Red Sand & Black Sun

The Walls of Altaruk

The scene is chaotic after the Judaga speeds to his Mikillot and steers the beast off down the road. Some of the dwarves are shaking uncontrollably; Drokan seems affected, but not as much. Abraxas’s lungs and mouth burn as though he drank something severely too hot. Swaths of defiled ground now mar the dunes near the caravan. Sorting is nervious about the defiling and tells the dwarves to get Rhamil onto a wagon, her intimidation knocks the dwarves out of their fearful state and they go to move him. Therai questions the wisdom of moving him so soon, but Sorrin rounds on him and tells him forcefully that it will be fine. He gives in and they take the injured dwarf, with Therai in tow, onto a cart. Kacha’ak leads Ka-Kliek to the cart as well to have her rest. Left in the wake of the others, Tom approaches Abraxas and sees if he is alright. While helping the dray up, Tom look into his face and sees a piece of his iris peel off and become a tiny black worm that crawl to his tear-duct and wiggles out of sight. Tom’s face reflects the horror he just saw and he, at first softly, then louder calls for Sorrin. Sorrin senses for magic and finds that the templar has placed a trace inside of Abraxas; he can use it to find the characters but cannot do anything else with it. Sorrin knows that she can destroy it with a ritual taught to all veiled alliance members, but must get at least five days away from the Judaga in order for the templar not to notice its purging. Therai seems to be distracted and keeps looking to horizon in the direction the caravan came. Sorrin, Abraxas and Tom gather in the last wagon of the caravan and discuss the templar and the events that just transpired. With a bump, the caravan gets on the road again. Sorrin reveals all she knows about the trace spell, but as the group is talking, Tanark enters the wagon. Tom interrupts Abraxas in mid-sentence so the newcomer doesn’t catch any sensitive information. Sorrin sends him to look after Rhamil and the swordsman leaves, after which Sorrin turns and asks Abraxas to be as secretive as possible with her veiled identity for the well-being of the entire group. Therai comes in after a short time and says Rhamil is alright, but he may never regain the full use of his arm. He goes on to explain that the war crodlu ran away from the scene as soon as the templar appeared, and Kacha’ak has gone after it into the desert. Abraxas has a moment of possible clarity when he tries to tie a thread between this shape-shifting veiled alliance member and the super smart crodlu who disappeared from the scene, but that sounds too crazy to be plausible.

Therai comments about how the psychic presence of the templar was akin to a stone wall, not allowing even a single stray thought loose. Sorrin suggests he never try to glean off of one. Therai then takes a moment to explain a possible concern to the group; the reason he has been distractedly looking to the horizon. He feels a similar psychic presence to that of Seeshesh, Brendos’s old captain of the guards who lies burned and dead somewhere. He thinks that perhaps it could just be an echo, a psychic memory that is springing up simply because it was forged to long ago and has been in effect for so long, or perhaps even worse, a more powerful master of the way has found the connection he and Seeshesh used to have and is trying to reestablish it again. If this were the case, the other psychic has failed so far and the connection is a ghost of it’s former power, and Therai is sure that if there is someone on the other end, they cannot see or affect him in any way from where they are. But he feels the connection moving closer to the party. The party exchanges theories about the strange connection, Tom idly joking that perhaps it is Therai’s father searching for his long lost son, or maybe Seeshesh has risen as a vengeful undead out for Tom’s blood! Tom amuses himself with these suggestions, but the group can find nothing conclusive. Sorrin suggests that Therai check on Abraxas’s health but the Tiefling is only confused with his lack of general knowledge on dray anatomy.

Several minutes later, the caravan pulls over and the party files out of the wagon to see what is going on. As they exit they see the dwarves are getting food and water from the stores on the wagons. Abraxas takes out his flask of ale and takes a swig as the dwarves fill stone mugs and get crusty loafs of bread and salted meat. When one of the dwarves takes a drink from a barrel of water he spits it out in a spray. He yells about how the water has gone bad and the dwarves gather around it to check. In addition, one of the wagon wheels has been misshaped by defiled earth burning one side flat and they need to replace it or they will bump the rest of the journey. The party checks their own water stores and finds that a lot of their water is bad. Tom and Sorrin lose a skinfull each, Kacha’ak loses two. Abraxas finds the barrels of ale have all gone bad. Before they get on the road again, Kacha’ak goes out to find more water but only winds up finding enough to drink and quench his current thirst, and not enough to save any extra. Sorrin checks on Rhamil and finds him active and loud, so she leaves him alone again. Kacha’ak returns to the caravan just as the party is starting to see shapes on the horizon. As they near the shapes, their eyes begin to make out fields of cacti and slave workers, as well as the great walls of the fortress city itself. The party takes note of the catsclaw, the standard cash crop which is used for sugar, which gathers in the highest branches of the jagged leafless trees. The group also spots many root plants, and plenty of small wells that irrigate the carefully kept fields. The gates of the city loom large, but it is the dozens of guards, both on the ground and looking down from the wall with bows, and two heavy ballista that keep it safe.

