Dark Sun over Murray

Session 1: Betrayal at Altaruk
Brought together by ill fortune, the heroes test their luck in the desert of Athas

The Time: 15 Anabasis (Merchant’s Calendar), Year of Priest’s Defiance of the 190th King’s Age, just after dawn
The Place: 5 miles south of the City-State of Tyr

Gathered around a trade outpost owned by House Vordon stand 15 souls preparing for a journey. In the west loom the Ringing Mountains, and to the north lies the mighty city of Tyr, its skyline dominated by the Golden Tower of King Kalak and the ziggurat his slaves have been crafting for the last century, finally near completion. The master of the caravan, an elf named Kaldras, owns two kanks (large quadrupedal insects) laden with ceramic goods, which he plans to sell in the fortified trade village of Altaruk. Even so early in the day, it is Highsun, the hottest part of the year, and the crimson sun is already growing oppressive. Kaldras investigates his cargo, his grayish-brown robe billowing in the dust-laden wind as eight of his fellow tribesmen (of the Moonrunners) engage in calisthenics before the journey begins.

Four strangers have answered Kaldras’s call for caravan guards: Cawthra Cloudseeker (an aarakocra and secret wizard, eager to investigate rumors of the Veiled Alliance in Altaruk) Malak Mashhim (an elven assassin on the run from a psionic slaver), a mul named Grik (former gladiator and current mercenary), and Jotano (a disavowed operative of House Tyrthani looking to get out of Tyr). Another traveler, Vinari, joins the company in order to convert the silt-worshipers of Altaruk, and was welcomed by Kaldras since a water priest is always useful in the desert. All of these adventurers have been promised a gold piece upon their safe arrival to Altaruk (worth 100 ceramic), and the possibility of future work. None of them think Kaldras’s ceramic will sell well in Altaruk, but are willing to take the easy work for decent pay. A Vordon scout named Morland Durand nearly sets out to accompany them, but at the last minute is diverted to a different group, and his own adventures. The final traveler is a thri-kreen named Nnn’tkk, a hunter without a pack in search of a new one. Nnn’tkk stalks behind the caravan as they set out, hoping to prove his worth to them during the journey. Jotano rides atop one of the kanks, earning the disdain of the elves.

The first day’s march is uneventful apart from the extreme heat. The caravan marches out of Tyr’s verdant belt into the stony barrens. On the second day, however, the group enters the Great Alluvial Sand Wastes, where they are beset by a sandstorm amidst the golden dunes. Kaldras and his elves continue the trancelike group-run common to elves, bringing the kanks with them. The rest of the group, however, is left behind, perhaps judged as too weak to be of worth. The blinding sand makes it impossible to spot the Moonrunners visually or to track them. While scouting aerially, Cawthra spots Nnn’tkk hiding in the sand to the west. He and Malak both speak Kreen and approach the mantis warrior amiably, with Vinari offering a jug of water, but Nnn’tkk says nothing and keeps his distance. Eventually the band sets forth, attempting to find the road to Altaruk.

Late the next day, the group enters the rocky badlands. Soon thereafter, they are ambushed by a band of runaway slaves led by elven raiders. Driven mad by thirst, the slaves give no quarter. This battle is the first test of the group’s combat abilities, and they easily slay all of their assailants despite the elves’ psionic talents. Nnn’tkk officially joins the party, having shed blood alongside them, and he applies his considerable survival skills toward keeping them alive and on track. Despite attempts to impersonate a psion, Cawthra is also revealed as a wizard during the battle, which most of the group is oddly tranquil about – although Vinari voices discontent allying with such a person.

On 19 Anabasis, running somewhat low on water, the party comes within sight of Altaruk’s granite walls. Waiting for them on the roadside, they find Kaldras, the Moonrunners, and the other kank. The dune trader says that he wondered when they would show up, and the re-united caravan enters the trade fort, bound for the elven market near the gate. This bazaar area is full of carts, stalls, tents and stands that peddle a dizzying array of goods, legal or otherwise, including poisons and magical reagents. Kaldras ducks into a nearby tent where he says he will get the promised gold pieces; meanwhile Jotano steals a half-pound of precious iron from “his” kank’s saddlebag. As the party spreads throughout the market, they are attacked by the eight Moonrunner warriors.

