Warbringer

Book Two, Chapter Six: "Return to the Mortuary"
16th Anabasis to 1st Hoard, Year of Priest's Defiance

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Part I

After the battle with Shikarva and Rhac, and the revelations following their deaths, our heroes spend a couple of days preparing for what is to come. Boaku identifies many of the magic items the group has acquired so far, while Akvo sells the silk wyrm chitin and teeth for several thousand ceramic pieces. The halfling also considers a return to the Elemental Mortuary – the group abandoned exploration of its shrine following the appearance of several undead.

Arvos comes to Tyr to see his old friends and Akvo convinces the elf to join him in a trek across the desert. Arvos suggests that they stop by Kled en route and try to enlist the help of Ehu. Tik-Tik, Vanos and Ik’hariss also agree to come, but they elect to take an argosy instead of trekking across the desert because they aren’t completely insane.

Akvo and Arvos leave Tyr with a pair of crodlu (one to carry the halfling, the other to carry their gear). They make it halfway down the Tyr valley before their camp is attacked by a band of ex-slaves. The attackers set fire to Akvo and Arvos’ tent with flaming arrows before spearmen charge the duo. The elf and halfling respond in kind, with arrows, a flaming sphere and magical blindness. Most of the ex-slaves are slain, while the others flee. Akvo and Arvos, down one tent, proceed towards Kled.

Heading down the Iron Road, they see smoke rising from where Fort Skonz would be. Wary, they leave the road early and strike north, pushing hard to reach Kled. The effort sends one of Akvo’s crodlu’s lame, but fortune is with them, and they reach Kled after only five days’ travel. They meet Ehu at the Rkard’s Rest tavern and pitch their plan to him.

Akvo says that the mission is to uncover the heritage of their world and he could really use Ehu’s help with the undead that still doubtless remain in the mortuary. ‘You’re really selling this to me,’ Ehu grumbles, but agrees to come along. While Akvo makes contacts at Kled’s market, Ehu purchases a crodlu and necessary supplies.

The next evening, with Akvo’s crodlu rested, they set out, making their way north along the edge of the foothills of the Ringing Mountains. They avoid a large jankx burrow just after sundown on the first day. Arvos climbs to the top of a ridge to scout their route and notices something unsettling far to the east in the sand wastes. It appears to be a cloud – an enormous cloud some two miles across – just squatting over the desert. He tells his companions and they guess it to be some monstrous sorcery summoned by the Lion of the North to protect the main body of his army as it marches through the desert.

Not wanting to draw attention to themselves, even at this distance, our heroes hurry onwards. As dawn nears, they wind their way through canyons in the foothills, in search of a camp.

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Instead they find a hunting party of jeral thri-kreen. Initially, the kreen want to eat Arvos, but after a tense negotiation, agree to take on of the group’s crodlu instead. Ehu reluctantly surrenders his mount and fashions a makeshift harness out of the saddlebags. The kreen immediately set about devouring the crodlu and our trio sidle nervously past them, pressing onwards into the sunrise to pitch camp a safe distance away from the mantis warriors.

Their journey continues. The canyons of the foothills prove to be difficult terrain and they are soon lost in the winding gullies. They see the ruined towers of Fort Butcher to the west and realise how far off course they have strayed. Arvos corrects their route and they push out of the canyons and into the stony barrens that skirt the edge of the Great Alluvial Sand Wastes.

Camping in the lee of a monstrous rock formation, Akvo and Arvos enjoy some much-needed rest, preparing spells for the second half of the journey. Ehu stands watch through the heat of the day. An hour after noon, he feels an odd sensation on his leg and looks down to see a disgusting black beetle crawling up his calf. As Ehu watches, the beetle extends a greenish proboscis and tries to insert it into his leg. Only his tough mul’s hide protects him.

Ehu brushes the beetle loose and sets about crushing it. At the same moment, Arvos and Akvo emit blood-curdling shrieks of agony and writhe on the tent floor in obvious anguish. Ehu sees that both have already been bitten by beetles – one is attached to Akvo’s neck and another to Arvos chest.

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The gladiator wastes no time in prising the beetles loose with his carrikal and smashes them to a pulp. A fourth beetle launches itself at him from the sands – he is able to bat it aside with his shield and finishes it off as it tries to flee, leaving a trail of sticky fluid on the ground behind it.

Then he checks on his companions. Both have suffered blood loss, drained by the beetles, their rest ruined. But both are alive. They tend their wounds and then search their surroundings to find where the beetles were coming from.

They locate a series of burrows in a nearby rocky outcrop. Arvos decides that the time for honesty is at hand and admits to Ehu that he is a preserver. Ehu passes this elven test of trust and watches as Arvos summons a swarm of desert rats and sends them into the beetle burrows. Satisfying crunching noises emerge and our heroes judge the beetle threat dealt with.

They resume their rest but realise that the journey is starting to take its toll. Ehu, a pampered gladiator slave from Urik, is completely unused to deep-desert travel and struggles to apply essential heat-protection techniques. Even Akvo is suffering from the heat in addition to blood loss.

The next day they espy an oasis not far distant, but elect to avoid it, uncertain of who or what might be waiting for them there. They make for another outcrop of the foothills, forging northward, but are soon lost again in the maze of ravines. They are eventually able to find their way out of the canyons and head down into the Alluvial Sand Wastes, electing to strike out east, straight for the Mortuary.

With High Sun drawing near, the temperature is sweltering, even at night, and Ral and Guthay are almost entirely absent from the night sky, appearing as crescents or dark bulks if at all. Our heroes become quite badly lost as a result, struggling between enormous dunes, bereft of landmarks. Even the stars are barely visible through the haze of dust.

Ehu’s condition worsens and Akvo creates large amounts of water, then freezes it with the crystallise spell. Ehu spends his days resting on the resulting block of ice, doused with water to help him remain cool. It staves off any further deterioration, but Akvo knows that the mul will not survive many more days like this.

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Eventually, they come within reach of the Great Road and know that the Mortuary cannot be far off. They force march through the night, rejoicing as dawn’s light reveals the monolith that marks the site of the sunken temple.

Akvo speaks the ancient words that summon the temple from beneath the sands, and our heroes watch in relief as the Elemental Mortuary rises from below the desert, emerging like a leviathan from the deep. Against all the odds, they have made it.

Part II

Tik-Tik, Vanos and Ik’hariss enjoy a leisurely two-week trip down the Iron and Great Road aboard a House Uinjinjum argosy. The caravan captain bribes his way past the Urikite troops occupying Fort Skonz, past three patrols, and past a vanguard stationed just north of Silver Spring.

They disembark from the argosy as it passes along the Great Road and trudge through the sands to the Mortuary. By a truly hilarious coincidence of travel times, they arrive less than an hour after Arvos, Akvo and Ehu. After brief introductions, they make plans to explore the Mortuary the next evening.

Ehu proves still too ill from heat-stroke, and so the others leave him to watch the entrance and proceed without him. Once past the ruined outer chambers, they reach the inner shrine. Vanos scouts ahead and finds it much as it was when they were last here – a long-dead corpse behind the altar and webs festooning the rear of one of the rear chambers.

The others enter. Akvo examines the altar and finds inscriptions to summon visitors through conduits. As he reads, a spectral form arises from the body, dessicated bodies shamble from the reliquary, and two other wraiths emerge through the wall from a dormitory.

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Here, then, are the undead they knew were waiting. Our heroes throw themselves into the fray. Akvo manages to use his faith in the elements to compel the shambling corpses back into the reliquary. Arvos summons a flaming sphere to use against the wraiths while Ik’hariss hurls magma bolts. Vanos and Tik-Tik discover that their weapons are useless against the wraiths, but flame and Akvo’s holy water is not.

As if the battle against the undead were not enough to contend with, midway through the fight, the entire mortuary trembles, shakes, and begins to sink back beneath the desert. Sand floods into the shrine and our heroes struggle to force its doors closed while coming under relentless assaults from their unliving foes.

Although the group manages to close the shrine’s immense doors, keeping the sand out, they are now trapped underground with the undead. The wraiths concentrate their attacks on the group’s priests and soon both Akvo and Ik’hariss are felled. The dessicated corpses emerge from the reliquary again and harry the others. Their very touch leeches moisture from those they strike, while the wraiths feed on the energy of the living. Things look grim.

Only a spirited defence by the others saves the day. With fire and holy water they defeat two of the wraiths, while Vanos and Tik-Tik destroy the shambling dead. Ik’hariss almost bleeds to death from his wounds, but Tik-Tik saves him at the last possible moment. Vanos leaps across the altar and returns Akvo’s psionic necklace (taken from this very place weeks previously) to the body where it once lay – and the final wraith vanishes.

Akvo is revived, only having been knocked unconscious, and he sets about healing his companions. The group loots the reliquary and burns the bodies of the undead (allowing Akvo to recover the necklace). Akvo also uses an augury to determine that the altar is to summon an elemental that will mulch a dead body for interment in funerary urns. He guesses that he can’t summon one, however, lacking a recently dead body.

While looting holy symbols from two dead bodies in dormitory, our heroes cause two of the wraiths to reappear. They quickly put the symbols back and burn the bodies before looting them again.

Ik’hariss throws a tiny spurt of magma at the webs to see if they are flammable and discovers that they are very flammable. After the conflagration dies down, he sees that they concealed a natural fissure leading to a larger cavern. A steady air current hints at an exit there. Before exploring the cavern, the group rests, heals and sorts out new spells.

Entering the cavern, our adventurers see a settlement of a diminutive subterranean race. The cavern dwellers apparently saw the fires several hours ago and appear to have prepared a feast in our heroes’ honour – some kind of spiced mushroom.

The group meets the earth-speaker of the tribe – Karooti by name – who says that the subterranean tribe are hej. The group join the hej in the feast. Karooti says the feast is in thanks for removing the webs – placed there by some kind of intelligent spider which dwell in a nearby cavern and seem to want to trap the hej here.

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Although the mushrooms don’t appear to be poisoned, something in the food is, and Akvo, Vanos and Ik’hariss soon succumb, falling unconscious. Tik-Tik is unaffected, but pretends that he is as drugged as his companions. Arvos refuses to eat the mushrooms and Karooti becomes highly agitated.

When Arvos sees the others collapse, he backs away and the hej suddenly attack him with claws and psionic powers. Tik-Tik abandons his pretence of unconsciousness and leaps to Arvos’ defence, slaughtering every hej he can find. Arvos mounts a decent defence of his own and many of the hej flee deeper into the cavern. All those who do not perish.

With the hej fled or slain, Akvo, Vanos and Ik’hariss slowly come to their senses. They loot Karooti of a pouch of gems but find little else of value in the tribes huts. Clearly this was a deeply impoverished settlement. Then Tik-Tik notices a pair of enormous spiders observing them. The spiders attempt telepathic contact, which only Arvos can hear, his mind opened by hej assaults.

The spiders express no hostility – only gratitude to our heroes for slaying the egg-stealers. They offer to help the group return to the surface.

The group confers, tending their wounds and searching Karooti’s hut for more evidence of what has happened here. In the hut, they find what appear to be empty egg cases, lending credence to the spiders’ claims. Left with little choice, they agree to the spiders’ offer.

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Escorted by a pair of the scintillating creatures, they head into a neighbouring cavern. There, a deep lake lies, surrounded by spiderweb architecture of staggering complexity and beauty. A veritable city. High above, a trio of sinkholes in the desert floor admit faint starlight – the way out.

The spiders make a web-rope leading to surface through the sinkholes and the group climb to safety. Akvo takes a moment to pray at the lakeshore, blessing its clear, glassy depths, while Ik’hariss watches over him. Finally, Akvo climbs and Ik’hariss follows last. Before he leaves, the ssurran asks for a gift of spider-rope from their saviours. One of the spiders spins him a length of silken twine and wishes him well.

‘Return one day,’ it says to Akvo. The halfling promises that he will.

And so our heroes emerge onto the desert sands a mile or so north of the Mortuary, the dawn heralding their return. Below them, a world of wonder and mystery lies, unknown by the majority of the Tablelands. Vanos uses his wild talent to fix the location of the place in his mind, and then they bid farewell to the world below and head once more into the waiting desert.