As the caravan nears the gate the party sees another smaller caravan in front of them, desert raiders recently returned with stacks of chitin for crafting. The guard yells for them to pay 1 gold per head and mount and one of the raiders throws a sack of coin to the guard who sends them through. Drokan is walking in front of the party’s caravan and both he and the rest of the line approach the guard captian. The guards possess silk capes with the three symbols of the houses Wavir, Rees and Tomblador emblazoned upon them. The captain has a spear with a tip of bronze cresting the shaft. He stops the approaching caravan with an outstretched hand and demands the toll of one gold per head and mount. Just as Drokan goes to retrieve his money pouch to pay the toll a hawkish man with glasses and some finery approaches and asks if Drokan is THE Drokan of Ledopolus. The dwarf asks who the man is and he introduces himself as Espen Rastcord. Drokan wonders aloud how the man knew that he was coming. Espen retrieves a letter from his pocket and tells Drokan that the letter arrived two days prior and was sent by hawk from Bruthambar himself. The party is to be put up in Wavir owned apartments and Espen will act as their caretaker for the time that they remain in the city. After Drokan confirms that the note is written in Bruthambar’s hand, he returns it to the man and they follow him down the road into the city.

Just as the dwarves are ready to go off and get a drink, Espen calls their attention and says he doesn’t want them running off quite yet, before they hear all the rules. Drokan sighs and gives a nod to stay. As the characters enter the inner wall they are able to make out three large and separate barracks with all the guards for a single house contained within each. The group meets the keeper of keys for their living space, a large and tough looking woman who seems like she doesn’t take nonsense. She lays down a few ground rules including no returning after 4 in the morning, and no stealing. Espen also takes this time to warn the party about a particularly dangerous section of the city that is controlled by gangs and suggests that they avoid it. The party take a look at their rooms as the dwarves scatter to the town. Once they have had a look Therai knocks on Abraxas’s room and asks if the dray would like to go shopping in the Elven market with him. Abraxas agrees and the both of them ask Tom and Sorin if they would like to go as well, they neglect to ask Kacha’ak, not only because it may be awkward, but also because Kacha’ak doesn’t seem the type to go shopping. Sorin and Tom agree to come, but warn Therai to be cautious, the Elven market is not a place for fools. As the party heads through the streets towards the market, they see many shops, including a leather seller and a ceramics and pots shop, lots of cloth and weapons shop as well as a winery, etc. When the characters arrive in the Elven Market they take a look around for unique items (magic) but are unable to find any magical items. They do however find metals shipped in from Tyr, exotic fruits, poisons, grains, ceramics, silks, drugs, and spices. Several interested parties approach Abraxas and offer the ex-clan dray jobs as an adventure-for-hire which they seem to assume he is. Abraxas doesn’t think he has the time to complete an adventure and takes down the patron’s information for later.

