The Time: 20 Anabasis, evening
The Place: Altaruk Trade Fortress
Leaving the Governor’s Keep, the party looks to their own affairs for the evening. Grik visits the House Tomblador complex in town, selling the fallen Tellemon’s obsidian longsword as well as a bone rapier he’d looted from an elven raider en route to Altaruk. He looks into swapping his chitin scale-mail for something tougher. He manages to intimidate the slave desk clerk into a deal, but a half-giant guard stops the unequal transaction and proves less open to haggling. Meanwhile, Jotano sends his slave Moradin on a quest to find a forge to use Kaldras’s iron to build a chatkcha for Nnn’tkk. Elsewhere, Vinari and Malak try to come up with a way to buy or steal a large enclosed wagon with a 5-ton capacity, complete with heavy crossbows mounted on either side. Eventually Cawthra simply swaps the wagon dealer the steel dagger he’d taken from Elek the Enchanter, an even trade.
The party spends the night as they wish: Vinari, Jotano, Malak and Grik drink spiced broy (a sort of mead made from fermented kank nectar) and get rooms at The One-Eyed Kank. Cawthra flies to The Oasis to enjoy the company of The Blue Raven, and Nnn’tkk stands a sleepless vigil in the seats at Bloodsand Arena.
Selonius, the governor’s scribe, arrives before dawn at The One-Eyed Kank to rouse the party and send them on their way. He insists they not bring their sluggish new wagon on the urgent errand, mounting them on fleet-footed crodlus (flightless lizard-birds) instead. Jotano sends Moradin to The Oasis to find Cawthra. Before he arrives, waking in the Raven’s nest above the roof, Cawthra finds himself under attack by a small sun para-elemental, which he manages to destroy. In turn, Cawthra seeks out Nnn’tkk. Selonius brings the party to the main gate, where they meet Bost, the new captain of the guard. The mul ex-gladiator shows them the House M’ke caravan outside the town’s granite walls, where Charl has uselessly been praying over them to cure their wind sickness. The Raamites call it “wind sickness” because it first appeared when Sorcerer-Queen Abalech-Re secluded herself and a fierce windstorm lashed the city. Believing the disease is spread by the wind, the caravan master has set a windbreak around the triage, using the M’ke banners (a silver quill on a red field.) Victims become very weak, with purple splotches appearing in advanced cases. Few of those with the rash outlive the week. Bost notes that almost all of the M’ke caravan are quarantined in this camp outside the walls by a line of his best men. An elf in the caravan, however, remains unaccounted for: a woman named Ekee. Malak does not comment on her or investigate her absence.
Captain Bost announces that he is off to see to the execution of the man found guilty for Tellemon’s murder. As Bost passes through the gate, the party notices Birk Suntouched begging in the gutter; the dwarf gives them a knowing wink. Banoc appears to wish the party good luck, and they ride off on their crodlus.
Four of Bost’s cavalrymen escort the party for the first three hours of the journey as part of their regular patrol. Not long after these riders turn back, the heroes notice a black banner flying from a wooden post, featuring a symbol of three red slashes. Cawthra recognizes this as the sigil of the Sky Divers, a nomadic tribe of aarakocra raiders who must have set up roost in the nearby mountains. In the distance, keen-eyed Cawthra spots flapping wings headed their way, as well as what appears to be a small sun, perhaps a larger version of the para-elemental he had defeated that morning. Seeing the threat approach, the party dismounts and readies themselves for attack.
The Sky Divers and their para-elemental ally circle above, their warriors brandishing lances. Their leader, a sun shaman, shouts to Cawthra (speaking Auran) that she recognizes him as a Brother of the Sun and would gladly take him into genteel captivity to ransom him to his tribe if he will allow her to kill his companions for their goods. Cawthra refuses, and battle is joined. He dodges the worst of the shaman’s burning hands spell she attempts to blast him with, sending his kes’trekel familiar to attack her. Carrying a ghoul touch spell, the familiar paralyzes the shaman with a bite, sending her crashing into the rocky desert. Meanwhile the warriors dive with their lances, dealing grievous wounds to Grik and Nnn’tkk, nearly killing the thri-kreen. The vulture-like aarakocra are killed after a bloody melee at ground level; Vinari heals the party’s warriors and fights the para-elemental. Meanwhile Cawthra tears open the paralyzed shaman’s throat with his talons and helps finish the skirmish, resisting her dying curse of the parched sands, which would have withered and killed him over several days. Vinari casts detect magic and finds the shaman’s alak was enchanted, granting Grik a magical off-hand weapon.
Although it is only mid-day, the party rides west into the foothills, where they find a cave to rest in. Nnn’tkk acts as their tireless sentinel, while Cawthra successfully deciphers Elek the Enchanter’s “spellbook” (his knowledge being encoded in the weaving of his tunic, which had been saved from destruction since Elek had been naked when Cawthra incinerated him).
After a good rest, the party completes the last leg of their journey, arriving at Kesi’s oasis that evening. Looking around, they find a lush paradise around the small pool, with trees in numbers unheard of elsewhere in the wastes, and stone ornamentation that has clearly been magically sculpted rather than put together by masons. Not seeing Kesi immediately, Vinari senses several magical auras in the area, which Malak and Jotano search vigorously, finding a drawer hidden in the base of a throne of rock. Bypassing a magical fire trap, Malak finds a valuable cache of oils, incense, and silverdust, which Cawthra suspects are spell components – the party lets them lie. Nnn’tkk hops over to a large lizard sitting by the edge of the pool, confronting it. The creature shapeshifts into a squat, bald woman – Kesi. The party informs her of Altaruk’s woes, and that Arisphistaneles is willing to re-route certain trade paths in order to do less damage to local spawning grounds that Kesi has been trying to protect. The druid agrees to aid Altaruk, and they set out immediately, she riding her 12-foot minotaur lizard companion. Kesi casts longstrider on her mount to help it keep up with the crodlus.
The party rides through the night unmolested, which Kesi attributes to her presence. Arriving in Altaruk just after dawn, the party goes straight for the Governor’s Keep. Kesi informs Arisphistaneles that she will indeed heal the town’s affliction, but not without conditions. She has heard of a wizard who lives in Altaruk named Banoc, and will not heal the plague until he is dead. Even if he is a Preserver as she has heard, Kesi believes that any wizard might some day succumb to the temptation of easy power and become a Defiler, and is not willing to compromise. She will await the governor’s response outside the gates.
Before Arisphistaneles can deliberate the matter, the representatives of the three merchant houses which sponsor the town (Wavir, Tomblador, and Rees) burst into the room along with their bodyguards. Jotano recognizes Adonia Rees as the noblewoman he seduced three nights previous, but she and the other merchants ignore the PCs; their bodyguards do not. The merchants are somehow aware of the conversation, perhaps through psionic means, and demand that Arisphistaneles have Banoc killed to keep the town safe. They remain unaware of Arisphistaneles’s Veiled Alliance affiliation. His hands tied, the governor orders the death of his longtime comrade, taking a long drink of wine and telling the PCs to make it quick.