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Book Two, Chapter Five: "The Voice of Freedom"
12th to 15th Anabasis, Year of Priest's Defiance

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Part I

Our heroes are wandering the streets of Tyr, having escaped the riot and the fires at the Parched Palette. Koskoca heads off to look for Jaliqai and the others head deeper into the city to find somewhere to stay for the night. They pass from the merchant emporia around Caravan Way and into a well-appointed district of fine mansions and gated compounds.

They are not the only ones abroad at this late hour. A nobleman hurrying back home with his bodyguards crosses their path and it’s all he can do to contain his panic. This Verassi of Minthur shrieks for his guards to get him home as rapidly as possible. Nobody gets in their way, so nobody gets stabbed.

While the two groups are warily edging past each other, a gaggle of young pterrans burst from a nearby alleyway. They swarm around both groups, laughing and jostling, and then race off in all different directions. It is immediately obvious what they are doing when people notice their absent coin pouches, small weapons and other assorted items.

As the young pterrans flee, Boaku commands one to drop – he does. Verassi and his men have no interest in sticking around, so our heroes interrogate the youth. Kelta by name, he apologises profusely, hands over Verassi’s dagger and agrees to lead the group to where his friends have gone.

Kelta leads the way away from the nobles’ quarters and into a dilapidated slum – the Warrens. Before long, the group finds themselves at the edge of pterran ghetto where several of the reptilian humanoids are still awake at this late hour. The rest of the pterran children are already here, lounging around in front of an ancient grain silo that seems to have been converted into a warehouse.

Our heroes make the acquaintance of the silo’s owner – Ssylith – who orders the children (or “gutterbeaks”) to return what they have purloined and then tells the newcomers to get lost. With their belongings restored (Boaku allows Kelta to keep Verassi’s dagger), the group repair to the Inn of the Bleached Inix across the road.

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While they settle in, innkeeper Timrol provides them with libation. The group also hear something of the current situation in the city from a farmer called Theel and a large kreen in a green vest adorned with many chatkcha called K’kikrik. Since Tithian’s disappearance, the city has been riven by factionalism and infighting. The Council of Advisors has been working hard to pull the factions together and word on the street is that Tyr finally has an army capable of meeting Urik in battle. Whether they would be victorious or not is another matter entirely.

During the conversations, Akvo arrives, having followed their trail here from Kled. He has left his mekillot outside the city (where it is bound to be totally safe, no, really) and now rejoins his companions. Garrick, he says, has come to Tyr as well and is currently selling their goods on Iron Square.

The group retire to their rooms for the night. While the others sleep, Tik-Tik crosses the roofs back to Caravan Way to see if he can retrieve his kyorkchas. These are rare weapons in the Tablelands and Tik-Tik was lucky to have them. Unfortunately, they’re gone from the fire-blackened street. Fire-fighting crews have the blaze under control, but the Parched Palette is gutted. Unless it can be repaired, bansheedom beckons for poor Yoxley

Morning comes. It is not the rising swelter of the day that rouses folk from sleep, however. It is the sound of a man preaching in the street to a growing crowd. “King Hamanu comes not to enslave but to free you from your slave-lords,” he claims. “Even now Tithian’s lying council plots against you!”

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At first, the locals of the Warrens lap up this Shikarva’s words of dissent. Having seen the forces of Urik first-hand, our heroes speak up. With Ssylith’s aid, they manage to sway crowd against Shikarva. Things turn ugly. Stones are thrown, and then a rotten grall cactus fruit. Shikarva bravely runs away.

With the ice broken (whatever the hell “ice” is), our heroes strike up a conversation with Ssylith and discuss their plans to get a message to the Council of Advisors. Ssylith says he can probably show them the way there. He invites them into the silo.

Inside, the silo is revealed to be a storage facility for a truly staggering variety of garbage – from argosy wheels to silt skimmer rigging to rotting fruit, broken weapons, mismatched armour, gourds of unidentifiable provenance and more. Ssylith explains it used to belong to his idiot cousin Sûn – it has come into Ssylith’s possession since Sûn’s disappearance.

Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of a gentleman by the name of Leto the Lask and three half-giants confusingly referred to as the twins. Leto tries to put the squeeze on Ssylith, demanding payment in return for protection. Ssylith charms him in turn and Leto agrees to come back a week or more later. Unfortunately, the twins don’t seem to want to accept this compromise. With true half-giant stubbornness, they take matters into their own hands. Literally. One grabs Ssylith by the head. As Leto protests, the rest of the group come to Ssylith’s aid.

Boaku starts by trying to command one of the twins. The half-giant is so staggeringly dense that her spell fails to take hold. But it is enough to escalate matters even further. The half-giants draw immense bone blades. Before they can strike, Tik-Tik hurls a kyorkcha, striking one in the chest. The half-giant drops Ssylith, who grabs Leto’s sword from its scabbard and stabs his assailant. Ik’hariss follows up with a molten bolt. The half-giant, sorely wounded, hits Tik-Tik so hard that his bone sword breaks. Ssylith pulls the kreen back indoors, but the half-giant smashes the door to splinters moments later.

Inside the silo, Boaku heals Tik-Tik while Akvo starts summoning a water elemental. Tik-Tik single-handedly drags the argosy wheel to cover the doorway and Ik’hariss makes magma erupt from the ground outside to burn one of the twin’s special parts. This wins the group a few moments, during which Tik-Tik races to the roof to gain a clearer view of what is happening outside.

The water elemental arrives and Akvo sends it into the street against the twins. It engulfs one of the injured half-giants, drowning him where he stands. This is too much for Leto, who flees in panic. The half-giant with the burning parts follows after him, clutching his sizzling sausage with both hands.

Tik-Tik climbs back down and Akvo heals the last of his wounds. The final half-giant, unwilling to flee, kicks the argosy wheel out of the way and clambers through the doorway into the silo. Ssylith grabs his slodak from beside the door and slashes the half-giant’s leg tendons. Ik’hariss hurls a molten bolt into the half-giant’s boot, setting it on fire. The half-giant flails about the place, trying to hit his opponents while also struggling to extinguish his foot.

Tik-Tik brings his suffering to a swift end by cutting him to pieces with a series of well-placed gythka blows. The water elemental sweeps in from the street, extinguishing small fires started by Ik’hariss’ enthusiastic use of magma bolts before returning to its home plane. Akvo and Ssylith bow in thanks as it departs.

The combatants catch their breath and Ssylith thanks them for their help. He reveals that Leto is a mouthpiece for an up-and-coming local crime boss called Yoatu. He can doubtless expect a visit from more of Yoatu’s men soon. The others offer to help him deal with the issue, and Ssylith gratefully accepts their assistance. He is able to offer more than gratitude too. When Boaku suggests checking the silo for magical items, they discover that Sûn had been hoarding a number of potion fruits. He also had an enchanted necklace (tangled in the skimmer rigging). Ssylith keeps the necklace, but shares the potion fruits with his new friends.

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These minor transactions out of the way, Ssylith makes good on his promise to show the others the way to the Golden City, Tyr’s administrative heart. After convincing the Golden City gate guards that they’re here on serious business, a templar called Rhac takes them to a meeting in the Council chambers with none other than Agis of Asticles and Rikus. Agis is a nobleman of some repute and Rikus is a taciturn mul. Agis orders Rhac to stand outside the room – the Templar obliges but it’s clear he is eavesdropping from the hallway.

The group get straight to business, revealing what they know about Urik troops movements and share the captured maps and documents. While Agis stares at these in growing horror, the group also present Tuga Dai’s offer of aid. Agis, unsure of the wisdom of dealing with elves, tells Rikus to send a messenger to Jura Dai (a Jura Dai known as Khárass) to discuss the matter further. Rikus asks what the group know about rumours of a mercenary company in the area and our heroes reveal that this must be the Glorious Legion of Bronze. They know a legionnaire and can talk to him shortly at Crackbone Hollow, where the Legion is currently camped. The name of Crackbone Hollow arouses considerable consternation with Agis and Rikus, but neither will elaborate.

As the conversation progresses, Ssylith learns some startling truths about his cousin Sûn. Far from being the empty-headed fool that Ssylith took him for, Sûn would appear to have been a figure of respect and repute – at least, so Agis and Rikus would have him believe. Ssylith is moved and honoured by the revelation.

Ssylith mentions his problems with Leto the Lask and Yoatu. Agis says that he can talk to Master Sintha of House Valex and see if he can learn anything of use about this Yoatu.

Finally, Agis and Rikus ask about agitators in the Warrens. Our heroes mention Shikarva and his rabble-rousing. Rikus is certain that Shikarva is more than the mercenary he claims to be and Agis asks the group to bring Shikarva in for questioning. Our heroes agree, and head back to the Warrens to track down the so-called Voice of the People…

Part II

The next day sees a hurried planning session at the Herrix silo. During the conversation, Boaku and Akvo see the familiar features of Vanos wandering down the street. Vanos is in disguise (he’s wearing a hood and not carrying several dozen pounds of weapons) but Boaku and Akvo pierce his cunning deception and hail him.

Vanos explains that he’s in Tyr to scout the disposition of the city for the Legion and the Neroviad, but is willing to spend the afternoon helping out his old friends. He is introduced to Ssylith and hears of their plans to locate Shikarva.

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Ssylith gathers the gutterbeaks, promising them breakfast, lunch and dinner if they’re able to discreetly locate Shikarva. Vanos takes the opportunity to terrify the gutterbeaks with talk of what war will bring to Tyr, before Ssylith sends them hurrying out into the city.

The pterran youngsters return before the morning is done, with word that Shikarva is at a recently abandoned tannery deep in the Warrens – surrounded by what appear to be a few dozen adoring followers. Ssylith rewards them with a slap-up meal at the Bleached Inix, and then our heroes set out.

Hiding in an alley near the tannery, the group decide to send Vanos in first – Shikarva hasn’t seen him before – while they wait in the alley. Vanos makes his way through the tannery, nearly gagging at the stench of the place, and comes to a rear storeroom that Shikarva has converted into a makeshift living quarters.

There the Voice of the People holds court, while his devotees talk in earnest terms of how Urik is a true friend to the people of Tyr and how Hamanu brings only liberation. Vanos listens for a while, until Shikarva notices him. The preacher asks Vanos to introduce himself, takes the newcomer by his hand, looks deep into his eyes, and prays to Hamanu for a blessing.

Vanos feels a strange affection for Shikarva wash over him. He realises that Shikarva is a man of decency and honour, and the city probably has nothing to fear from him. Shikarva questions Vanos as to his motivations for coming to the tannery. Vanos feels conflicting loyalties, knowing that he is here on a scouting mission, yet compelled to trust his new friend.

Vanos is nothing if not a professional soldier, however, and so keeps his answers vague enough to satisfy Shikarva’s curiosity while still maintaining his loyalty to his other allies. His head swimming with clashing emotions, Vanos makes his excuses and heads out of the tannery to rejoin the others.

In the alleyway, meanwhile, the others see a new arrival at the tannery – none other than templar Rhac. Recalling Rhac’s terrible eavesdropping in the Council chambers the night before, they guess that he is here to warn Shikarva, and head into the tannery after him.

Vanos, leaving, brushes past Rhac (who ignores him completely), but overhears the templar telling Shikarva about recent developments – including a newly forged deal with the Jura Dai. Vanos reaches the courtyard just in time to meet his companions entering the building.

Vanos tells them that Shikarva (whom he presumes to be an ambassador) is a decent fellow and that they have nothing to fear from him. Immediately suspicious, Boaku and Akvo both cast detect charm on Vanos, revealing that he has indeed been enchanted by Shikarva. They convince him to return to the silo and Vanos, making amazing use of his know location wild talent, obligingly departs.

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Akvo summons a pair of small water elementals from the filth in the tannery and sends them ahead to tackle Shikarva. Boaku casts silence on a small pebble, and then they head for the storeroom. There, Shikarva is already in the midst of a complicated prayer to Hamanu. Boaku rushes to Shikarva’s side, arriving just in time to disrupt the final syllables of the spell with his zone of silence.

Battle ensues. Spells fly back and forth. Most of Shikarva’s devotees flee, but a handful remain behind to guard their beloved preacher. As Akvo’s elementals grapple Shikarva, Ssylith opens a pit in the earthen floor behind the agitator. Shikarva falls into the pit and the elementals rush in after him.

While Shikarva struggles to free himself from the pit, the group manage to immobilise Rhac and Shikarva’s remaining adherents with hold person spells. They let the (likely) charmed followers live, but Akvo takes Rhac’s steel sword and cuts the templar’s throat with it.

