The group is stuck in Hazar’s Oasis for a few hours while they wait out the silt-storm. Hazar speaks to Kacha’ak and then Sorin. The former house-slaves try to avoid the plenty of the grove because they fear Hazar. The rest of the group occupy their time with menial tasks or trying to catch the small fish in the stream. Sorin takes a bath, Tom throws the dagger Water into a dead trunk, Abraxas throws rocks into the silt-storm that batters some invisible barrier in front of the grove, Therai takes a walk within the greenery, Kacha’ak shows Rhamil how to properly catch fish with his gythka. One of the slaves, who had proved himself an excellent sprinter chooses to eat a fruit despite his fellow former house-slaves disapproval. Finally, the storm begins to die out and over the howls of the wind, another noise becomes audible. A slave girl and Abraxas are the first to hear it, but Kacha’ak is the one to hear it clearly enough to guess it is the roar of a mighty, large, and far away beast. Therai has a guess that it is the legendary beast Ul-Athra, the god in the dust. Tom has some interesting theories about this creature, that it is a skeleton pirate who rides a giant turtle and gives his loot to children who live the villages and cities alone the silt. Sorin and Therai has a different notion, that it is an ancient creature of the red age who once swam through water that covered certain parts of the world, but through dark magic now traverses the silt and is perhaps the single worst horror found beneath the dust.
A slave girl guesses that within an hour it may be safe to leave the cover of the grove and continue on their journey. In the meantime the crodlu shows some impressive tool-use and copying skills as he spears a fish with Kacha’ak’s gythka. A conversation sparks up about when and if to leave the grove, to which Sorin informs the party that the grove will vanish at the end of the day, taken by Hazar as she moves from this place. The group then decides to move on and travel deep into the night to reach Ledopolus. Abraxas and Kacha’ak both come to the same conclusion that the land between here and there is going to be devoid of life except perhaps if some decide to take advantage of the death and scavenge. Before leaving the group tries to fill their water-skins in the stream, but the many birds that live in the grove dive down and menace any who try to fill more then a single skin. After a few tense moments Therai approaches and explains the circumstances to the birds/grove and they allow them to fill two more skins.
Upon leaving Therai states his guilt at lying in the grove, but others try to convince him that it was important. They travel back towards where Lasha fell to see if her body still remains. When they come upon her they are very startled that some strange transformation has happened to her body. She is brown like the sand and her form is grainy. Her right cheek has a crack in it, like she was made of rock and struck very hard with a sledgehammer. When they touch her face, the pressure causes the skin to collapse like dust. Their is a great fear that grips the former house-slaves that this was a great curse that befell the land. Further alone the group sees a group of viper rats that, while they look normal on the outside, also explode into dust if touched. The plants of the plain crack like glass if any pressure is placed upon them.
The group travels through the day and as they go, the heat of the sun becomes deadly and oppressive. Sorin feels it’s effects most keenly in the party, and two slaves begin to become sun-sick before nightfall. The sun going down spares them the horrible effects and they begin to recover. The group tries to decide what to use to make a torch and in the argument, Rhamil brings out something to burn, which Sorin identifies as the invitation scroll for the Nibenay tournament, which Mal gave to Rhamil for safe-keeping, Sorin hangs onto it. Eventually once the party has argued back and forth for a long time, Abraxas gets fed up and uses a bedroll and a tent-pole to light their way. At 1 A.M. the party arrives at the front of the dwarven city of Ledopolus. The former house-slaves are convinced to stay outside the gates while Sorin and Kacha’ak go in to find and talk to Bruthambar. As those two leave, Abraxas and Rhamil get into an argument about dwarven ale while Tom takes advantage of the distraction to sneak after Sorin and the kreen. Sorin changes her features with magic as they enter the city.
As the two, followed by Tom enter the city they are stopped by two patrols of dwarven guards. The first simply questions them for a bit then lets them on their way and points out a cheep in to stay in. The second however tells them that they are going to have to be searched, but Sorin pulls a distressed noble act and makes them think better of it. The two of them are led to an inn where the guards deposit them. The keeper gives Sorin a room for 6 silver pieces. She drops the guise as soon as she is in the room. Tom climbs the wall to enter the room, but as he does his scar possesses him. Sorin within the room only a few feet above senses defiling and opens her window quickly to psychically yell into Tom’s mind. The interruptions snaps Tom out of his possession and he is able to climb up and into the room.
When Tom reaches the window-sill Sorin attempts to help him in while also checking that the defiling has left him. Tom rebuffs her help. Sorin says that she felt it again and asks why Tom doesn’t attack them because of this curse. Tom lies, is caught, then explains that the target has to be helpless. Sorin asks Kacha’ak to watch on Tom due to his high perception.