The party defends themselves ably from the elves, but soon the town guard has been alerted; Captain Tellemon arrives with some forty of his well-armed mercenary watchmen, with more pointing bows down from the walls. Kaldras emerges from the tent, saying that the heroes were in fact property: he alleges that a noble in Balic had already paid for them, and that the Moonrunners were in the process of delivering them when the “slaves” attempted to escape. Despite several holes in Kaldras’s story pointed out by Malak, Tellemon says that he has no way of discerning the truth of the matter, and that it would be resolved the next morning by trial in Bloodsand Arena. As the rest of the group, and the surviving Moonrunners, turn in their weapons and hand themselves over to the watch, Jotano slips away into the crowd.

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Session 2: Bloodsand Arena
Finding civilization to have no more justice than the wastes, the heroes make their own

The Time: 19 Anabasis, dusk
The Place: Altaruk Trade Fortress

The party, minus Jotano, is conducted to the gladiator barracks adjoining Bloodsand Arena. There they are kept in a cell normally reserved for slaves, and though they are stripped of equipment, they are promised its return before their trial in the morning, and Grik and Malak have daggers hidden on their persons. Before Tellemon leaves them for the night, Vinari reveals Cawthra as a wizard, and the aarakocra is dragged off by the watch to his own fate. The party hears that a halfling family a few cells down is to face a giant forest sloth the next day (winner eats the loser), but they remain unaware of the details of their own trial.

Outside, a disguised Jotano peruses goods in the elven market. He finds one dubious peddler, and after an innuendo-laden conversation, trades him the half-pound of iron for two doses of giant centipede venom. So armed, Jotano approaches a guard at the arena barracks, who he bribes with an “inspection fee”. Jotano asks the guard if he could see the next day’s combatants so he can know how to wager; the guard guides him into the cell area. At the Moonrunners’ cell, Jotano has one of the elves approach the bars, and pricks him with the Dexterity-draining venom while inspecting his arm muscles. After leaving the barracks, having no place to stay, Jotano finds a garden party being held at the House Rees compound. Disguising himself as a servant, the rogue seduces the hostess noblewoman, spending a night of passion with her. In the morning, he leaves with her copper necklace.

Grik, Vinari, Malak, and Nnn’tkk prepare for the trial. Charl, the local para-elemental priest of silt, attempts to convince the party to accept his blessings, but Vinari holds strong with his defense of the true, pure element of water. Grik is granted leave to visit the armory, where he swaps his macahuitls for an alak and alhulak to better accommodate his new trip-focused style, and he retrieves a bone chatkcha for Nnn’tkk. Captain Tellemon visits the group, explaining that it is not to be a simple fight to the death, although the losers will be sacrificed to appease the silt spirits: the party will appoint one member to throw a ball, or pelota, using a dejada glove. Throwing further is better, and an appointed runner will carry the pelota across the finish line for points. The other two team members are blockers, and are able to attack any opponent other than the thrower, although they can only use unarmed strikes or thrown pelotas. The party chooses Grik as their thrower and Malak as their runner, while Kaldras appoints himself as thrower. During the match, Kaldras consistently struck Vinari with his pelotas. Grik and Malak operated more efficiently, however, and Nnn’tkk finds that a limitation to fight unarmed is of little consequence when levied against a mantis-man with claws and venomous bite. Soon all the Moonrunners are dead save Kaldras, and Tellemon declares the party to be innocent. The wily trader attempts to flee the arena, but Jotano, who has been watching the match from the stands, leaps to the ground and finishes off Kaldras with his wrist razors.

As the crowd rejoices at a good show, Captain Tellemon informs the heroes they are to be granted all the Moonrunners’ possessions as compensation for unjust imprisonment, and sends Selonius, the governor’s scribe, down to show them the way. Before Selonius reaches them, Tellemon is hit in the throat by a crossbow bolt from an unseen assailant, and falls dead to the floor. Selonius, a slender half-elf, hurriedly tells the heroes to investigate the killing – the assassin may be someone within the watch, and it would be best to have outsiders working the case. With promises of good pay, the party immediately sets to work on the murder scene.