Rhac bleeds white fluid and perishes.

The struggle in the pit abruptly abates and our heroes realise that Shikarva has vanished, likely using some psionic power to flee. They curse their misfortune, loot the bodies, and head back to the silo.

At the silo, Vanos is surprised to see Shikarva emerge from nearby shadows. Shikarva commands Vanos to follow him, but the situation is mystifying enough to shake free the charm that has been fogging Vanos’ mind. He responds as only a true legionnaire can – by stabbing Shikarva through both kidneys with his twin wrist razors. Shikarva dies in a pool of spreading crimson and Vanos drags his body out of sight into the silo.

A minute or two later, the others arrive back at the silo and Vanos explains what has happened. He apologises for killing a target they were supposed to capture, but the others point out that this is not necessarily a problem – both Boaku and Akvo have the power to summon Shikarva’s spirit back from the Gray to answer their questions.

They load the bodies onto a cart and head to the Golden City. Before long they are in the Council meeting room, waiting for Agis. A few minutes after that, they hear him arguing in the hallway with someone. The argument seems to be about acquiring some resource with which to combat Hamanu – a resource that was apparently used to kill Kalak. The woman Agis is arguing with insists this is necessary, but Agis reminds her that Hamanu is not necessarily planning to repeat what Kalak tried to do, and someone called Nok is unlikely to trust her again after what happened last time.

The woman leaves and Agis joins our heroes, who explain to him what has happened. Agis agrees to keep the bodies under close guard, calling a certain Elise to stand watch. The following day, the group returns, laden with speak with dead spells. While Agis and Rikus watch, they summon and interrogate Shikarva’s spirit, learning from him the identity of two other Urikite agents in the city (Gathok of House Stel and a gladiator called Quick Wenzer).

Rikus heads off immediately to deal with these other two agents and the questioning continues. The group learn that Shikarva had no idea that Rhac was anything other than a human. They also learn that Hamanu leads his army and intends to strike at Tyr before High Sun. The reason for this appears to be that the stars will be in alignment for some powerful work of magic. Our heroes can only guess at what horrors the sorcerer-king of Urik intends to unleash.

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Further questioning is prevented when Shikarva’s spirit is ripped away. Akvo sees a fleeting image of a roaring lion before he is thrown backwards across the chamber, the spell ending.

Attempts at summoning Rhac’s spirit from the Gray fail. There is no spirit there to summon. Indeed, examination of Rhac’s body, with its white blood and unidentifiable internal organs, lead them to suspect that whatever Rhac was, he was never alive to begin with. They mystery of the strange white-blooded entities only deepens.

With the questioning over, Agis asks Vanos to arrange a meeting for him with the General of the Legion – Vanos readily agrees. Agis also informs the group that he has learned from Master Sintha the location of Yoatu. The crime boss apparently lairs in a dangerous part of UnderTyr.

Access is either via a house on Sand Street (known as the House of the Worm because it’s home to a monstrous worm monster that eats anyone who enters) or via a warehouse leading to a section of UnderTyr known as The Crawl.

Neither option seems particularly appetising, and so our heroes depart to decide how best to die in pursuit of their goals…

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Book Two, Chapter Four: "The Road to Tyr"
27th Thaumast to 11th Anabasis, Year of Priest's Defiance

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Part I

Our heroes reconvene after celebrations in Kled and journey to meet with Tuga Dai at Fort Butcher. Garrick Aselurish declines to accompany them – instead he heads to nearby Fort Skonz to seek word of the consequences of escaping from House Resherek. A friend of his happens to be in Kled – a ssurran magma priest by the name of Ik’hariss. And while Akvo is hostage to the Jura Dai, the group also welcome the arrival of his associate Koskoca, a half-giant water priest.

Tuga tells them that Urikite forces are moving all across the Great Alluvial Sand Wastes, closing in on Tyr. Clearly Hamanu means mischief and the Jura Dai are caught in the middle. He wants the group to help scout the locations of Urikite forces and harry them where possible, so that they will leave the Jura Dai in peace.

Departing, our heroes head down to the Iron Road and begin looking for Urikite troops. They soon find a scouting party heading out from a brief stop at Fort Iron, a known outpost of Urikite House Stel. They pursue and ambush the scouting party, murdering the crap out of over a dozen Urikite troops.

They reason that a base camp must be somewhere nearby. Scouting the surrounding dunes, Tik-Tik does indeed find one a few miles away. He reports that a small force of Urikite troops is camped not far away. They have prisoners and, when Tik-Tik describes the prisoners’ banner, Vanos realises that it is the banner of the Glorious Legion of Bronze.

Our heroes hunker down for the night to plan their actions…

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Part II

The group settles on a plan. In the early hours, before dawn, they will sneak up to the Urikite camp. They will liberate kanks to cause a distraction, free the prisoners, and use the kanks to escape. They head across the desert and approach the camp as stealthily as they can. They see that there is a kank pen, a cavalry tent, an infantry tent, a prisoner tent, and a command tent. A simply wooden barricade and gate ward the camp on one side, while stone outcrops stand at its rear.

Sneaking up from the rear, Tik-Tik and Boaku approach the kank pen from between the outcrops. Tik-Tik tears a gap in the pen’s crude bone fence, and Boaku speak to the kanks in their own tongue. She tells the kanks to leave the pen and head north to find sweet, fresh water. The kanks are only too happy to oblige and head northwards.

Koskoca, Vanos and Ehu, meanwhile, creep up to the back of the tent containing the imprisoned legionnaires. Koskoca blankets the back of the tent with magical silence and Vanos kills the guard keeping watch at the back of the tent. Ehu slices the tent open and steps inside to free the prisoners. He discovers the hard way that a kreen is silently standing guard inside the tent. The kreen attacks him without hesitation.

While Ehu reels from the surprise of the attack, the kreen backs out of the tent to seek aid. Koskoca tries to impale it with his zerka, but the weapon becomes entangled in the tent wall. The kreen barks a warning in its own tongue and ducks back into the tent to continue dealing with Ehu. Initially, at least, the kreen’s outburst causes only confusion in the camp – apart from a trio of other kreen, who come hurrying to its aid.

Vanos rushes into the tent and starts freeing his fellow legionnaires. As the other kreen hurtle into the tent, Tik-Tik leaps to Vanos’ aid at the last second and battle is joined. The noise of the fighting draws the attention of infantry stationed in an adjacent tent – they start milling about, wondering what is going on. Boaku distracts them with an audible glamer spell, creating the sound of a voice ordering them to the gates. Some obey, others are confused.

The mul cavalry emerge from their tent and notice that their kanks are leaving and prepare to head after them. At the same time, a templar emerges from the command tent and begins praying to Hamanu. The fight in the prisoner tent, meanwhile, ends with the kreen dead and the legionnaires free. Koskoca starts handing out weapons to the liberated prisoners.

The infantry sergeants regain control of their men and order them into a crossbow phalanx – twin rows, one kneeling, one standing. Moments later, a wave of defiling energy turns the ground around the command tent to ash as someone in the command tent unleashes sorcery. Tik-Tik leaps to safety behind one of the rock outcroppings. Ehu and Vanos usher the prisoners out of the back of the tent, then run after them. Then the infantry fire. Two volleys of heavy bolts follow the muls as they flee, and both are heavily injured. But the prisoners escape unharmed.

As Koskoca also flees, the templar unleashes a flame lance that sorely wounds the half-giant. Ehu and Vanos herd the prisoners north, towards the departing kanks. Boaku sends a dust devil to tangle the cavalry tent – three of the muls remain to deal with the tent, while three others pursue the kanks. From behind the command tent, the defiler emerges into view. He rises slowly into the air and begins casting afresh. Moments later, a lightning bolt springs to life, forking to strike Boaku and Tik-Tik. Although both survive the blast, all realise that they need to eliminate these spellcasters, or their escape will be cut short.

Boaku casts jump on herself, bounding ahead to catch up with the kanks, and convinces them to wait for the escaping prisoners to arrive. Disgruntled at the lack of promised water, the kanks nevertheless agree. As the infantry move to gain line of sight on the fleeing prisoners and their would-be rescuers, Ehu creates an inertial barrier to protect himself and Vanos. They and Koskoca catch up with the fleeing prisoners and are soon near the kanks. Kokosca hurls a zerka at the levitating defiler, striking a brutal blow. The defiler screams in pain, calling out for aid from his lord. The templar likewise calls for aid, directing his plea at the command tent.

Boaku engulfs the infantry in a cloak of darkness. It lasts only moments – the templar dispels it almost immediately. Tik-Tik leaps to the top of one of the rocky outcrops and then hurls himself at the defiler. The flying kreen throats the hapless wizard with a single swipe. He lands on the far side of the infantry tent, between it and the command tent. Koskoca immobilises two of the mul cavalry with a hold person, and the legionnaires finish off the third. They reach the kanks and start mounting up. The legionnaires want to leave immediately, but there is no sign of Tik-Tik. Koskoca spots him on the far side of the infantry tent… just as a braxat tears a hole in the tent wall and emerges to confront the kreen.

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The desert horror cripples the already-injured kreen with a crushing psychic attack. Koskoca dimension walks through the Grey to reach him, but comes under attack from both the templar and the braxat. Somewhere during the assault, Tik-Tik dies, bleeding out on the desert sand. Seeing this, his companions decide that the time for escape is over.

Boaku jumps back to one of the outcrops near the camp and casts entangle on the infantry. The legionnaires, Ehu and Vanos, mount their kanks and charge. While the legionnaires deal with the entangled infantry, Ehu and Vanos close on the braxat. The braxat prepares to unleash a psychic attack against them that will surely slay Ehu and Vanos. Koskoca distracts the braxat by spearing him it the head with a zerka. The braxat pummels Koskoca into unconsciousness, but the half-giant’s action allows the muls to draw into striking distance.

Boaku unleashes a mind thrust against the templar, stripping him of his higher spells. The muls leap into action. Ehu uses his alhulak to snare the braxat around the neck, then leaps from his kank and swings into attack. At the same time, Vanos rolls from his mount and stabs at the braxat. His bone wrist razors fail to pierce its carapace. The braxat bats ineffectually at Ehu, who slides groundward. Boaku continues to hammer at the templar’s mind, causing him to stumble, shrieking, away from the camp. Vanos stabs at the back of the braxat’s leg, hoping to pierce its hide there. Yet the creature’s leathery skin is more than a match for his bone blades.

Boaku leaps from her perch and casts boneharden on the blades. Now Vanos drives them deep into the braxat’s leg – it drops to one knee on the sand. Ehu snares its club with his alhulak and disarms it. The he unlimbers his steel battleaxe. The braxat struggles to rise, but Vanos slashes its other leg – now it is on both its knees on the sand. Which is where it dies, as Ehu decapitates it with a single blow.

With the battle theirs, the group loot the camp, taking valuable furnishings, the paychest, two of the larger tents, supplies, assorted arms and armour, maps and possible intelligence documents. They bury Tik-Tik at the battle-site, after debating the kreen myth of dej – the Circle – and bury and conceal the bodies of the slain.

When looting the body of the defiler, they discover that he is not human. In fact, he is of no known race at all. Oh, he looks human enough – apart from the white fluid that seeps from his wounds instead of blood, the strange organs and tubes that fill his body, and the bitter stench that rises from his corpse. None of our heroes has any clue whatsoever what this might signify.

They return to Kled. The rescued legionnaires explain the Legion is camped at somewhere called Crackbone Hollow, to the south of Tyr. With Vanos, they depart to rendezvous with their fellows. None know who the Legion is planning to fight in the area – time for some fresh orders, clearly.

One of Tik-Tik’s clutchmates is also in Kled. The group give him the sad news of Tik-Tik’s demise, and share (most of) the fallen kreen’s gear with his clutchmate. They decide to head to Fort Butcher as soon as possible, to see if the Jura Dai are satisfied with their progress enough to release Akvo from his captivity…

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Part III

Tik-Tik’s clutchmate introduces himself as Tik-Tik, explaining that it is a title, not a name. It means “guardian”, and with the death of the previous guardian, he is now here to take his fallen clutchmate’s place.

Koskoca examines some of the captured loot from the command tent more closely. He discovers that the clay base of a bronze statuette actually conceals a hunk of silver, hidden there when someone apparently used magic to hide it beneath the clay. He alerts the others and the group decides to wait until they meet up with Garrick again, so he can get the best price for their loot.

