The party quickly singled Lisk out as the expert that would lead them through the storm. After all, who would be more knowledgeable about traversing hostile terrain than a grizzled war vet in a camouflage cloak?
"I served in the acid jungles of--" Lisk began, but was cut off by the rest of the party's insisting. Lisk grunted, and began leading the way.
Hours passed, and water supplies started to dwindle, as everyone began feeling the effects of heat bearing down on them. Up in front, they spotted a small rocky outcropping, and made their way towards it.
"Hey look I think we--" Naro began, before exasperatedly calling "uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhg we're back here agaiiiiiiiin"
Lisk took one look at the giant scorpion burrow and muttered "Hmm. Was sure we were going the right way. Well, anyone else know how to lead? Like I said, deserts aren't my thing -- give me jungle."
Naro began to raise one hand, but the 5 others quickly slapped it down. Ryder looked nonplussed "I'm a researcher, not a navigator."
Opal sighed. She'd probably read something about deserts during her time in university -- might as well put it to use. The witch made her way to the front of the party, and lead the way.
A couple hours later, and their water supplies were lessened even more. The sandstorm was starting to get more intense. Opal looked left and right, spying a couple of areas that might be shelter. She pointed them out, though no one was able to get a good look. Choosing for the party, Opal lead them to the left.
As they approached what she saw, the sandstorm lessened around them. Ahead, they could see a rocky outcropping to the left, with a small oasis at the foot of the outcropping. A small pond with 4 palm trees, and a myriad of cacti plants populated the space. Behind that was a stone building, with a cloth shade strapped over it. A woman sat out front, humming to herself with her eyes closed.
Lisk, not trusting anyone, flipped up his cloak and stealthed his way forward.
Upon getting nearer to the woman, he took a closer took. The woman was dressed in desert appropriate wear -- with a hood and loose clothing to cover her dark skin from the sun. Behind her was a small stone building, sparsely decorated, with few resources. Cacti grew everywhere around. The woman sat with a slight smile on her face as she hummed, looking pleasant and kind.
Lisk crept back towards his party, before removing his cloak, and approaching again -- he had decided to trust the woman. Opal, Naro, and Ryder looked at each other, then followed with trepidation.
"Hello" Said Lisk, as he approached.
The woman smiled and opened her eyes, taking a look at Lisk. "Heyyyyyyyy! I don't see many people around here, who are you? How are you?"
"I'm Lisk. With this party, I'm sort of the scout. They're back here, just catching up now" He waved to the 3 other people behind him, who all waved in turn.
The woman smiled and waved back at the new faces. "Well then, it's nice to see new people! I suppose I should introduce myself, my name is Zinnia
. This is my humble abode, where I like to relax and tend to my plants. Who might all you be?"
The party all introduced themselves, and took seats around a smouldering campfire.
"So how'd you make your way here? What do you all do? Who are you?" Asked Zinnia.
The party began filling her in on some of the details. There was a mimic, a giant scorpion, a sand storm. They were two summoners, a witch, and a ranger.
"Ah the scorpion! Yeah I've seen that one, pretty scary beast. You should be careful in the desert, there's a lot of scary things around! I've seen caves with monsters and strange machines in them." Zinnia responded. "I've seen a lot actually, I like to wildshape into an armadillo -- don't you just love armadillos? the way they have that cute shell of armor that they can retreat into, but then POP they open up and it's this little happy cute face! -- and explore the desert. I've seen a lot of bad people out here"
The party raised their eyebrows at their talkative host.
"I even saw someone that was like myself, but bad! They were dragging some poor helpless person into some ruins, and that's all I could see before leaving." Zinnia continued.
"Excuse me, Like you?
" Asked Lisk.
"Oh, I'm a druid!" responded Zinnia.
"And what can you tell us about your life before this area?"
Zinnia shrugged apologetically. "I don't remember honestly. I cant remember my parents faces. I remember an ocean, and happiness, and fresh air... the smell of the salt... but that's it. Unless I'm in a dream state, I cant recall memories any older than the last few years here. Sorry."
"Anyways, what I do here is tend my cacti and explore, and occasionally host the odd guest that stops by. You're welcome to anything you like. Actually, you said you were a witch right? Can you take a look at these?"
Before Opal could respond, Zinnia got up and dashed into her home. Coming back out, she had 5 leather flasks, each full of a frothy green liquid.
"What are these? I generally don't collect stuff that often, but things that might expand my mind are interesting to me!"
Opal took a bottle in her hand, turning it over, inspecting it. "Well, not mind expanding in the way you'd want. These are bottled misfortune. Ah can hex it with one o my hexes, putting the power into the liquid its self; then anyone can take that and use it as a lil poison on their weapon. Useful for combat!"
The druid was sad for a moment, before saying "Well, all yours! I don't need em."
Naro took this opportunity to step up. "I HAVE A QUESTION" he asked loudly. "WHY ARE YOU HIDING YOURSELF?"