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Session 2.5: Veiled Threat
As the rest of the party endures Tellemon's justice, Cawthra makes contact with the Veiled Alliance

The Time: 19 Anabasis, dusk
The Place: Altaruk Trade Fortress

Outed by his teammate Vinari of Tyr, the wizard Cawthra Cloudseeker is dragged away by Captain Tellemon and his men. Deprived of his spell components, he is powerless to resist as he is strapped down and interrogated by a humpbacked old torturer as Tellemon watches. Cawthra resists giving any direct answers regarding his intentions or his knowledge of the Veiled Alliance. Just as the torturer is about to get into his real methods of persuasion, Tellemon steps in. The captain says that he hates wizards like Cawthra, but he will let the aarakocra go in exchange for a service. Tellemon has reason to believe that the Veiled Alliance operates a cell in Altaruk – he wants Cawthra to join them and report their members’ names. In fact, if the leader’s name is provided, Tellemon will even offer a bounty.

Cawthra tells Tellemon that he accepts the offer, and the captain reminds him that any attempt to abandon the mission or to join the Alliance in an attack on Tellemon could only end in Cawthra’s death. With that, he returns Cawthra his things and sets him free into the night, mentioning that he’s heard a report of a wizard staying at The Oasis, a brothel found just outside the main gate. Cawthra wastes no time flying there, where he beds The Blue Raven, an aarakocra whore.

In the morning, the Raven tells Cawthra that, yes, a Balican mage named Elek the Enchanter has been staying at the whorehouse. He will likely be downstairs with his morning peppers and eggs. The Raven hints that customers who pay for it won’t have to worry about their secrets being shared, but as Cawthra reaches for his coinpurse he finds it nearly empty, not even enough to pay for the Raven’s services. As the Raven kicks him out of her roost, Cawthra flies downstairs through the street window and finds Elek at breakfast.

A brief conversation has Elek sending Cawthra to a local wizard named Banoc, saying he’s heard Banoc is in the Veiled Alliance, although he says Cawthra should stick around and sample a pair of elf sisters with him instead of seeking out some old man. Flying to Banoc’s adobe tower, Cawthra finds a kindly old mage who invites him in and offers a cup of kola tea. After some chatting, Cawthra discovers that Banoc knew his mentor, Suldin of Nibenay, and in fact it was from Suldin that Banoc had obtained the kola nuts. Banoc says that any friend of Suldin’s is a friend of his, and confirms that, like Suldin, he is a Preserver and a member of the Veiled Alliance. Although Banoc trusts Cawthra’s intent, he does not yet know his abilities. To prove himself, Banoc sends Cawthra to kill Elek the Enchanter.

Returning to The Oasis, Cawthra goes to Elek’s room, where he finds the Defiler with the pair of elf sisters. As the women flee, the naked Elek attempts to defend himself. He manages to daze Cawthra and tries to slash his throat, but the aarakocra overcomes him. As Elek flees down the hall, Cawthra steps out and scorching rays the Balican into a pile of ash, grabbing his valuables and returning to Banoc. The old Preserver congratulates Cawthra and unofficially welcomes him to the Altaruk Veiled Alliance.

Deciding to return to Tellemon and the party, Cawthra flies to Bloodsand Arena, arriving just as a crossbow bolt sinks into Tellemon’s neck. As chaos breaks out in the arena, Cawthra seeks out the only people he can call friends.

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Session 3: Murder at the Games
The rectified heroes uncover a web of intrigue

The Time: 20 Anabasis, mid-morning
The Place: Altaruk Trade Fortress

As Bloodsand Arena swarms with panicked spectators and nervous guardsmen trying to contain them, Vinari and Malak sprint to the dais where lies the corpse of Captain Tellemon. As they mount the sandstone steps, Cawthra Cloudseeker drops out of the sky, telling Vinari in no uncertain terms that fate has brought them together and that he will brook no further betrayals.