They head north to Fort Butcher to check in with Tuga Dai. Ehu elects to remain behind to practice his gladiatorial abilities with Gakka. Koskoca also leaves the braxat chitin with Thorg, Kled’s armourer, along with a down-payment to fund the creation of a suit of superior shell armour.

After a brief encounter with Jengi and Fanan (who are not paying as much attention to their lookout duties as they should), the group arrive at the ruined fortress and are ushered into an audience with the haughty chieftain.

Tuga Dai is pleased at their progress. When he examines the captured maps and documents, he realises that the rumours are true – Hamanu is indeed marching on Tyr, intent on capturing its iron mine. If Hamanu controls both the obsidian trade from Smoking Crown and Tyr’s iron mine, then Urik’s armies will become a force that few can stand against.

At Boaku’s suggestion, Tuga Dai elects to send a message to Tyr, offering the aid of the Jura Dai against the forces of Urik – in return for a share in Tyr’s iron trade. Our heroes agree to take his message to the ruler of Tyr. This, Tuga Dai says, will discharge all their debts to him.

To sweeten the deal, Boaku gives Tuga Dai the brain of the braxat, which she has extracted and pickled. Tuga Dai can barely contain his hunger at this delicacy. As a show of generosity, he agrees to release Akvo from his captivity. Tuga Dai also sends his niece, Jaliqai, with the group to represent his interests.

The group head back south, via Kled. Akvo remains in Kled to deal with a variety of issues (he keeps mumbling something about a mekillot howdah). Jaliqai can barely conceal her contempt at the group’s generally poor desert skills, and our heroes enjoy some colourful banter as they work their way south towards the Iron Road.

Jaliqai persuades the group not to continue slogging southwards through the sands, and instead suggests an alternate route that takes them through a swathe of stony barrens and thence through a hidden canyon that pierces the northern walls of the Tyr valley. Following her lead, they emerge from the canyon onto the Iron Road, only two dozen miles from Tyr. They rest, hunt, and prepare for their arrival in the city the following day.

Heading up the Tyr valley, it becomes clear that not all is well. The air is thick with wind-borne dust and sand, but it is thick with smoke as well. Somewhere to the north of the road, a fire rages out of control. Drawing nearer to the city, our heroes spot abandoned guard posts, a merchant caravan seemingly slaughtered by bandits, bodies by the roadside, crodlu roaming free in untended fields. Hamanu may not need to send his army against Tyr – from all appearances, the city is already dying.

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The group arrive at Caravan Gate just after midnight. The great agafari gates hang open, untended. A burned-out argosy stands to one side, a half-giant guard dead in the road beside it. Our heroes enter Tyr, filled with apprehension. A few doors down, on Caravan Way, light spills into the street from a tavern. The sounds of shouting and screaming echo from deeper in the city.

Entering the tavern to find out more, the group see that only a few folk are drinking here at a time when the taproom should be bustling. In addition to Yoxley, the dwarven proprietor, also present are the merchant Haulik and his long-suffering wife Besma, an AWOL Jura Dai raider called Saltu, and an off-duty lieutenant of the city watch called Zalcor.

From them our heroes learn that Tithian has fled Tyr, driven out by the Council of Advisors and a truly outrageous rumour campaign involving secrets purloined from Kalak’s vault, dragons, floating heads, and other nonsense. Now bereft of a clear ruler, Tyr is gripped by food shortages, riots, lawlessness and more.

The conversation is interrupted by the arrival of a pair of men in tattered black robes. Both are sporting injuries and both seem in a state of high agitation. They hurtle into the tavern, slam the doors behind them, and proceed to barricade them with furniture. Moments later, the sound of a raging mob fills the street outside. Fists hammer on the doors and walls, and voices call for the templars to come out and face justice.

The templars – Erradus and his junior officer Kerig – beg for sanctuary in the tavern, but their pleas meet a mixed reception. Zalcor, Yoxley and Saltu are all for giving them aid, hiding them here until the City Watch arrives to deal with the mob outside, but Haulik and Besma want to turn them over to the mob. Opinions are similarly divided among our heroes.

While the argument rages, Tik-Tik takes matter (and the templars) into his own hands, er, claws. He grabs both by their hair and is about to behead them with his twin kyorkchas, when Zalcor draws a steel longsword and levels it at the kreen, demanding that he unhand the templars. To Zalcor’s surprise, Tik-Tik complies.

While the mob outside bay for blood and call for oil to burn the tavern to the ground, the group decide to flee. With the alley behind the tavern likewise full of rioters, they elect to try to reach the roof and escape that way. They head upstairs where Koskoca finds a large plank of wood and uses it to smash a hole in the ceiling so that they can get onto the roof. Yoxley is aghast at this, insisting that damage to the inn will cause him to become a banshee, but Koskoca promises to return and help him repair the building later.

At that moment, the back to the tavern burst open and rioters come surging in through the kitchen. Koskoca redoubles his efforts, and Boaku fills the stairwell with magical darkness. It slows the rioters down for only a few moments – seconds later, a half-giant and four thugs come barrelling up the stairs. Battle is joined.

Ik’hariss tries to shape the stone of the landing to block the stairway and pitch the half-giant off his feet, but a pair of sword blows from the thugs disrupt his spell. Tik-Tik battles the half-giant, taking several brutal injuries. Jaliqai grabs hold of Kerig and throws him down the stairwell, into the hands of the rioters. Kerig’s death echoes up the stairs to her ears.

Koskoca manages to finish breaking a hole in the ceiling and hurls Erradus through it and onto the roof. While the battle continues in the hallway, Jaliqai follows Erradus onto the roof, seeing him staring down at the front of the tavern. Before anyone else can join her, Jaliqai runs up behind Erradus and pushes him off the building.

Erradus falls two stories and smashes into the street below, badly injuring his shoulder. It is the least of his worries. The mob engulfs him and he dies a horrific death, torn limb from limb. Further down the street, two more half-giants are now drawing near, each hefting a huge barrel of oil under each arm.

In the upper hallway, Tik-Tik, determined not to succumb, slaughters the half-giant and the thugs in a flurry of gythka blows, while the others start throwing the bodies down the stairs, along with whatever furniture they can find. From below comes the sound of lieutenant Zalcor making meat of the rioters, while another half-giant tries to clamber up the stairs.

Koskoca clambers up onto the roof, discovering that Jaliqai is up there alone and there is no sign of templar Erradus. ”What have you done?” Koskoca demands. Without waiting for an answer, he grabs hold of Jaliqai and hurls her off the roof.

Jaliqai manages to snatch hold of the tavern’s signpost, swings, and somersaults so that she is balanced precariously atop it. Then, in a stunning display of elven agility, she leaps clear across Caravan Way and lands atop the roof of the building opposite. From its signage, she guesses it to be a weapons store. Opportunity beckons.

The others clamber through the hole and onto the tavern roof. Seeing the half-giants approaching with barrels of oil, Tik-Tik and Ik’hariss go on the offensive. Tik-Tik destroys two of the barrels with a pair of well-placed kyorkchas, flooding the street with oil and drenching the half-giants. Then Ik’hariss hurls a molten bolt of magma into the oil.

The resulting inferno is wondrous to behold.

Atop the weapon store, Jaliqai runs to the back of the building and swings in through an open window. She lands in a small, dark bedroom, her arrival waking the shop’s proprietor from sleep. Jaliqai tries to explain that the proprietor – a mul called Grik – needs to flee as fires are growing in the street outside. Grik is unconvinced, taking her for a common thief. He produces a startlingly large steel longsword from beneath his bed and promises to make Jaliqai very sorry for her intrusion.

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With flames now threatening the tavern and other buildings on Caravan Way, there comes the sound of the City Watch arriving on the scene. Our heroes decide to make their getaway and, one by one, leap across the alley behind the tavern and start fleeing across the rooftops, deeper into the city. A half-giant briefly appears on the tavern roof, but Koskoca tears him a new one with a zerka, and he soon disappears back into the burning building.

Across Caravan Way, Jaliqai tries to disarm Grik, but finds that the mul shop-owner is a former gladiator of considerable skill. He impales Jaliqai on his steel blade, and she falls, her life darkening the floor of his bedroom.

Elsewhere, our heroes race across the rooftops, away from the conflagration. Tyr welcomes them, as only she can – with darkness and silence. Perhaps tomorrow they will be able to locate the Council of Advisors and deliver Tuga Dai’s message.

Jaliqai comes to her senses, water splashing across her face. She is tied to a chair in a small dark room, a filthy gag in her mouth. Opposite her stands Grik. Beside him is the ugliest dwarf Jaliqai has ever seen, hopping excitedly from one foot to the other, an awful grin on his face. Grik removes Jaliqai’s gag.

“Now,” he says. “You, me and Murd here are going to have a nice, long talk…”

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Book Two, Chapter Three: "A Little Knowledge"
9th to 26th Thaumast, Year of Priest's Defiance

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Part I

Our heroes head to Kled in the company of Kollus, Marista and To-gahl (the former two humans, the latter a dwarf). Arvos departs, returning to his tribe, but introduces the others to a tribemate of his, Boaku. They purchase riding crodlu and a pair of inixes, appropriate supplies, and set off.

They reach the Canyon of Guthay on the first day, and see signs of battle between Tyrian and Urikite forces on the far side. The next day they head along the Iron Road to Tyr, and pass by fifteen Jura Dai warriors impaled by the roadside. High overhead, a curious ribbon-like shape seems to follow them. None know what it means.

They discover that evening when it is revealed to be a silk wyrm. It attacks their camp, attempting to steal their water. Although the group loses a good deal of water, they are able to kill the creature and harvest chitin and ivory from its body.

On the third day, the group leave the road and strike out north across the desert towards Kled. The temperature rises and they realise they are running low on water. They hunker down during the daytime heat, but are discovered by a scouting party of four gith.

There is a brief, brutal fight. Three of the gith soon lie dead, but the fourth is able to flee. Our heroes gird their loins, knowing that the scout will doubtless bring word of their presence to his tribe. No attack comes that day, however, and the group press on during the night.

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It comes during the hottest part of the next day. A dozen gith warriors swarm the camp and our heroes are soon fighting for their lives. To-gahl is slain and several of the gith steal crodlu before disappearing back into the desert.

The fifth day is a desperate slog through the desert. Low on water, with dehydration setting in, our heroes know they have a gith warband on their tails and have not seen the last of them. Sure enough, another gith raiding party strikes at midday and now the group knows to flee. Kollus dies to cover their flight, and it is not until the group has put some distance between themselves and the gith that they realise Marista has been fatally injured as well.

With all three of their supposed employers dead, the group debate whether they should continue towards Kled. Yet, with the gith still in pursuit and no other settlement nearby, it is their only option either way. They spend one more night huddled in fear before pressing on to Kled in the morning.

A handful of miles from Kled, they pass its oasis. One of the mekillots from the House Resherek caravan is there, dead from drinking the water. It is immediately clear that Kollus, Marista and To-gahl were not exaggerating when they described the poisoned state of the oasis.

The group presses on. Battered, dehydrated and near death, after half a ragged day of riding through the desert, looking back over their shoulders, our heroes arrive at the dwarven village.

Part II

The group is welcomed in Kled. The dwarves hear the sad tale of how Kollus, Marista and To-gahl fell. Kled’s elder, Lyanius, explains how elves of the Jura Dai tribe poisoned their oasis and kidnapped their druid in retaliation for the dwarves allowing Urikite forces to water there. Lyanius stresses that the dwarves didn’t have any choice, but the Jura Dai have sworn vengeance on Urik and aren’t disposed to listen to reason.

With only three weeks’ food and water left, Kled is in dire straits. If the group agree to rescue their druid from the Jura Dai elves, Lyanius promises to give them the fabled Sword of Kemalok. The group agree to help.

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The next day, the dwarves hold a celebration in honour of our heroes. Ehu is invited to battle alongside a local gladiator against a captive giant scorpion. An escaped gladiator from Tyr, Gakka seems like she would be a worthy companion, so Ehu gladly agrees.

Ehu and Gakka engage in a furious melee with the scorpion in Kled’s small arena, while the townsfolk cheer them on. At the height of the bout, however, a horrendous scream drags the spectators’ attention elsewhere.