As the party passes by an alley they see a hideous half-elf with burn scars covering a portion of his face, a bulge on his neck, one bloodshot eye and a menacing voice who asks the party if they are interested in doing a bit of business. Only Tom seems interested in the offer but as he discussed a future meeting place with the man to speak about all the gore-filled details of this plan, he makes as if he is insulting the man with a powerful bluff. The two part ways with no one the wiser and Tom knows to meet the man later at the waviren warehouses on the southern side of town. It is just a few minutes later when Tom spies a elven child pick his money pouch. He lunges to catch the child but misses and the boy enters a crowd. Sorin also grabs at the boy, but he cuts off the cloth she grabs with a small knife. The elf even evades Abraxas as he attempts to find the area the child will exit the large crowd. As the boy exits the crowd he is joined by two other child thieves and tosses the sack at one of then. Thinking quickly, Sorin uses her magic to make the pouch invisible and instead of catching it, it plops to the ground and a human man steps on it. The two boys lunge for it but Sorin uses a second trick to make it appear that the human who is standing on-top of the money kicks it away and makes a second illusion bag to lure to boys away. It works and they go after the fake bag, but Tom catches one with a leg sweep and the boy breaks his nose on the ground as Tom elbows the back of his head into the dirt. The second pickpocket still tries for the fake bag while the confused human bends down and picks up the real still invisible bag, but Sorin appears next to him and tells him to keep moving as she lightly takes it from his hand. The second boy runs into Abraxas’s huge chest and stairs down at the thief with disapproval. He spots some expensive finger-less gloves on the boy which he realizes must be magical. Tom points his scorpion stinger at his child’s back while Abraxas allows his boy to turn and run away into the back-alleys. Tom threatens to take the boys eye but the thief offers him a secret to let him go. The boy nods towards an old man perusing the elven stalls and says that the man has magic glasses that cause people to sell him goods at dirt cheep prices. The boy suggests killing the old man and taking the glasses. Tom only cuts his cheek slightly and lets the boy go.

As the party heads off down the street, they see the old man with the “magic” glasses make a purchase for a very low price. A hawker tries to sell them bean drink, which Therai gives a try. Tom suggests splitting up but Abraxas doesn’t want to. Sorin decides to head off back to the apartment and tells the others to do something together (she isn’t going back to the apartment). Tom doesn’t like that Sorin is planning on going back alone but she leaves anyway. Therai offers to come with her but she refuses that as well. the tiefling respects her desires and she leaves. Tom seems worried about her. Abraxas is suspicious of where Sorin is going and what she is doing and wonders aloud if Therai really thinks she is going back to the apartments, he doesn’t. Tom, Therai and Abraxas head back to the inner wall. When the three arrive at the apartment Therai goes to check on Rhamil and while the two are alone in the entrance, Tom tries to entice Abraxas into helping him do the job that the half-elf wanted done back in the elven market. Abraxas says that they shouldn’t be drawing attention to themselves. Just after, as the two are about to head to their rooms, Ka-Kliek appears at the top of the stairs and stops dead, she looks terrified as she backs back up and ascends out of sight. Both Tom and Abraxas look as though they have words hanging on their tongue, but cannot speak. They stand for a moment before Drokan comes in to the room fuming and cursing; they ask what happened but all Drokan does is walk to the tom of the stairs and say “Mezabran”.

A few seconds later one of Drokan’s dwarven allies comes in behind and puts down a sack. When they inquire what happened with this guard, he tells them that all the houses were “too busy” to see Drokan; he suggests that someone with a honeyed tongue got to them first and told them that Bruthambar had done some dirty business with Mezabran, branding him as a bad bet. The dwarf says that if Drokan can’t get the loan, then Ledopolus is done for.

After the dwarf goes upstairs Abraxas says he actually doesn’t feel like sitting in the room, he asks Tom if he wants to have some fun. Tom agrees and the two head off to the Crown and Thorn (a guard bar).

Sorin arrives at the lowest area of the city and goes about looking for someone. As she looks around she finds an old well next to a cafeteria where slaves are fed. Sitting plopped down next to the well is a disturbed old homeless dwarf with sun-touched fingers who if begging for gold from slaves (yep.. gold from slaves). As Sorin approaches the old dwarf the slaves move far away from her in fear. They whisper about Sorin, saying words like witch and sand bride. The old dwarf looks up at Sorin and whimpers at her “really don’t want to marry sand bride”. Sorin drops a coin into his chitinous cup and psychically whispers a secret code of the veiled alliance. “Three mice don’t make two… go” is the dwarf’s response, which makes no sense to Sorin. She shrugs and walks away then realizes that her necklace which blocks magic has confused the dwarf and as she takes it off, she turns about and re-approaches. The dwarf is getting teased by the slaves in the line to the cafeteria as he wallows on the ground. A mul slave approaches and steals his gold that Sorin gave him, but the eladrin menaces him and the mul returns it. The dwarf’s eyes are wide at Sorin and he says “you should eat at Baka’s Food”, but the line jeers and comments on how horrible that restaurant is, but upon seeing Sorin’s eyes the men move on quickly. As Sorin thanks him and turns to leave he yells “NO! Only for breakfast! Dinner rolls won’t sit well.” The line laughs and Sorin comments on how sorry she feels for him before leaving. A guard stops her on her way out of the square and apologizes on behalf of the slaves, he gives her the same advice about the terrible food at Baka’s and lets her on her way.

