Business in the house of Jakeem proceeded as more prospective hires filtered in. Brandon immediately noticed the subtle favor their imperious employer bestowed on the others that stooped and toadied to him, favor not given to Brandon himself. This was nothing new, dealing with humans. They saw him as a useful beast of burden at best, and Brandon had to suppress a snort of laughter at the fact that he would probably have to save this sneering human's life before this mission was through. Still, he said nothing, a statue of gold and steel, as the others said their piece and were judged by the Pasha in turn. Brandon tried to guess at which would be the first to die in their little expedition. Probably the elf-girl, he reckoned.
As they made motions to leave, Brandon politely declined the offer of a camel. He doubted that such a beast could bear his armored weight, and made a space near the stables to conduct a small ritual. He raised the golden skull at his hip to the searing desert sun, the gilding of the macabre totem refracting the light into a thousand dazzling rays. He called on the holy light of Lathander to bless him with a steed that would bear him through the unforgiving desert, so that he might spread His glorious light, drive out the darkness, and slay what lurked within it. The usual supplications out of the way, a ray of sunlight shot down, and materialized in the form of a robust, powerful beast.
It was, at a glance, a rhinoceros, but in truth it was so much more. Its leathery skin was chalky white, and a flaxen mane spilled over its head, elegantly braided and threaded with golden blossoms. Its eyes were milky orbs that glowed with etheral light, and its two proud, curving horns seemed to carved from glimmering crystal rather than from keratin. Its saddle-blanket was a gorgeous, complex tapestry of rainbow-colored yarns and silks, and the polished leather of the saddle was the color of bone. The creature even smelled pleasant, a fragrance like morning dew and honeysuckle wafted from it.
As it finished materializing, the beast spoke, "Hail, Sir Brandon!" It had a man's voice, hearty and full of good cheer, though with a somewhat otherworldly, ethereal quality. "It is good to see you again, my friend. What quest calls forth both Drakehammer and the mighty Bicorn?"
Brandon leaned in close to the beast, speaking quietly into its huge, white eye, "I thought I told you to quit this 'Drakehammer' business. I have quite enough stupid nicknames, thank you. Let us get through this as quickly and painlessly as possible."
The rhino snorted derisively, "As you command," it said, a note of condescension sneaking into its voice, "If I am ever summoned, and I find that you are in good spirits, or heavens forbid you crack a joke, I will know that I have been called by an impostor and will trample him on the spot."
Brandon mounted the rhino with a single, swift motion, and said, "Good to know."
Brandon rode at the head of their small party, his gaze never leaving the back of his employer as the man swayed to and fro on camelback. While his own mount was not as high a perch as a camel, Brandon's height ensured that he was still seeing eye-to-eye with those that rode the beasts offered by the Pasha. Mounted on the celestial beast Bicorn, Brandon's more disheveled appearance contrasted with the rhino's pristine condition, but together the two were a walking siege engine; a tower of gold, horn, and steel.
The heat and sand didn't bother him; Dragonborn were hardy creatures, born of extreme climates and harsh conditions. The wind-blown sand buffeted harmlessly across his scales, and the heat was almost comforting, like a thick and heavy blanket laid over him. The fire inside of him, the furnace of dragonflame that burned in his heart, was quieted by the oppressive heat, and Brandon savored the feeling of calm and emptiness this brought. Obviously the Bicorn was even less concerned with the conditions of their journey, being a celestial creature borrowing the form of an earthly beast.
Some of their outriders returned, informing Brandon and the other mercenaries that their destination was approaching. This was not much of a relief to Brandon, as he turned west and saw the sun, a fat red orb, sinking lazily behind the horizon. He pulled on the Bicorn's reigns, bringing him closer to where their employer rode ahead of them.
"We should stop for the night." He called ahead, his projected voice harsh and guttural. Once he knew he had someone's attention, he continued, "I don't know what 'vermin' lurks in this ruin of yours, nor do I know what will emerge at night in the open desert. What I do know is that I do not wish to be caught between the two. If we make camp we can move onto the ruins at daybreak."