To-gahl’s banshee has appeared in Kled. Driven to undeath by failing to complete his task of finding help for Kled, he now returns to haunt his former kin. Lyanius confronts him, trying to explain that help has arrived, but the madness of undeath has claimed To-gahl, and he unleashes his psychic hatred against his former elder. Lyanius perishes.

By now our heroes have sprung into action. They attack and dismember the banshee. Lyanius’ successor – Barunus – calls for a council. After meeting with his fellows, Barunus asks the group if they still intend to honour their agreement with Lyanius. He makes it clear, however, that the Sword of Kemalok is not up for grabs. Instead, each person who helps rescue the druid will receive 10 gold pieces.

The group agree and state that they will head out to rescue the druid in a few days, once they have recovered from their recent trials. While the others recover and shop in Kled, Akvo heads back to the oasis to recover as much water as he can (using the mekillot). This he will purify, giving the village a few more days’ respite.

At the oasis, a group of dwarven children gather to watch. One of them is grabbed by a kluzd serpent and only swift action saves the child’s life. Akvo returns to Kled with the water and sets about purifying it.

After a few days, the group heads towards the ruined fortress that the Jura Dai call home. En route they encounter Fanan, a supposed lookout for the tribe. Fanan flees and shortly afterwards, the group encounter another of the Jura Dai – a young woman called Jengi. Jengi has been attacked by gith while tending her kanks and our heroes swiftly come to her rescue.

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In conversation with Jengi, it becomes clear that she is the daughter of Tuga Dai, chieftain of the tribe. Perhaps the group can use this connection to their advantage? They offer to escort Jengi back to the tribe – she agrees and they set off.

Arriving at the ruined fortress, Jengi introduces her saviours to her father. Tuga Dai is initially reluctant to free the druid, claiming that the dwarves are friends of Urik. Our heroes persuade him otherwise, and say that they might be willing to help him against the Urikities. Mollified, Tuga Dai agrees to their offer and orders the release of the druid of Kled.

The druid turns out to be a thri-kreen called T’klick’chik, who is enraged at his captivity and has no intention of making any deals with anyone. At the first opportunity he gets, T’klick’chik intends to eats Tuga Dai’s head. Tik-Tik manages to talk him out of it. Instead, he suggests, they should bargain with the elves – then return in a year and murder them all. The druid agrees.

After some tense negotiations – during which Akvo offers himself as a hostage to win the chieftain’s trust – Tuga Dai agrees that our heroes can depart, and the druid with them, on the condition that they lend aid to the Jura Dai against the forces of Urik.

Left with few alternatives, the group agrees to this compromise and returns to Kled. There, the druid restores the oasis to its natural state and Kled honours our heroes for their accomplishments. For them, of course, this is only a beginning…

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Book Two, Chapter Two: "Silver Spring"
3rd to 8th Thaumast, Year of Priest's Defiance

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Our heroes depart the wreckage of Banneker’s camp, deciding to head for Silver Spring. They take several of Banneker’s kanks and much of his loot, and set off south along the Great Road. En route, they make use of a merchant campsite, but as they are preparing to settle down for the day, they spot a group of crodlu riders heading south along the road.

Investigation reveals that these are scouts bearing the standard of Urik. All to aware they have escaped from (and murdered the staff of) an Urikite caravan, our heroes decide to do the sensible thing. They ambush the scouts and slaughter them all. And their crodlu. The battle over, the group decide to avoid further campsites, and press on southwards.

From now on, they sleep rough, choosing gullies, outcrops, and secluded hideaways to conceal their presence from the road. One makeshift campsite proves ill-chosen, however. The seemingly-innocuous cacti at the rear of their chosen gully are anything but. Well, one of them is. The cactus in question turns out to be an intelligent, malicious and highly aggressive strain, known as a hunting cactus.

The creature is a psionic horror, possessing several potent psychic attacks, as well as poisonous spines – which it obligingly fires at its prey. It then tries to dissolve those paralysed by the poison. Naturally, our heroes do not take this affront lying down (apart from those who are, in fact, paralysed). After a tough fight – and with much of the group incapacitated – Tik-Tik is finally able to drive the thing off. The hunting cactus limps away, leaving the group to tend to their injuries.

The group finally reach Silver Spring and negotiate entry at the usual price – a silver piece for every head (kanks included). Many of the kanks are badly dehydrated from the journey, but Garrick manages to sell them to an elf called Yazzo for a remarkable profit. Yazzo is not best pleased when he realises the true condition of the kanks, but – as an elf – he can hardly complain. Well, not for very long, anyway.

Garrick splits the taking from the kanks and sells off the rest of the group’s loot from their adventures in the desert, then shopping ensues. Perhaps most notably, Akvo buys the Bone Bow of Falloth from an elven trader (it is assuredly a weapon of legend), and Arvos buys an amulet bearing a image of the Dragon’s head from a half-elf called Kria. On the reverse of the amulet are words that Arvos cannot read.

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That night, at the oasis, our heroes are approached by a trio of strangers – Marista, Kollus and To-gahl.

The former two are escaped human slaves, but the latter is a dwarf. To-gahl says that they are from the dwarven settlement of Kled and are looking to hire a reliable group to help them deal with a problem. Namely, their druid has been kidnapped and they want him rescued. If the group will come back to Kled with them, the village elders will surely offer them riches for their aid.

Our heroes agree to accompany them to Kled to discuss the matter further…

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Book Two, Chapter One: "The Year of Priest's Defiance"
1st to 2nd Thaumast, Year of Priest's Defiance

Part I

As Assalia week ends in the Year of Priest’s Defiance, a House Resherek armoured caravan lumbers south from Urik. In its slave hold, four souls languish in captivity: Tik-Tik, Vanos, Arvos and Ehu. The journey is not without its small mercies – a halfling water-master called Akvo is kind and generous, and merchant called Garrick also seems a decent sort.

The argosy departs the road. Before any of the slaves can wheedle an explanation for this from their guards, the argosy is attacked by a megapede. It tears the caravan to pieces, along with anyone foolish enough to get in its way. The slaves flee.

After a short while, with the argosy in ruins and most of its crew dead or scattered, the slaves return to the argosy and loot it of supplies. They join forces with Akvo in the process. Searching the cabin of Captain Weom, they find a map. It indicates that the argosy was taking a detour to a specific spot at the edge of the Great Alluvial Sand Wastes. The group decide to head there.

They are accompanied by a trio of Resherek employees – not slavers, but two kitchen staff called Lebak and Situ, and the trader Garrick – who seek safety in greater numbers. Garrick explains that he was forced to serve House Resherek in order to protect his family from their threats.

En route to the spot marked on the map, they notice that others are hurrying ahead of them – Captain Weom and a handful of his men. Weom has survived the encounter with the megapede and hurried to his apparent destination. The group follow them and see that the spot marked on the map is an ancient monolith.

They listen in on Weom and his men and learn that the Resherek slavers are here to meet someone. But Weom’s men are concerned about their lack of supplies, so Weom agrees to take a small group back to the argosy to gather what they can from its wreckage.

Our heroes lie in wait for this group, then charge from hiding and slaughter Weom and his men. They hurry back to the monolith and similarly murder the guards left behind there. Examining the monolith, the group discover strange, swirling markings across its surface.

Akvo deciphers the markings, discovering them to be an incantation to elemental water – his patron element. He reads the runes and an enormous ruined temple rises out of the sands before them. It has clearly been buried for millennia, raised from its sandy tomb by the monolith’s prayer. As our heroes stare in wonder, grass flourishes to life before its doors, spreading into a verdant carpet under the moons.

They enter and explore the ruined temple. From the strange carvings and images on the walls, they realise that it is from a time when Athas looked very different. Clearly this place hailed from an Athas where water was abundant, and worshipped en masse for its glory.

Deep in the temple’s heart, they discover an enchanted cistern containing a captive water elemental. Akvo manages rudimentary communication with the creature – it is immediately clear that the creature has been driven insane by its millennia of captivity. It begs for freedom and Akvo begins searching for a way to liberate the elemental.

Just then, a voice calls out from outside the temple. The group investigate and see that a large band of warriors are arrayed in force outside the temple. Presumably these are the people Weom was going to meet. The warrior’s leader –mounted atop a mekillot – introduces himself as Banneker… and demands the group’s surrender.

Part II

Our heroes tell Banneker where he can stick his demands. Banneker sends his lieutenant, a mul called Hurk, to negotiate a settlement with the group. Hurk fails miserably at the task and is met only with some rather unkind derision. It is clear that there can be only one outcome – a fight. Which is, of course, what happens. Banneker sends his raiders charging forward to take the mortuary by force.

It is a hard-fought struggle. During the battle, Banneker reveals himself to be a defiler and draws swift energy from the temple’s grasses to smite his foes. The verdant carpet that sprang to life here only minutes before now turns to ash under Athas’ uncaring moons. Hurk proves himself a better combatant than negotiator, and his half-giant companion Graddle is northing short of a lumbering mound of murder. But against them and their warriors, our escaped slaves prevail.

Graddle is blinded by magic and reduced to flailing ineffectually about the battlefield. Hurk finds himself pinned down by missile fire before being finished off in a stealth-kill by Vanos. Banneker is slain atop his mekillot in mid-spell when Tik-Tik leaps 30 feet through the air and guts the defiler in his howdah. Now uncontrolled, the mekillot rampages into the temple, toppling its pillars and attempting to eat anything it sees.

Sensing an opportunity, Akvo catches Graddle’s attention and lures the blind half-giant into the temple’s heart, drawing him nearer and nearer to the chamber where the elemental is held captive. The enraged half-giant follows and Akvo backs away until he is standing right in front of the cistern. As Graddle swings for the Halfling, Akvo leaps aside – and Graddle hits the cistern instead.

The cistern breaks and the ancient elemental surges forth in a surge of sentient water. Akvo scrambles to safety through a hole in the ceiling, as the temple is flattened behind him. The mekillot is hurled three hundred yards through the air on a water-spout, then smashes into a distant dune, perishing. There is a rainbow. Graddle, miraculously, survives the encounter.

With the battle over, the group lick their wounds. Graddle, once his blindness ends, seems to want to join them and our heroes agree. They explore deeper into the ruin and discover a shrine. Unfortunately, its denizens have become undead – corporeal and wraithly alike. Our heroes snag a small amount of loot and flee. To their relief, the undead do not emerge from the ruins of the mortuary.

They ask Graddle to tell them where Banneker’s main camp was, and the half-giant happily obliges, revealing that it lies in a box canyon a few miles north of here. He doesn’t know what Banneker was planning to do at the mortuary, though. Our heroes head north and discover that the camp is manned by a skeleton crew of warriors. They creep along the canyon walls, taking out the sentries one by one, then race down into the camp itself and slaughter everyone present in a truly horrifying display of martial brutality. Against this surprise attack, the handful of warriors left to guard the camp have no hope whatsoever.

Arvos is able to retrieve Banneker’s spell books (in the form of fire-blackened skulls hanging inside his tent), but Akvo spots him. Although Akvo agrees to keep the discovery secret, it raises tensions between the halfling and the elf. Further tensions flare that evening around the campfire, when Akvo tries to raise the matter of building a working relationship with the group. Ehu tells him that he can pitch in with them as an equal, or not at all – nobody is paying for anyone else’s services here.

With uncertainty and resentment simmering between them, the group depart Banneker’s campsite, heading south for Silver Spring.

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Book One, Chapter Six: "The Road to Urik"
Assalia week, Year of Priest's Defiance

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Part I

The Council of Advisors meets with over 400 deputies in session. Tithian announces that his agents have brought news of war – the Lion of Urik is launching an invasion of Tyr, demanding control of the iron mines. Tithian appoints Rikus, Styan and Jaseela as the commanders of the Tyrian army and orders them to organise the defence of the city.

Sadira comes to the Lepidoptery and invites our heroes to a meeting with an anonymous member of the Templarate Bureau of Security. This agent explains the fractured political situation in Tyr and asks the group to help bring the various noble factions to order. Both House Tyrthani and House Minthur are causing trouble. He also notes that Councillor Turlow has been accusing House Valex and the merchants’ block of war profiteering. He adds that two members of Rikus’ Crimson Legion killed a craftsman in a drunken brawl outside the Sandstone Inn last night. The city simmers.

Barak demands payment for the group’s help. Their contact promises them a share from the iron treasury but Barak obtains additional payment up-front. The group agrees and each receives the Black Shield – emblem of the Bureau’s authority.