Grik, Jotano, and Nnn’tkk secure the exits as the others attend the body. Malak steals Tellemon’s obsidian longsword. Vinari examines the crossbow bolt, which he finds to be wrapped in papyrus, on which a rapidly vanishing message reads DEATH TO KING KALAK – Vinari keeps this to himself. He also sees that the bolt and wound are coated in a residue of green paste. Cawthra notes this is a poison made from local cacti, and that it requires arcane magic to create. Meanwhile, with the aid of a zone of truth from Vinari, Malak interrogates several nearby witnesses. One of them, a guardsman, mentions that a towering mul clad in a white tunic had approached the captain during the trial, and that after Tellemon had fallen, the guard saw the mul fleeing toward the gladiator barracks.

Before tracking down their lead, the party gets to the important business of getting their rewards. The rogues take the lead in this, finding that the late Kaldras’s equipment is in the arena stable not far from their own gear stashed on Vinari’s erdlu-drawn cart. Arriving there, they meet Areela, chieftainess of the Moonrunners, and an entourage of her tribesmen. Areela, having examined Kaldras’s cargo, says that he had been sent to procure iron in Tyr, but apparently had been hoodwinked with counterfeit goods made of ceramic. To recoup his losses, he must have decided to attempt to enslave his caravan guards. Areela bears the party no ill will for Kaldras’s death, as a procurer so easily swindled is of little use to her tribe, but nonetheless insists that at least some of his goods go to the Moonrunners. Her warriors eye the heroes tensely as Jotano and Malak haggle with her; eventually the party comes out with a kank, 100 gallons of water, about two pounds of iron, and a variety of other mundane gear. Jotano goes on a jaunt out of the barracks and purchases a dwarf slave, offering him a choice between the names Moradin and Slobberfist. The dwarf chooses Moradin.

Finally getting to the matter at hand, the group goes to the barracks, where Jotano speaks to a dim-witted guard, asking about any strange persons. The guard mentions a crazy old dwarf beggar named Birk Suntouched, but says he’s harmless. Pressing on into the yard, the heroes spot a disheveled dwarf muttering to himself who seems to be keeping an eye on them. Shadowed by the groups, Birk wanders into the adjoining training hall, where he approaches a white-clad mul at least six and a half feet tall: the heroes know they have their men, and battle is joined, Birk lunging at a weapons rack for a polearm and the mul brandishing a warhammer. The clash is brief, as Cawthra casts grease on Birk’s weapon, sending it flying from his hands, and Vinari casts hold person on the mul. Surrendering, the conspirators swear that they’re working for Arisphistaneles. All eight of them make for the governor’s keep.

Within, Selonius guides them to the governor’s solar, where they find a comfortable office. The governor’s desk is covered in scrolls (rare in much of Athas, where reading is illegal), and features a small flower in a vase, a show of opulence in the harsh desert. The bald tunic-clad Arisphistaneles receives the heroes, and acknowledges that Birk is one of his agents in town, although he knew nothing of a plan to kill Captain Tellemon. Birk explains that Tellemon was secretly an agent of a Tyrian templar named Hasaval, and was planning to assassinate Arisphistaneles because he suspected the governor of having ties to the Veiled Alliance. Vinari recognizes the name Hasaval as a known rival to High Templar Tithian within Kalak’s templarate. All that said, the governor reveals that he is in fact the head of Altaruk’s Veiled Alliance, and that he is glad to know of Hasaval’s plot. Out of a side room comes Banoc, who congratulates Cawthra on his success.

The governor rewards the heroes as Selonius promised for investigating Tellemon’s death, and says that he has another job for them to embark on the next day: the town has been plagued with “wind sickness”, a magical disease brought upon them by a House M’ke caravan from the City-State of Raam. Charl’s silt magic is not strong enough to heal the sickness; the only spellcaster powerful and near enough to help is a dwarven druid called Kesi, who rules a nearby oasis. The heroes are to leave at dawn and recruit her aid by whatever means prove necessary.