Meanwhile outside of town, back with the former house-slaves, Rhamil, Therai and Abraxas. The dray tells the others he is going into town, to which Rhamil and Therai both tell him that they are coming with him. He tells both of them no, but after a lot of insisting, he takes Therai. Abraxas and Therai enter the town and ask a guard group if they have seen an elf noble, it takes two such groups before the guards have seen her and they tell the pair which inn she went to. Abraxas and Therai have to knock loudly on the inn door, re-waking the inn-keeper. The dwarf inn-keeper makes the two prove that they are friends of Sorin by quizzing them about their knowledge of her and Kacha’ak. Once the test is passed, the inn-keeper leads both of them up to the room the party is in. Upon seeing the two, Sorin pretends to be intimate with Therai to throw off the inn-keeper and Therai plays alone perhaps too well, and kissed Sorin deeply on the mouth. She seems repulsed by these events after the dwarf has left the scene. It is revealed that Tom had another episode of his curse effecting his mind and Therai seems serious when he asks where it happened. Once he sees where the curse took Tom, Therai says that it left a psychic thread that the group could follow, and follow they do. The group leaves the inn, with Therai following soon after to keep up the ruse of their intimacy.
The group heads through the streets and when they get close, the party is looking down a darkened alley way. About half-way down the alley they can see a pair of legs sticking out from behind a stone storage box attached to one of the buildings. As the party is wondering whether to approach, Therai realizes that they have been tricked. The psychic thread is tied onto a homeless man to lure the group out into the open. With this realization, the group immediately begins to look around, with Kacha’ak climbing up onto a nearby roof to get a better vantage point. While up there, with the moon overhead, the kreen experiences a powerful racial instinct. His gaze is drawn to a particular spot in the heavens just over a roof across the street. As he lingers on the spot, he sees a breath of air flow out from nothing and deduces that that is the demon, watching the party. He psychically yells out to the party, telling them this. The moment the kreen does, the bricks on that part of the roof give way under a great weight and crack in the form of a clawed foot. Sorin searches for magic and finds a defiling in midair over the street. She fires a magic missile at the spot and a chunk of the creature’s armored skin breaks off and falls to the bricks below. Kacha’ak attempts to give chase on roof-top but the creature’s noise and trail vanish. Sorin also cannot find it through sensing magic. Sorin, Abraxas and Tom all run up to look at the piece that fell when the missile struck. It is a block of some kind of armor, with traits of both stone and chitin. It curves and has rough ridging along it’s surface.
The party discussed the nature of the creature, why it didn’t attack them outright. Therai says that when the beast got excited it loosened it’s mental barriers and he was able to sense a hesitation in it’s willingness to fight, it though their was a possibility of something going wrong. Just then the party hears footsteps approach and turn to see a human in a brown cloak approaching with a torch. The man is handsome and tall with a gate that suggests he knows how to handle himself. He inquires whether something just happened and the party is able to tell that he knew something had happened even before he arrived. He then asks if the party saw anything which they answer negatively to. He presents a sigil of the Ledopolus guard then turns to leave. Abraxas stops him with a question about why the guards of the town are so numerous and prodding. The man tells the dray that they are worried about additional attacks from the giants of the estuary, as they recently retaliated from a dwarven laid ambush. He also says that cutthroats entering town and killing people at the inn to steal their gold then running off into the night is not as uncommon as they would like it to be. Finally he says that some folk have arrived from Balic and are trying to make good off a poor situation, but won’t say anymore about that.
Just as he turns to leave again, the noise of the drunk stumbling in the alley way starts the man and he whips around, drawing a metal rapier. In the movement, the group can clearly see in the light of his torch a familiar scar on his chest through the lacing of his shirt. Sorin comments on his scar and he goes to leave after sheathing his sword. Tom and Kacha’ak go to follow him.
Only a few moments of flitting later and as Tom shoots from one alley way to another “Emerack” has turned towards him and has his sword pointed upon the rogue. The rest of the party comes around the street corner. He asks if they are following him to steal his sword and tells them that if they are it will not be taken easily. Sorin and Tom hint that it isn’t that, but the scar on his chest is what they are interested in. Emerack has seen the party from the Maladran and seems angry about it. Therai feels that he is sad about it, but Emerack still asks the party to follow him to an alley way. When they arrive he explains that it was to throw off any invisible pursuers who might have silently moved into a spot for listening to their conversation. Once in the alley way, the man reveals that his name is not Emerack, but Tanark Thero, and that the party killed his sister Tassa Thero. He also tells that the party is being hunted by a demon called Bejein. This demon is responsible for the demonic mark, has a hold over Tassa Thero, and wears the human guise of Lord Mezabran. He also says that Bejein does this for the pleasure of killing, he takes joy in turning one comrade against another. When Tanark asks who has the mark among the group, no one answers. He then makes it clear that the fate of those marked is death, but not for Tassa, who is Bejein’s favorite. The demon has kept her for years, and even though she was “killed” in the Maladran, she is not dead, but is even now alive and well.