They head to the Tyrthani estate. Sûn gathers info on the Tyrthani as possible blackmail fuel and learns that questions are occasionally raised about the nature of the relationship between Vildeen Tyrthani and his manservant Hanfros. They are at first refused entry but the Black Shield soon changes that. Our heroes interrupt an evening soiree and are able to obtain an audience with Vildeen. His demeanour rapidly changes from amused civility to furious outrage and he and the party lock horns.

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Vildeen is clearly an arrogant racist who has little time for the pterran, elf, kreen and half-giant who stand before him. He demands enough steel to forge a hundred shortswords (around 10,000 ceramics, by the way) and sends the group away. Tik-Tik remains behind briefly, trying to make Vildeen see the sense of unity in the face of war. Before the senator can allow himself to agree, however, he retorts by hinting that it is Tik-Tik who should be wary, for forces already mobilise against him and his allies.

From there the group heads to the Minthur estate. After a short altercation with the gate guards, they are told that Trevalis Minthur will not see them and that they must meet his son Verrassi instead, at the newly renamed Kalak’s Demise in town. Our heroes grudgingly agree and hatch a plot to kidnap Verrassi as a way to coerce his father into cooperating.

At the inn, they buy off the bartender and await Verrassi’s arrival. He eventually puts in an appearance, along with two guardsmen, and gets down to business. Essentially, he wants the group to hit the holdings of house Minthur’s rival, House Freydlav in return for support from House Minthur. Ostensibly the group agrees and, after a little brow-beating, allow Verrassi to leave.

Departing the wineshop, they are approached by a junior templar called Hasaval, who says he has been looking for their very group. He brings word that the templars are demanding to choose their own leader over Styan, and have apparently selected a senior templar called Girias. The group agrees to meet him at noon the next day to discuss the matter further.

They head to the Asticles townhouse for discussions with Agis. He is surprised to learn that they have been co-opted by the Bureau of Security and is clearly shocked to see the Black Shields. Tik-Tik suggests coercing the heads of the various factions into finding common ground. Agis agrees that this would be an ideal solution but doubts that the nobles would agree to such a thing, literally considering themselves above such things anyway. Despite their desires to approach it reasonably and logically, all grudgingly accept that violence may well be the only way to bring the factions in line. The city has deteriorated to the point where nothing else will get through as it needs to.

Agis also tells them that he has heard rumours that a call will be made tomorrow for an investigation into Kalak’s death. A lobby of senators are using this as an excuse to broker for power, but it is nevertheless a serious issue. He recommends that our heroes attend, first thing in the morning.

In the meantime, the group decides that hard action is warranted, and immediately they gird their loins and turn the tables on the Minthur family. In a well-planned and executed covert strike, they destroy two thirds of the Minthur grain store, burn half of their grain fields to the ground, level half of the grain workshops and kill eight of the Minthur house guards. During the battle, however, Iishtar is scratched in the leg.

The victors retire to the Red Kank for a night of celebration and spend a few silver pieces on taking the roof terrace for themselves. They feast on broy and scuppernong, kip skewers and erdlu eggs, and Tik-Tik arranges for a roast to be prepared from the Red Kank’s best stock. From the rooftop they toast their accomplishments and watch the Minthur estates burn.

In the morning, they attend the council meeting. Councillor Turax indeed calls for an investigation into Kalak’s regicide and is supported by almost half of the assemblage. Tithian calls a recess and he, Agis and Sadira meet with our heroes. Turax has called for the involvement of the Veiled Alliance to be uncovered – it is made eminently clear that there is no way that this can be allowed. Even with Kalak gone, the Alliance is still, technically speaking, a criminal organisation, and one that would make an easy target were it or its members exposed. A scapegoat must be found. Agis can barely contemplate the idea but concurs that the Alliance must remain hidden. Tithian agrees and appoints our heroes as the investigators.

They ask him whom he would like removed as a scapegoat and the king suggests Dote Mal Payne. The necromant has apparently returned from death and absconded from beneath the Golden Tower with a number of Tithian’s personal possessions. The group mentions that they have some of Mal Payne’s possessions, taken from him in the Golden Tower and Tithian states that these can be used to locate him. He orders the investigators to accompany him to the Golden Tower, but tells Agis and Sadira that they cannot come, for this is for his templars only.

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In the heart of the Golden Tower, the group is introduced to a pair of floating, dismembered heads. To their horror, both heads seem alive – or undead – and able to communicate. Tithian introduces them as Sacha and Wyan. These two lick the dust from one of Mal Payne’s items and with it decide that he is lairing in UnderTyr. The investigators seem little fazed by this, stating that they have been into UnderTyr before. Wyan tells them that Mal Payne is lairing in the area known as the Tembo’s Teeth and matters suddenly seem far less certain.

And then the heads begin to taunt Tithian, freely deriding him and making dark allusions to Tithian’s activities in the Tower. Growing increasingly uncomfortable, Tithian declares the audience at an end. As our heroes leave, they hear the heads again taunting Tithian, ridiculing him for thinking that he could kill a Champion and get away with it. “The Champions of the Warbringer can never die,” Wyan reminds him – which is where the group leaves him, a lost king on a worthless throne.

Part II

The day wears on and brings new arrivals to Tyr and a return for one long lost. Jenath Sammoxa and her saviour Ildriss Silverhand join the shuffling lines of those seeking entry through Caravan Gate. Jenath’s Urikite accent draws unfriendly attention but her name is known in town and she is admitted. Ildriss’ leopard companion raises more eyebrows – and a 5 silver gate toll – as the druid accompanies her through the gate. They make their way immediately to the Lepidoptery and Jenath is reunited with friends and family alike.

Sûn investigates rumours about the Tembo’s Teeth and Tik-Tik accompanies Reev to the market at Shadow Square, seeking some simple alchemical healing salves for Jenath. Jenath and Ildriss acquaint themselves with the others at the Lepidoptery while Paamell continues with her design and sculpture work on the building itself. Barak counts the money sent by Tithian. The meeting with Hasaval and Girias goes unattended.

At Shadow Square, Tik-Tik and Reev avail themselves of elven generosity and obtain some salves, ointments and one or two minor alchemical trinkets. Tik-Tik inquires about possible buyers for spell components and the Clearwater elf, already uncomfortable about openly dealing with a kreen, declares the transactions over. Reev returns to the Lepidoptery and Tik-Tik decides to seek out Ruhola Fireshaper and her father Faenaeyon down by the Elven Bridge. He cuts through the Bard’s Quarter to reach the Bridge and comes under attack from a cloaked figure on a rooftop above.

Tik-Tik is struck by a number of feathered darts, and feels poison flood his system. While he struggles to keep his bearings, a net envelops him from above and his attacker drops into the alleyway, moving in for the kill. Tik-Tik struggles to burst free of the net but its giant hair construction is beyond even him. In desperation he smashes a vial of his newly-purchased alchemist’s fire onto the ground and braces himself. White flames flare up around the combatants and the net catches fire. Wasting no time at all, Tik-Tik bursts free from his fiery prison and confronts his attacker. He catches a brief glimpse of the emblem of House Minthur as the would-be assassin slashes at him with a steel blade and then turns to flee.

Tik-Tik pounces on him and together they sprawl from the alleyway and onto the slopes of the dried riverbank by the Elven Bridge. Now slick with his own blood, the assassin wriggles loose and tries to disappear into the crowd, but to no avail. Tik-Tik is upon him in seconds and disembowels the hapless soul in a flurry of thri-cho mastery. While the crowd parts around him, he literally stumbles into Faenaeyon’s tent, dragging the corpse behind him and collapses. He comes to a little later, thanks to Ruhola’s ministrations, and cuts some attractive bargains with Faenaeyon, trading a variety of body parts and spell components for more elven healing – this time in the form of three real potions in real glass vials, apparently looted from the ruins of Kalidnay. Then, shouldering the body, Tik-Tik heads back to the Lepidoptery.

There the others are already deep in discussion about how to tackle Dote Mal Payne, or even whether to tackle him at all. It slowly dawns on them that they have been openly discussing all of this in the company of relative stranger Ildriss. Sûn relishes the moment, informing the Silver Hand elf that he is now duty-bound to join them, or die. Reev asks Sun if they need to start hitting him again and the pterran settles down somewhat as they welcome Ildriss to the conspiracy. Barak continues to count the money, briefly pausing to administer an anti-toxin to Tik-Tik and Ildriss’ leopard is permitted to devour the corpse of the assassin in the back hallway.

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The debate swings one way and the other, with the group coming to the realisation that Tithian and the heads may well be sending them into UnderTyr to meet their deaths. The plan begins to change towards laying the blame where it belongs – with Tithian – and on devising methods to cajole or coerce the King into accepting this turn of events. They ponder the true nature of Sacha and Wyan, and the meaning of their final words to Tithian. Tik-Tik suggests that Agis might prove a valuable ally in reaching Tithian in whatever way is decided upon.

A growing murmur in the street builds until the group can ignore it no more, too incongruous with the usual night-sounds of Caravan Way does it become. They investigate and find that Councillor Turlow stands atop a wagon that is blockading the entrance to the House Valex compound further down the Way. Turlow harangues a group of angry craftsmen, who are incensed that House Valex appears to be unfairly hiking prices in the face of the coming war. A group of well-armed guards in Valex livery move to intercept (although Sûn surmises from their gear that they are probably irregular mercenaries recently hired by the House) and drag Turlow bodily from the wagon.

Reev leaps into his place and attempts to placate the craftsmen while Tik-Tik leaps to his side. Still groggy from the poison, Tik-Tik times his leap poorly and it more the sight of the two struggling to keep their balance atop the wagon that draws the attention of the crowd than it is any oratory from Reev. It takes a wound from a puchik thrown by Reev to stop the guards in their tracks, however, and as soon as they release the terrified councillor, he hides beneath the wagon. Jenath takes up a position in front of the wagon and the sight of both Sammoxes riled and ready is enough to settle any dissenting voices for the moment.

The crowd is nevertheless extremely unfriendly and seem to believe that Reev and companions are little more than council patsies. With harsh words flying back and forth between all groups present, it is the languid tones of Master Sintha of House Valex himself who brings the proceedings to a close. He calls down from the walls of his compound and orders the guards to admit the PCs and Turlow.

Once within the Valex enclosure, it becomes clear that the House has been hoarding goods, if not profiteering, and hard negotiations are soon underway with Sintha. Reev proposes that Sintha agree to cooperate with the craftsmen in return for trade concessions from the council, Sûn offers to broker deals with other great Houses at attractive rates, and Tik-Tik reminds Sintha that the Bureau of Security could seize all of his assets and throw him in jail forever.

Sintha soon sees the wisdom of this and agrees to donate all of his iron stock to the city and lower his prices, in return for concessions in the iron trade to allow him to compete on an even footing with House Vordon. Turlow promises to lobby for this in the Council and the group departs, content in the satisfaction of having dealt with Turlow, the craftsmen, House Valex and House Tyrthani in a single swoop. Sûn sends message to gladiators to expect the arrival of fresh steel and stays behind to discuss things with Sintha.

Once back at the Lepidoptery, more discussions follow. Realising that Tithian is both delving into Kalak’s old secrets and under the influence of a pair of undead heads, the group decides to nail Tithian and the heads. Ancient undead controlling the king are as much a threat to Tyr as the Lion of the North. They decide to start a rumour campaign to raise the issue of Tithian’s involvement with the undead heads and his interest in Kalak’s lore. This should force the Councillors to demand an investigation of Golden Tower. If possible, our heroes plan to expose Sacha and Wyan and destroy, imprison or drive them off. They also examine the possibility of Killing Tithian or sending him into exile.

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Sûn’s messenger comes back in tears, having been rebuffed at arena. Tik-Tik and Ildriss go to investigate while Sûn goes to the draqoman station after talking with Sintha. Jenath, Reev and Paamell go shopping, and Barak goes to the House of Fingers and buys dragon’s bile poison. On his way back to the Lepidoptery, Sûn overhears a pair of conspirators talking alleyway, with one leaking information to the other on Tyr’s preparations for war. One is Urikite, judging by his accent, and the other is a junior Templar – Sûn follows him to the Golden City, but cannot gain entry. He then continues to the draqoman station, where he begins his campaign of sedition.

