to do. I’m sad to report that I’m not specifically skilled in the art of mountain rescue nor is boulder removal in my wheelhouse of accomplishments. This lead to the terrible conundrum of how to save Alley for this mishap.

There she was, pinned under a huge tonnage of rock, her life hanging in the balance! I was desperate for help. Where’s Blake? Where’s Wind? Perhaps I could hitch the rock to Reindeer! I could send Danish over to the next town for help. They would certainly answer the call of Alley trapped under a rock.

But my panic and desperation were unfounded as Alley easily slipped out from underneath the rock, dusted herself off and kicked at with a, “stupid rock”. It seems the rock had merely knocked her over and then came to rest upon other rocks. It was simply a matter of illusion and perspective.

With those tense moments behind us, we snuck out of the barrens and made our way to the nearest pub.

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Yep, still barren out here. Although that cactus looks pretty neat. You think there’s water in it?

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Oh my, what do we have here? What manner of creature has met it’s end in this wasteland? Too bad we didn’t get here earlier, that would have been a nice rack of ribs.

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Hello cactus!

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Oh? A refreshing spring out here in the desert. This could come in handy.

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Is that a treasure map in your hand? Oh, lemme see! “To my darling wife…” Oh this is crap!

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Well now, you don’t see this sort of thing every day. I wonder what manner of excitement this holds for us?

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Gadzooks! A bit heavy on the foreboding nature don’t you think??

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Gracious a huge crater from origins unknown! I wonder if we can fill it with water from that oasis and make a thermal hut tub out of it?

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I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that with some digging and the use of block and tackle I can get this rascal off you no problem. Bad news is, I have no digging utensils nor do I have a block and tackle so most likely the weight of the stone is going to crush all the air out you, but that won’t be a big deal as most likely that scorpion is going to come over here and sting you in the face.

More brilliant musings about my adventures in New Britannia

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