Tom and Abraxas approach a tavern with a sign depicting a crown made of thorns. They enter and and the dray sits down at the bar next to a number of guards and strikes up a conversation. He asks how business is to a House Rees guard and the guard says “never better”. Abraxas wonders if the guard has been in any of the big fancy houses for a while and the guard gives a resounding and dismissive no. Abraxas stirs up some angry feelings towards Lord Mezabran, suggesting that he is a dirty noble who acts without honor. He is fought on the point by a House Wavir guard who attempts to defend his houses actions, but eventually is turned around to see Abraxas’s way after the dray orders a round for the whole bar. A few moments after the guard is convinced a stony faced goliath walks in and sits down next to Abraxas. The guard has the face of someone without scruples and comments on Abraxas’s deep pockets when the dray buys him a drink and says he just bought one for the entire house and didn’t want him to be left out. Abraxas attempts to convince the goliath about the dirty Mezabran, and the goliath seems to accept the argument without question.

After the two leave he bar, they head all over town deep into the night, planting the word in anyone who seems important enough to matter. Shop keeps, merchants, guards, and the wealthy all hear about Mezabran. Finally in a shop on the far side of town a high class merchant of House Wavir approaches Abraxas and gives him his word that he will get Mezabran investigated, and if these rumors turn out to be true, then House Wavir will no longer be dealing with Lord Mezabran. Tom is impressed.

Sorin returns to the apartments and sees Drokan smoking in a chair in the entrance. The eladrin approaches and asks what is wrong, for he is obviously bothered. He says that he did a bad thing earlier by blowing off Tom and Abraxas and feels bad for that. Drokan comments on how Mezabran got the better of him by whispering bad rumors about Bruthambar’s business practices in the ears of the houses. Sorin asks what the bridge would do for Ledopolus, and Drokan responds “what wouldn’t it do” and describes a flurry of benefits. Drokan then proceeds to ask what is wrong with Kacha’ak, since he isn’t with the party. Sorin explains and Drokan says “he will either get over it or he will leave, be a damn shame if he left though” Sorin thinks they will hash it out soon and decides to ask where Therai, and Tanark are. Drokan says that Therai was up with Rhamil last he saw, and he hasn’t seen Tanark at all. As Sorin turns to go upstairs, Drokan stops her and tells her that the sun-rod that he gave the party back at the Reflecting Pool bar generates darkness as well as light. She thanks him for the information then leaves. Sorin goes up to Therai’s room and asks the tiefling if he wants to go to dinner. Therai is a bit stunned but accepts. On the way the two discuss the strange psychic feeling on the horizon and Therai says it has been getting closer still and should be here by tomorrow. The dinner is not romantic but the two do talk.

While eating Sorin and Therai see a group of tribal thri-kreen. Their leader has a magical spear that Sorin identifies as a Chieftain’s Spear.

Tom and Abraxas arrive at the apartments and both go to Drokan’s room. When the dwarven priest opens the door Abraxas tells him that Tomorrow, he needs to go back to the houses and tell Wavir that he doesn’t want to deal with someone who would support people like Mezabran and to try and deal with the other guilds instead. Drokan pauses and looks for a long moment before agreeing to try again.

Sorin returns and gathers Tom and Kacha’ak to her room for the nights rest. Tanark returns and says that his day did not go well; he apparently got into a fight. Tom asks if any of that trouble is going to follow him back, and he casually says no. Sorin suggests that he also stay in the same room as Tom so his sword can sense if he is possessed. Before sleeping, the two discuss the kreen tribe in the city and Kacha’ak overhears and asks about them. Sorin tells him all he wants to know. Kacha’ak asks Ka-Kliek if she would also like to join the group in Sorin’s room, and the girl-kreen says that she would, and does so. The group goes to sleep.