At the arena, Tik-Tik and Ildriss come to blows with unruly gladiators keen for battle. Tik-Tik flattens the chief agitator, Quick Wenzer and Ildriss and his cat deal serious damage to Lissan (although Tik-Tik heals her worst injuries with the alchemical paste). They meet with Rikus and inform him that the steel is coming. Rikus reminds Tik-Tik that he must serve in the legion and Tik-Tik replies that he will lead it.

The group then proceed to meet with Agis. He is reluctant to bring any harm to Tithian but agrees that Tithian might be forced or cajoled into exile. With Agis’ agreement, the stage is finally set to dethrone a king.

Part III

Our heroes set up a meeting with Tithian at Crackbone Hollow, offering to cut a deal in return for keeping quiet about him. They plan, of course, to kill him and neutralise Sacha and Wyan. They do not count on the treachery of Barak. He alerts Tithian to the plan, selling his companions out in return for the promise of gold and power once they are dead.

The conspirators bid their farewells to friend and family. Rikus begs Tik-Tik not to go to the meeting with Tithian, insisting that the kreen is needed in the city – Rikus cannot lead the army, so Tik-Tik must. Paamell visits Khalbed, who unexpectedly thanks her for brining much beauty to Tyr. Barak takes his leave of his associates at the House of Fingers, who tell him that he is a dark one, and no mistake. How true their words. And Sûn embraces one of his gutterbeaks, who begs him to hurry back quickly and be safe.

The ambush group heads out to Crackbone Hollow – Barak, Iishtar, Ildriss, Sûn, Paamell and Tik-Tik. They make their preparations and lie in wait for Tithian. When the king comes, they spring their trap – only to discover that Tithian is prepared for them. It isn’t the king at all, but an illusion. And then Tithian’s own ambush squad spring their trap. Led by Torban, captain of the guards, a band of defilers, psionicists and warriors burst from hiding and final battle is joined.

None know how that battle turned out. Some say both sides were slaughtered, each ending the other. The kreen say that Tik-Tik survived, and made a pact with Dragon himself to safeguard the future of Athas. The elves say this is nonsense. They claim that only Barak survived, fleeing the field of his treachery, and returning to the Golden City to claim his reward – where it came in the form of a poisoned blade striking from the shadows, silencing Barak’s lying tongue forever.

And as for Tithian, he flees Tyr in the wake of these events. Somewhere under the dark sun, he rides towards his destiny, Sacha and Wyan at his side, laughing at the follies of those who would dare be heroes.

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Book One, Chapter Five: "Faro Blossom"
12th Octavus, Year of Priest's Defiance

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Paamell is approached by Templar Commander Haarna of the Bureau of Security and offered a commission, if she can maintain the utmost discretion. Haarna requests that Paamell involve her colleagues from the events on Artisan Way if possible, as Haarna apparently has a high regard for their capabilities. Paamell is only able to locate Khárass from the Artisan Way crew but is also accompanied by Iishtar, still coming to terms with his brother’s death and seeking a new path to follow. En route to the rendezvous she bumps into Sûn who smells a profit and decides to tag along. And the less said about Iishtar’s little shopping expedition along the way, the better…

Haarna meets them in a back room at the Golden Inix Inn and lays a simple but quality meal before them – as well as her offer. She states that a former concubine of a Tyrian noble family (who wish to remain nameless) journeyed to Balic upon gaining her freedom. However, this same former concubine has recently been spotted serving as a lowly galley slave on a Balican caravan currently visiting Tyr. It is feared that the concubine was enslaved once more when she reached Balic and the noble family wish her rescued – with the minimum possible fuss.

The group agrees to take the commission and Commander Haarna tells them where to find the Balican caravan (from the ancient House Arostenes), just outside Tyr’s Caravan Gate. After much discussion, our heroes decide to pose as members of a citizen’s action group who wish to symbolically purchase a single slave as part of their campaign to spread freedom throughout the Tablelands. In this manner they hope to be able to acquire the slave (known as Faro Blossom) without raising an undue amount of suspicion.

They make their way along Caravan Way and through the gate as night falls. The Clearwater elves, still in Tyr, have relocated much of their market to outside the city walls (following a spate of arrests by the city’s templars) and it spreads like a sprawling maze about the road into Tyr. Ever the good tribesman, Khárass daubs his face with the colours of the Silt Stalker tribe, the dreaded Jura Dai. His open display of tribal colours draws the attention of a trio of Clearwater toughs, drunk on scuppernong and spoiling for a fight. The drunks get more than they bargained for when they find themselves facing off against a 1,400 pound half-giant into the bargain and the matter does not go beyond a scuffle.

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Arriving at the House Arostenes caravan, our heroes are led by a rather bemused guard to the campfire of the caravan master, young Lord Micksha Arostenes. Intrigued by the curious nature of the offer to buy but a single slave, Micksha agrees. He is initially wary, fearing some plot to spread sedition amongst his chattel but his greed soon gets the better of him. With the idea to fleece these freedom-addled Tyrians in mind, he offers to give them a tour of the argosy, where they may select a slave that suits their tastes, needs or designs. Without further ado our heroes agree to accompany the young lordling.

The argosy is home to several score Arostenes staff and servants, offering cramped quarters at best. Following the description of the slave given by Commander Haarna (a young woman with faro blossom tattoos from ankles to waist and shoulders to wrists), our heroes eventually find her in the galley. Clearly suffering from physical abuse (and suffering from some more when she does not respond swiftly enough to Micksha’s commands), the young woman in question is brought into the open air for inspection.

It is then that matters take an unexpected turn. As our heroes are about to open negotiations with Lord Arostenes, a pair of Balican Templar Knights emerge from the argosy, armed with steel weaponry and questions for the would-be buyers. They probe our conspirators’ cover story and their interest in Faro Blossom but ultimately seem to agree to permit the sale in the name of their sorcerer-king. For the price of 120 ceramic pieces, Faro Blossom is sold to our Tyrian quango.

Mission accomplished, they head back for town and a rendezvous with Commander Haarna at her rooms in the Golden Inix. En route, however, the tide turns when a poisoned dart fired from the tangled maze of the elven market fells Faro Blossom. Before they can respond, our heroes spot the Balican templars and an Arostenes guard mounted on crodlu bearing down upon them.

Khárass catches a glimpse of Faro Blossom’s would-be assassin and gives chase, Sûn hot on his heels. Paamell stands guard over the fallen slave and Iishtar confronts the crodlu riders. The battle is short and brutal. Iishtar is able to fell the Arostenes guard and give the templars a taste of his mettle before templar magics overwhelm them and they are captured.

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Khárass’ elven agility allows him to overtake the cloaked and cowled figure he has been chasing, but it proves an unfortunate move when the fellow unsportingly puts a crossbow bolt through his throat. Sûn, only paces behind, is unable to snag a hold of their enemy, who scales Tyr’s city walls to escape, cape billowing in the chill night airs.

Sûn works what crude healing he can on Khárass and takes him back to his warehouse in the pterran ghetto. He then seeks the aid of a local elven healer, keen to keep away from official channels now that his suspicions have been aroused. Whatever the truth, it seems clear that this case is no mere matter of a wayward courtesan. When the healer arrives, he is less than pleased to realise that he has been called to aid an elf of the Silt Stalker tribe. A Water Hunter himself, he nevertheless agrees to help Khárass – in return for a favour from Sûn at a later date. Khárass’ injuries are restored in good order. Sûn sends one of the gutterbeaks to wait at Caravan Gate and watch for Paamell, Iishtar and Faro Blossom.

Paamell and Iishtar come to their senses in the belly of the argosy, manacled to the wall with Faro Blossom their equally immobile companion. In the shadowy depths of their prison they are interrogated by an anonymous mindbender and from his questions (and Faro Blossom’s curt responses) it becomes clear that the alleged escaped slave is anything but that. Apparently a Tyrian agent of some sort who was captured in Balic and sold into slavery as punishment, Faro Blossom would seem to have been trying to return to Tyr to report to her handler – whomever that may be. The mindbender turns his attention on Paamell and, though psychic torture, is able to compel her to reveal the name of Templar Commander Haarna as the one who sent them after Faro Blossom.

Further interrogation is forestalled, as Iishtar is able to wrench himself loose of his manacles. As their interrogator flees to summon reinforcements, Iishtar frees his fellows and they begin seeking a way out of the argosy. As House Arostenes guards cluster at the narrow entrance to their holding cell, Iishtar decides that the way out is through – and he hammers a hole through a dividing wall into a cargo chamber and then rips up the floor, allowing himself, Paamell and Faro Blossom to drop to safety onto the desert sands beneath.

Dealing brutally with any perimeter guards that stumble across them (Arostenes guards deal 1d8 damage when they are used as missile weapons), our trio slip into the Tyrian night and examine their options. They are about to head back to the Golden Inix when Sûn’s gutterbeak finds them and tells them to head to Sûn’s silo, where Khárass is recovering from a near-fatal encounter with an assassin’s quarrel.

Reunited at the silo, the group has barely a minute to discuss matters and send another gutterbeak to collect Haarna before that same assassin strikes again. Having waited for Faro Blossom to arrive, he now makes his move by dropping an unidentified toxic green dust in through a skylight. While our heroes gag and stumble under the effects of the venom, he slides down a slender rope, somersaulting into battle when Khárass tries to intercept his descent.

The fight is swift, hard and deadly. Khárass finds himself outmatched yet again and, while able to draw blood, is felled yet again by a savage sword-thrust. The assassin makes a dreadful error, however, and allows himself a moment of satisfaction at his victory – only to find that Sûn seizes this opportunity to stick him through the liver from behind. Iishtar steps forward and cleaves the stunned assassin from shoulder to hip, drawing the matter to a sudden and bloody conclusion.

Bandaging Khárass and settling him to recover, our heroes take stock. Faro Blossom identifies the dead assassin as Craybite, a killer-for-hire who caters to the needs of the noble families of the Tablelands. She refuses to speak further about her mission, until Templar Commander Haarna arrives.

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The commander is on the scene within another quarter of an hour. She listens to all reports and congratulates the group on their success. Haarna even goes so far as to reveal more elements of their mission – she states that Faro Blossom was sent to Balic to spy on mighty House Wavir. This great merchant house was believed to have contacts that could provide intelligence on the presence of Balican spies in Tyr and Faro Blossom was to acquire this intelligence and return to Tyr. Captured and sold to the unsuspecting House Arostenes as a galley slave, Faro Blossom’s true identity was apparently known to at least the unknown mindbender aboard the caravan and possibly also to the two Templar Knights.

And Craybite? For whom did he ultimately work? House Wavir, seeking to protect their own secrets? The sorcerer-king of Balic, desirous of the deaths of the enemies of his city? Or some other, as yet unrevealed party? The truth of this matter may never be known – at least, not to our heroes. For now they content themselves with the glow of success and the knowledge that rewards will soon be coming their way.

Templar Commander Haarna indicates that she will be able to smooth the way for the group to acquire a property known as The Lepidoptery. Located just inside Caravan Gate, this abandoned structure will soon be available for sale and Haarna offers to ensure that our heroes receive a good price. Of course, they readily agree. Espionage, murder and corruption, after all, are all high-yield activities in the Free City of Tyr…

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Book One, Chapter Four: "Arcane Shadows"
10th to 25th Octavus, Year of Priest's Defiance

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Part I

With events at the Golden Tower still ringing in their ears, our companions decide to separate and lie low for a while. Plans are made for some of the ensemble to head to Raam, with numerous objectives in mind. Foremost amongst these is the possibility that the Raamin Veiled Alliance has been infiltrated by agents of the Great Vizier, sorceress-queen of Raam. The incursion by Raamin templars into the Golden Tower at the same time as Tyr’s Veiled Alliance was sharing information with Raam’s Alliance is too timely to be coincidence and this connection demands further investigation.

Secondary to this is the fate of renegade preserver Sadira. Guilty of defiling, she has also absconded with Ktandeo’s Cane, for which she is being hunted by vengeful halfling chieftain Nok. Although some amongst Tyr’s Alliance would gladly see her put to death for her crimes, Lord Portharian has urged that she be found and shown the path to redemption, before it is too late. As she was last seen headed east, our heroes have resolved to keep their eyes open for her along the road.