Zinnia looked started, then pointed to her hood on her head -- it was covering her ears. "Oh, is this bothering you? Sec." She dropped the hood down, revealing pointed Half-Elf
Naro's eyes became angry as he asked her more questions. "What race were your parents??"
Zinnia was confused, before responding "I'm sorry, like I said, I cant remember them"
High suspicious of Zinnia now, Naro continued his line of questioning. "Basically" He said through gritted teeth, "What I'm wondering is, are you half Drow
Zinnia thought for a moment. "Well, no, I don't believe so. Despite my dark skin."
Naro calmed down, and sat down again.
"Anyways, anyone have plans for the evening? You're more than welcome to stay here for the night. My plans are to expand my mind a bit, and rejoice in my old memories" Zinnia said, offhandedly.
The party stared at her, confused.
"Oh, right, my cacti!" She started pointing them out. "That round one there, that's a Dry Trap Cactus
. Shoots its needles out when provoked."
"This one here, is a Salvation Cactus
. You can cut into it and drink the juice from it, it's quite sustaining! And then this one over here, see how it looks similar to the salvation cactus? It's actually called a Mindwalk Cacti
. The juice, while drinkable, will put you in a dreamlike state that allows one to revisit old memories, and walk through parts of their mind long unexplored."
This put the party back into a state of unease. Was she going to drug them and take advantage of them?
Zinnia solved this by walking over to the Mindwalk cactus plant nearest to her. She cut a portion off, and squeezed the juice into her mouth. "I hope you don't mind, but tonight's a mindwalk night for me. You're welcome to as much as you like!"
Feeling safe now that their host was partaking as well, the party relaxed. Lisk cut off a portion of the cactus, and chomped into it. Strong of body, he felt no immediate effects. "Just try a second dose" Said Zinnia, relaxing down into a sitting position. A smile began to creep onto her face. "Sometimes it takes two." She began rocking back and forth, closing her eyes. "Ahh, the ocean" she said dreamily "The waves and the smell, it's so relaxing..."
Lisk grabbed a second bite. He began to feel relaxed, as his pupils grew larger.
Opal took a closer look at the plant. "Yeah I do seem to remember this being talked about in class... don't think it's dangerous." She nervously grabbed some. "I'm... I'm gonna try it to. This is-- I aint never done this before!"
Before she could take her cacti, Naro walked forward and grabbed a piece from the plant. He was fighting against 4 of his arms. "FUCK OFF MARKUS LET ME DO SOME DRUGS" he yelled, slapping at himself in 5 different ways. Naro shoved the cactus triumphantly into his mouth, and chewed. Opal followed suit.
Ryder sat there, confused. He watched all of his party member's eyes start to become lidded, as their pupils expanded. After a few minutes, it seemed they were entirely under the influence of the drug. As Opal started sobbing, Ryder decided he would say no to peer pressure.
"She doesnt even know what happened!!" Opal said between sobs. "My professor, my mentor, it was my Second Expirement
, and I fucked up, and she doesn't know, and now I'm here, and I don't know if she knows, I don't even know what happened to her!"
Opal began crying into her hands as she remembered the last few moments of her death. The suddenness of it, and the unanswered questions it left for those she cared about.
Naro immediately clasped all his arms around a spot on the left side of his chest. "NO" he said forcefully. Clawing at his chest, and staring down, he began fervently muttering about the runes he saw. Blood was on his teeth as he angrily writhed at his chest. "How... how could... the runes... how.. you..." he said. His arms were curiously divided, some clutching at his chest, while other's just "pretended" to, very obviously appearing to not be clutching with the same fervor.
Lisk paid no attention to the others. He was adrift in memories of his last mission before death. He began speaking through the memory, straight forward and mission-like.
"It was to be a simple weapons pickup. We had our contacts with the dwarves. We were in the acid jungles. My men were all trained with acid weaponry. But when we got to the pickup location, there was nothing to be found. Suddenly, I feel the back of my head cave in. Light starts to go dim, vision blurry. All I see is dwarves, killing my men. Last thing I remember is the simultaneous joy of seeing the dwarves eat acid arrows to their face, and the crushing regret of not protecting my men."
Ryder was concerned. Whatever his friends had took, he didn't need right now. Instead, he made his way around to each adventurer, gently touching them on the shoulder, letting them know they were okay. He grabbed some water skins and distributed them to each person. He walked over to Zinnia and waved a hand in front of her.
"Oh, hello Ryder." She smiled at him. "Are you enjoying the ocean?"
Ryder shrugged, and waited it out.
After a while, as everyone came down from their trip, they noticed how dark the sky had become.
"Can we rest in your house?" They asked Zinnia. The druid, still smiling and rocking back and forth, nodded without opening her eyes.
The party filed inside, and fell promptly asleep.
In the morning, Zinnia was gone. All they could see what footprints off into the sand that suddenly dropped down into what appeared to be armadillo prints, off into the distance.