Tom dreams. Within the dream he is both aware that he is in a dream, but still unable to affect it. The floor undulates and before him stands an impressive chair, perhaps made of metal. The area is very dark but Tom can just make out a humanoid figure sitting in the chair. The figure speaks to Tom psychically as the half-elf makes a move to leave the room. “I wouldn’t do that.” the figure says, Tom responds with “this is a dream”. The figure says “not yours”, then reassures Tom that he is not the demon, but rather, an interested party.

(Parker do not read this)

The figure says that on the morrow, the demon will attack Kacha’ak. The figure suggests that if Tom wishes to have Kacha’ak owe him his life and to strike back at the demon, he must do what is told of him when Bejein strikes. The psychic figure will send a message and if Tom reacts within 10 seconds upon the instructions, the figure promises that Tom will get his chance to strike back at the demon.

(You can start reading again)

Sorin gets up very early, before sunrise and goes to Baka’s Food. The establishment is run down but the inside doesn’t look too bad. Their are three people inside, an elf shop-keep and two humans. One of the humans, a woman, gets up and approaches Sorin and comments on her hat. Sorin slyly fits the old dwarf, named Birk Suntouched into the conversation then makes a comment about how sometimes her face is so pale she has to wear a veil. The elf shop-keep says she will bring Sorin’s breakfast out in a moment and goes into the kitchen. Just as soon as she does, Birk exits from the kitchens, not looking addled at all and approaches. All three remaining people sit at her table and they discuss events surrounding their secret society. The three ask if Sorin is here because of the templar and she says she isn’t, but learns that he is hunting through the town. She requests a meeting with “him” and they tell her that they can get it in an hour. She has some food that isn’t awful after-all (they just serve awful food to people who aren’t veiled alliance to keep this place safe from prying eyes.) Sorin asks about Mezabran and learns that Wavir is going to ask him to leave the town today. Apparently they have uncovered some damning evidence in recent memory.

Sorin gets into the back of a cart, hidden under hay and boxes. She is waved through the front gate and a servant meets her and allows her to get dressed in a servants garb. Sorin uses the disguise to get inside and speak to the ruler of Altaruk, Arisphistaneles. As she passes through the palace, she sees the throne room and turns into a side room near it. Inside she finds Arisphistaneles speaking to a very angry Lord Mezabran who spits angry insults about being kicked out of the city by the end of the day. He stands and passes by the elf servant which Sorin appears to be, followed by his many tiefling guards.

After Mezabran leaves Arisphistaneles offers Sorin a seat and she reveals that she has been to Altaruk before under the name of Simmerine of House Ambri. The two speak about the sky-rocks and Sorin reveals all she knows about them. She tells him that a group of warlocks were being very open with their magic and the alliance went to hunt them down. Instead of finding the warlocks, they found a demon that had erupted from a meteor they had brought into their cave. She then speaks about the stone that the party found before she entered the group, that contained an elemental.

Arisphistaneles interrupts her to ask what it is that keeps him from being able to sense her magic. She reveals that it is her necklace that she is borrowing from Tanark. The old human comments that it could well be the key to defeating the kings if it is powerful enough to fool them. Sorin says that she is going to the Nibenay tournament. Arisphistaneles mentions that something huge is going down at the tournament. The queen of Gulg Lalali-Puy and the king of Balic Andropinis will both be attending, and perhaps more. The Veiled Alliance needs a spy inside that tournament that cannot be detected and since he won’t ask Sorin to give up the necklace, she by default becomes the chosen to represent them there. The two of them connect the timeline of the stones falling from the sky with the gathering of the kings. He points out that two types of stones have been falling, some like traps contain demons which kill those who seek them out, while others contain elementals that seem to be trying to communicate an omen unsuccessfully with those they meet then dying abruptly.

Sorin shares that Mezabran is a demon and Arisphistaneles is very surprised. He says he could sense nothing, and the two together figure out that Mezabran creates a wall of magic that reflects the caster’s own, making him invisible to sensing. Sorin then asks about a remove affliction ritual to remove Tom’s curse and Arisphistaneles not only possesses that and is willing to give it to her, but also wants her to transport several other rituals to Nibenay and she can copy them on the way. Sorin gains the ritual to perhaps free Tom from his curse. Sorin mentions that she has a grandson in Nebenay who needs to become a part of the alliance. Finally, Arisphistaneles offers to aid the characters by giving them a magic item. They need to return as guests to the palace on the following night.


Gunthru katakuscythe

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