And, of course, there is the opportunity for profit. Sûn has researched the market and suggested that a trade expedition would be the perfect cover for their activities. In close consultation with Erkush the Tall, he composes a cargo and begins lengthy preparations for departure – leaving himself enough time, shall we say, to stop along the way and smell the faro blossom…

Tik-Tik elects to lead a small scouting expedition along the road, a day or so ahead of the others. With him go Ka’Tor, keen to catch up with Sadira for his master and Jenath, skilled and wise in the ways of the open road. Armed with a map that shows the road across the Great Alluvial Sand Wastes, as far as the oasis of Silver Spring, our companions depart.

Passing loitering brigands, and work crews getting started on the various land reforms, the trio leave the verdant belt and approach the edge of the Great Alluvial Sand Wastes. They spend their first night on the road at Fort Skonz, a House Inika outpost and it is here that they encounter T’chet Kree. This gladiator had been heading from Raam to Tyr to participate in the Grand Melee. Arriving several weeks too late (and somewhat overawed by Tik-Tik’s elevated kreen status), T’chet agrees to act as their guide to all things Raamin and joins them on their journey.

The weather is dusty and visibility is poor for many days, making the journey across the Sand Wastes almost a day slower than needed. And when our heroes finally cross the Canyon of Guthay and head into the badlands beyond, they realise that they are being followed. A backwards glance at the canyon shows a solitary diminutive figure staring after them, a long wooden spear cradled in his arms.

Dealing with a hungry silk wyrm (thanks to the unexpected intervention of a weird, black-winged hawk), our heroes finally reach the oasis of Silver Spring. Paying the due silver to gain entry, they prepare for a night amongst the Silver Hand elves and their guests. Jenath learns from the elves at the oasis that Sadira has indeed been through Silver Spring – and she is only about a day ahead.

Heartened by this news, our companions take the Silt Road out of Silver Spring and head eastwards. Their route takes them away from the scattered settlements of the central Tablelands and into the wilderness that surrounds the vast chasm known as Dragon’s Bowl. Along the way, they become certain that they are being followed by one or more halflings – most likely Nok and his band of hunters. Our heroes make camp a few hours’ ride from Shazlim, a small settlement not far from the rim of the Bowl.

The night does not pass without incident. A pair of barbed scorpions – monstrous beasts a dozen feet in length – happen across their campsite. A ferocious battle breaks out and once more beasts unexpectedly come to the group’s aid –this time a swarm of vicious stinging insects that helps lay the scorpions low. As our companions lick their wounds and decide how to proceed, they begin to realise that more than one arcane shadow has cast itself across their path.

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Part II

Back in the city-state of Tyr, Elise becomes fed up with Sûn’s delays and departs for Raam without him, trusting to her skills and speed to allow her to catch up with her companions. As she leaves the city, her brother Gunth rides out to meet her and confronts her over her presence in the Golden Tower. Accusing her of bringing shame of the Hargrove family, he virtually demands that she present herself to their father upon her return from Raam. Paying him no further heed, Elise rides flat out for two days, passes by Silver Spring in a cloud of swirling dust, and meets the others near their campsite.

As for the others, they are breaking camp. Ka’Tor is recovering from an early morning tangle with a bloodsucking rock cactus, and it is Jenath who greets Elise on the road. At first the two women face each other with bared blades – neither knows who the other is. But Jenath’s companions soon introduce Elise, and their momentary confrontation is soon resolved.

The group continues onwards to Raam. They decide to stop and shop at the House Inika trade village of Shazlim, where they spend the evening getting to know the locals. They learn that Sadira was here only hours previously, talking about exploring the Dragon’s Bowl. Elise, Jenath and the kreen investigate a ruined tower nearby and discover that Sadira is still camped there, having given up on her plans to explore the Bowl for want of resources. They persuade her to return to Shazlim, arguing that her path and theirs need not cross as enemies.

Sadira is somewhat bemused to learn that the group has come to “save her” from herself but is open to frank discussion nevertheless. During the conversation, our heroes hear their first rumours that Korgunard, a legendary preserver, is in the area. Further decisions are forestalled when midnight brings an attack by Nok and his halflings. Our heroes are assisted in battle once more by the eerie black-haired monkey that aided them in the slave pits of Tyr. The fight rages, spilling over into the village of Shazlim. The group is able to take Nok captive, but Shazlim burns and the victors flee, narrowly avoiding pursuit by a mob of hostile villagers.

They move back to the ruined tower and confront Sadira with the problems that she has caused. She seems to begin to understand the larger consequences of her actions and Nok and our heroes come to an agreement. Sadira gives Ktandeo’s Cane to Jenath and Nok agrees that Jenath can keep it safe but that the PCs must come to the Forest Ridge to be judged by the Last Tree if they wish to keep it. He leaves, taking the Heartwood Spear with him.

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Part III

The next morning, the group explore the ruined tower. They find a hidden basement with silver and metal weaponry, watched over by an monstrous obsidian spider. When a gleaming battleaxe is removed from its shelf, the spider attacks, dealing dreadful injuries to all it strikes and unleashing magical blasts from its crystalline eyes. Ka’Tor reveals himself to be a wizard when he hurls a fireball at the monstrosity. He also summons supernatural aid – none other than Bob the Cosmic Monkey and the black-winged hawk, who have provided aid so often to our heroes.

Taking the battleaxe – the only loot they are able to snatch and also the only weapon capable of damaging the creature, the group lock the obsidian spider in the basement and flee, vowing to return to claim the remainder of the treasure another day.

They arrive at Raam and are greeted by members of the local Veiled AllianceBarak and Elentha. These two claim that the group is expected by Korgunard and so they head to a secret meeting of the Raamin Veiled Alliance in the cellars of the Crematorium. Although some senior Alliance figures are absent and there is some suspicion as to our heroes’ motives and reasons for attending, the meeting proceeds.

The legendary preserver Korgunard soon arrives and reveals that he has chosen this time and place to commence a magical ceremony that will begin his transformation into another being. This transformation will answer the evil of the defilers with a power that arises from the life-force of Athas itself. The ceremony involves advanced psionics and preserving magic, and the apparent sacrifice of strange items. Above, the moons rise into the sky and the magic of the ceremony takes hold.

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Under its influence, our heroes experience strange visions – echoes of an Athas that was, or an Athas yet to come – while Korgunard is enveloped in a shimmering cocoon of watery energies. Hours pass.

And then disaster strikes. The ceremony is interrupted by the arrival of Raam’s High Templar Malestic and a squadron of half-giant warriors. They burst into the Crematorium and battle breaks out. The preservers scatter and Korgunard is sorely injured, only the magic of his transformation saving him by virtue of the sorcerous cocoon about his comatose body.

With combat raging around them, our heroes flee, accompanied by Jaggo, one of the leaders of the Raamin Veiled Alliance. Hiding in the city’s sewers, Jaggo entrusts Korgunard’s safety to our protagonists and asks Barak to act as representative for the Raamin Alliance in getting the injured preserver to safety. Before Korgunard slips into unconsciousness, he whispers something to Jaggo – directions to reach safety. Jaggo unfortunately mishears Korgunard’s words and tells the group to take Korgunard straight to Tyr.

The group hide out in the Night Runners ghetto while Barak uses his connections to obtain what supplies they can for the trek back west. They sneak out of Raam, disguised as a small caravan, although they are forced to bribe a gate-guard sympathetic to the local Veiled Alliance. Ka’Tor’s swift use of Alliance handsign eases the transaction and they are able to flee.

Once past the still-smouldering Shazlim, they encounter a pack of hunting kreen. Drawn by the emanations from the slumbering Korgunard (whom the kreen refer to as Great One), the kreen are shown the sleeping preserver and agree to send one of their warriors with the group. Our heroes, in the meantime, make several attempts to heal Korgunard and feed him water.

There is no immediate effect from these efforts, save that all fluids and sorcery are seemingly absorbed by the shimmering cocoon that envelops Korgunard. When next our heroes sleep, however, they are visited by mysterious dreams and a voice urging them not to travel by the roads, and hinting at dark pursuers hot on their trail.

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The group leave the road, cross the rocky barrens of the central Tablelands and head down into the Great Alluvial Sand Wastes, eschewing ease of travel in favour if anonymity. Their efforts prove in vain. A day into the Wastes, they are attacked by a warband of Black Sand Raiders.

Mounted atop kanks, the Raiders swarm them in waves, led by a vile defiler called Hespulto and his feral halfling bodyguard Lokee. A vicious battle ensues, but our heroes are victorious, with both Lokee and Hespulto slain. A single Black Sand Raider is captured and questioned; he reveals that the raiding tribe’s master wizard Fevil had sensed the proximity of the gossamer and had dispatched the warband to investigate. Our heroes reward the prisoner with a swift death.

Part IV

Battered yet resolute, the group heads westward. An immense storm blows down the escarpments from the badlands and into the wastes. They swiftly batten down the hatches, erecting as sound a shelter as they can with their tents while Ka’Tor, T’chet and Jenath seek better shelter. The storm hits and only Ka’Tor is able to make it back in time. It rains. Tik-Tik seizes on the situation and devises a number of ingenious methods to capture water. Elise marvels at the rain itself. Like her fellows, she is scarcely able to believe the sheer volume of water thundering down from the heavens.

During the storm, a newcomer arrives, introducing himself as Leku. A halfling with the blood of a silt drake, he says that he has been sent to help the group. Korgunard was supposed to journey to a hidden valley in the Ringing Mountains to receive the aid of a mighty spirit of the land known as Desverendi. Leku says he will show them the way there. He struggles to win our heroes’ trust and offers to attempt to heal Korgunard. Although his efforts are as seemingly fruitless as those of the group, he earns a measure of grudging respect and they agree to heed his advice.

After the storm, they search for Jenath and T’chet, but only find Jenath’s inix in a mudslide. Leku’s insistence that they head for Desverendi’s valley instead of Tyr is vindicated that night when a second dream comes, giving Korgunard’s full message: “Must go . . . finish spell . . . toward Tyr . . .but not by the roads . . . must go . . . the valley.’’

While climbing the escarpments out of the Wastes the next evening, our heroes note they are being followed by a solitary figure across the sands. Initial hopes that this might be Jenath are soon shattered when it turns out to be Hespulto, risen as some kind of grisly undead horror. They promptly kill the Hespulto-thing again and prove their loyalty to Leku by healing him after the creature’s magic fells him. They hunt well that night in the relatively fertile badlands and share a moment of peace.

Still sorely injured, the group moves on and the next day are approached by none other than the legendary slave tribe known as The Free. Elentha is revealed to be a member of the Free as well as the Raamin Alliance and she has rallied her former tribesmen to scour the wastes for our heroes. They are taken to a secret oasis of the Free and trade their kanks (captured from the Raiders) for rest and healing. Ka’Tor scribes two scrolls on cactus vellum. The Free inform the group that Malestic has led a large force of templars and half-giants in pursuit of Korgunard. The tribe agree to attempts to waylay Malestic’s forces and give our heroes a chance to reach Desverendi’s valley in time.

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The group reaches the valley and Desverendi begins the ceremony to finish Korgunard’s transformation. Ka’Tor comes truly into his own as a preserver, lending his aid in the ceremony, joining his magic with Leku’s and Desverendi’s to finish what Korgunard began in Raam.

No sooner has this begun than the survivors of Malestic’s group attack the valley. The templar leads his half-giants – battered from their encounter with The Free – in a massed charge, hoping to thwart Korgunard’s metamorphosis.

Our heroes fight valiantly. Barak kills a half-giant single-handedly. Leku and Ka’Tor split their attention between Korgunard and their enemies – the halfling blasting warriors with acidic, the mul flinging fireballs. Elise fells half-giants and warriors alike. Tik-Tik kills Malestic, but not before Malestic summons a shadow giant; ancient dread abomination from the Black.

The shadow giant engulfs Ka’Tor, who vanishes into the Black, and attacks Korgunard. Elise finally fells it and Tik-Tik mops up the remaining survivors of the Raamin force.

And so Korgunard’s transformation is complete. It is only the first step along a road of becoming – a road that will see him change into a being that Korgunard names avangion. The antithesis of the defiler metamorphosis that ends with dragonhood, the path of the avangion is one of life and light.

Korgunard rises, wings spreading, glistening like gossamer in the sun and gives thanks and blessings alike to our heroes. Together they walk upon the grasses and talk of times past, dreams lost, friends fallen, and wonders yet to come. Hope is born anew under the Dark Sun…

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