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…
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.
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…
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.
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.
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…”