Tanark attempts to explain the circumstances around the lifting of his curse, which no longer binds him to Bejein. He says that the tortured screams of Tassa caused him to feel love and trust, feelings which Bejein had attempted to stamp out in him, he believes this freed him. The conversation turns when the group begins to start thinking about ways to kill the demon. A fight between the ideas of attacking on this very night, or taking the long trek to Nibenay to fight him rages on. In the conversation, Kacha’ak wonders why he would come along, and states that he will travel with the group to the tablelands but no further. Eventually sheer support for the trek to Nibenay wins out. Sorin tells Kacha’ak that the iron riders were responsible for her being in slavery in the first place, and is willing to help him kill them after they are done in Nibenay. They agree to meet by the Andropinis statue then part ways. The party heads to Bruthambar’s estate and after a bit of knocking, an old dwarf woman answers the door. She grumbles about the late hour and fetches Bruthambar. When the dwarf arrives, he leads the party into his meeting room and they sit across a table from one another. He learns that they are free because of circumstance and not by actually being freed. He then inquires about their desires and destination. They are soon discussing the Nibenay tournament and thanks to Rhamil, they have the invitation which is in Sorin’s keeping. Bruthambar does not know that the party possesses the invitation so shuts down the conversation as hypothetical.
The leader of the rockcutter clans tells the party that he will get them a cart of supplies to take them wherever, but first he wants to know why killed Sheeshesh. He explains that he knew that it was not a Tomblador assassin that ended his life because of the implement used (ie: the pillow) and the fact that it makes terrible business sense on their part. He remained quite about his suspicion because if Mal had a monopoly on the silt trade in Ledopolus (to which Tomblador is the main competitor), it would skyrocket prices. Because of his silence a few unsatisfied voices have begun to question his defensive measures. He says that the result of all of this is that the party owes him a favor. The slaves fate seems to be one of freedom. They will be sent to Grak’s Pool to become mud-brick builders and help patch up Grak’s fortress there. They will be paid a wage. Before they are finished, Bruthambar does suggest that IF they did have the invitation, they might be able to make a deal. He says that they could be pitted against the Maldran’s champion, Asteron the Horned Demon and if they were to win, could travel within a dwarven caravan to Nibenay and arrive quickly and safely.
At this point, Abraxas asks whether Bruthambar would help them kill Mezabran. After laughing for quite a bit, the dwarf recovers and asks how many are interested in this venture. After only counting a few, he asks who has the invitation to the tournament, now suspecting that the group is carrying it. They eventually tell him that Rhamil has it. They make a deal. The silt-serpents will fight the Horned Demon in the Maladran, and if they beat him, will represent the Maladran in the Nibenay tournament. Their are a slew of benefits for Bruthambar if they are his champions as opposed to the horned demon. Then he makes a second offer, that if he is allowed to go public with the tournament and get a crowd to come, the party can takes 10% of all the bets made on the fight. Bruthambar stops the proceedings at this point and asks of Kacha’ak will be part of the deal, as he won’t make it without all present here agreeing. Kacha’ak says he does not need to get any of the things that the tournament can offer, but is convinced that he at least could use the money and fame he might receive from winning the tournament. After Kacha’ak agrees, They decide on the public fight with the 10%. They use the name “The New Silt Serpents” to fool Mal. Sorin insists that they go on as free people on both tournament ballets. Bruthambar informs her that it is fine for them to do so here in the Maladran, but in Nibenay claiming themselves to be free is dangerous, because it could cost them the writ that would protect them from further slavery.
As the conversation comes to a close, Sorin reveals herself to be an eladrin though she does not name what she is, then tells Burthambar that the elf guise she wore is going to have “died” in the storm. Bruthambar asks if the elf guise was at least buried as a joke, but that leads Sorin to tell him about the ashen bodies and brittle plants. Bruthambar gets serious at that and has them explain what happened. He suspects that it is the retaliation of a giant named the “skull wearer” who lives on the island of Dragons Palate. He holes up in an ancient minotaur fortress called Marrowgate. This giant possesses a horn which when he blows it, calls Ul-Athra to sweep the land and kill everything it passes. Abaraxas comments that his father did not survive this exact same catastrophe. Because of this turn of events, Bruthambar says he will need to remain in Ledopolus after the party leaves to defend his town. With that, the conversation ends and the party leaves his estate and heads back to the “Sand Talon” inn. On the way out, Sorin asks if their is a good place to find a sword in town, he tells her to check out the “straitened femur”.