The Second Generation

The Burned Sands

or: "What Came Before, part 4"

Baernabas, Benjin, and Jeysen travelled out of the gnomish hillside and through an increasingly dry landscape. Before long, they reached the Burned Sands, a desert of deep purple and black sands. In spite of the name, the desert was actually quite cool during the day. The Burned Sands, according to some lore Benjin had once read, had once been a lush forest, but had been scorched during the Arefah Purge, a famous battle fought long ago during some forgotten war. The desert, he continued, was famous for its lone, towering pyramid, engraved with glyphs in an ancient language. Now that they were there, Benjin was eager to see the pyramid for himself.

Their journey was held up briefly by an encounter with a gang of travelers much like themselves. When Benjin hailed them, they appeared friendly enough, and asked where the heroes were headed. Jeysin, who was not as inclined as his teammates to trust strangers on the road as openly, quickly told them “To see the pyramid. It’s supposed to be famous, you know.”

The other travelers agreed that this was so. One said, “We figured you were also headed to see the fallen star. That’s what the last party we saw was searching for.”

Baernabas seemed disheartened, but did not betray the truth, following Jeysen’s lead. Instead, he asked, “I see. Did they find it?”

But the travelers revealed themselves then: “No… unfortunately for those fools, we found them first!” Suddenly their illusions melted away, their alter self spells fading, revealing the three strangers to be lamia! These beasts, like lion-bodied centaurs, began attacking the team. A vicious blow left Baernabas feeling mentally drained and confused, and he felt his willpower slipping away… Benjin warned that these creatures were fond of brutal tricks, and would often sap away at the minds of their foes to confuse and discombobulate them before going in for killing blows. Luckily, it seemed they had no taste for a fair fight: sensing Baernabas would make for a more satisfying target (being the wisest of the three), they lost track of the diminutive Jeysen. Using this to his advantage, he dealt devastating sneak attacks against two of the lamia, and when the third turned tail to flee, Benjin rode it down on horseback, slaying it.

After a night’s rest, Baernabas was right again, and the team was able to continue on. Before long the pyramid was in sight… and before that, they came upon the impact crater of the fallen star. But… something was down there, a humanoid shape whose body seemed to be actively dissolving into whirling smoke below its waist. It was speaking quietly and gesticulating above a loose sphere of white-hot, glowing plasma about a foot in diameter. Baernabas identified the words as belonging to some kind of transmutation spell, and understood that if they didn’t act quickly, the creature would likely use up all of the star’s magical energy in its incantation.

The team hurried down into the surprisingly massive crater and hollered at the creature, surprising it and disrupting its spell. It revealed itself as the djinni Babahouka, and demanded to know who disturbed his work. The team explained themselves, quietly steeling for a fight: they had sworn to retrieve this star for a colony of gnomes in need of a new source of power. The djinni seemed moved, and impressed by their dedication, but explained that it, too, needed the star, in its entirety, so that it could complete a complicated ritual that was “beyond your mortal understanding.”

Jeysen, a natural salesman, began to make offers in exchange for the star, but Babahouka would not be swayed. “But there must be something!” he finally exclaimed. “Everything has a price!”

Babahouka, now seeming to enjoy tormenting the team, agreed that he would allow them to take the star in exchange for something more valuable: ambrosia, the name given to pure joy given physical form. After Baernabas confirmed that yes, this was a real thing, the team agreed that they would attempt to find some… but Babahouka warned that they had only until sundown to locate one gallon of this rare liquid. Providing a glass decanter for the task, he warned them: “Time’s a-wasting…”

Baernabas was only vaguely aware of what collecting ambrosia would entail, and as they hurried off, he told the others what he knew: there was a spell involved, but he was of course not prepared to use it that day. He spent a half hour in a meditative state, praying to Fharlanghn, before sighing in defeat. He had gained insight into the spell’s nature: not only had his vision shown him that the spell he needed was purely arcane – and therefore outside of his purview as a divine spellcaster – but even then it needed a full 24 hours of preparation before it could be cast, far outlasting their strict timeline. Jeysen suggested it was a trick meant to drive them away from the star while Babahouka completed his ritual without distraction, and suggested simply attacking the magical being. But as they started back, they saw that Babahouka was, in fact, waiting patiently, and not interacting with the fallen star at all. it seemed he would be true to his word… but time was running out.

Benjin wondered aloud what ambrosia even looked like. He seemed to suspect that, from the way Babahouka had spoken of it, the djinni may not even know himself what ambrosia’s true properties were. Jeysen, looking for any excuse to swindle the treasure from the djinni, concocted a plan… and minutes later, a combination of a create water spell, some dried fruit, and some crushed mint leaves left them with a gallon of a fruity beverage of some description, mostly lemon and lime.

They returned to the djinni, triumphant, presenting the jar of what essentially was lemon-limeade. Babahouka’s eyes lit up, only confirming to the party the truth: the djinni had no idea what actual ambrosia looked like. Giving his best salespitch and talking up the sweetwater something fierce, the djinni happily accepted the “ambrosia” and plane shifted away, leaving behind the fallen star.

The star, white hot and dense, had to be carefully handled and loaded onto the sled provided by the gnomes. With the help of Hoof-Hearted, a mule Baernabas had purchased back in Tainted Hollow, they dragged the star, unimpeded, back to Tinque. The star was delivered to Queen Ann with much acclaim, and she turned it over to the gnome tinkerers. Within four days, during which the team enjoyed an extended royal treatment and frankly exhausting partying, the star had been installed as Tinque’s new source of magical power. The tinkerers were astounded at its output, and theorized it would be enough to power their entire city for centuries all on its own!

When Benjin, Jeysen, and Baernabas eventually left the city, tales of their deeds were already spreading outside of the gnomish settlement. Statues of them, in miniature, were being carved in Tinque’s underground town square, a long-lasting tribute to Queen Ann’s Champions. Bali had been right, it seemed, and they were indeed beginning to gain accolades and a good reputation… but, unknown to them, tales of their deeds were also spreading among goblins, hobgoblins, and the Underdark… and somewhere, an angry djinni was plotting revenge against the heroes, as well…

Where the road would take Benjin, Jeysen, and Baernabas next, however, remained to be seen…

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