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Session 4: Uneasy Alliance
With all of Altaruk in peril, the party finds the town's only hope has a high price

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.

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Session 5: Stare Into the Abyss
In which the party confronts an ethical dilemma

21 Anabasis, Morning
Altaruk Trade Fortress

With Altaruk imperiled by a rash of “wind sickness”, the party has been given leave by Arisphistaneles, Governor and Veiled Alliance leader, to liquidate his operative Banoc in order to satisfy the ruthless terms of the local druid Kesi. Even with this permission, however, the party remains split on whether to murder an innocent wizard or risk dooming the town.

After debate on how to proceed, finally Cawthra grudgingly relented, deciding to allow the party to move against his newfound mentor. He visited Banoc in his tower, telling him of their difficult situation. Banoc said that even in his advanced age, however, that he was not willing simply to sacrifice himself, asking if the party had put as much into convincing Kesi not to kill him as they had into convincing him to sacrifice himself. At most, Banoc said, he would be willing to accept exile from Altaruk.

Hearing Cawthra’s report, Jotano, perhaps seeking to have as many allies as possible survive and to claim rewards from all parties, led a new push for diplomacy. Vinari presented the new terms to Kesi outside the city gates, and only due to his outstanding effort at diplomacy did Kesi accept Banoc’s terms of exile.

Back at Banoc’s tower, however, Nnn’tkk had been left to keep watch. Partially due to a strong language barrier, Nnn’tkk didn’t fully grasp the situation, knowing only that there had been talk of slaying Banoc. Putting his hunting skills to use, the mantis man leapt through a third-story window and hurled his chatkchas at the old mage. Banoc’s stoneskin spell held up against this assault, the throwing weapons clattering to the floor. Feeling merciful, Banoc cast a lesser geas upon Nnn’tkk, commanding him to leave the tower and never return.

As Nnn’tkkk left, the rest of the party arrived with news of Kesi’s acceptance. Soon Governor Arisphistaneles had been informed and the party richly congratulated for avoiding a no-win situation. Ari said he had a sensitive task for them in Tyr soon, but first sent them off to the One-Eyed Kank for a night of wine and women. Captain Bost reported that Kesi had already begun healing all of the House M’ke caravaneers of wind sickness, except for the missing Ekee, the mentor and betrayer of Malak (Bro-Dan’s rogue). Not mentioning Ekee in the governor’s office, Malak finally told the party after they left the keep. Before getting to their manhunt the party decided to get to the wine and women.

Questioning the caravan master, several prostitutes, and an elven black marketeer, the party began the hunt in the morning. Soon Malak spotted a disguised Ekee ducking into an ally and decided to give chase, ignoring Ekee’s offer to point him toward Ramessu, the psionic slaver she had sold him to before the party came together. Exchanging verbal quips, Ekee flung a poisoned smokestick in Malak’s face and disarmed him with a whip, but Malak managed to tackle her to the ground as she fled. She tried to draw a garrote to strangle him, but the rest of the party and a pair of guards arrived. Giving herself up, Ekee was taken into custody, and the guards gave her gear to the party “for safekeeping.”

Taking her inn key, the party went to loot her room, being hit by another poisoned smokestick she had placed above the door. Finding a variety of roguish treasure, they also saw Ramessu the slaver and his entourage of reptilian tribesmen and half-giant barbarian bodyguard (armed with a massive obsidian greataxe). Wasting no time, Malak and Jotano set up with blowgun and crossbow, Nnn’tkk with his chatkchas. Nnn’tkk identified the reptoids as gith, whom Cawthra knew to have an intensely competitive social structure: if a group’s leader died, the next two gith in the pecking order would instantly fight to the death, even during battle.

Accordingly the trio of snipers began by eliminating the obvious “chief”, setting the gith against one another. The furious Ramessu sent his half-giant to find the hidden ambushers, but concentrated fire brought the brute down before he got to the stairs. Ramessu was the only real threat as Cawthra hypnotized those gith that weren’t killing one another. He managed to manifest time hop on Cawthra, moving the bird wizard several rounds into the future, but couldn’t eliminate any other threats before being taken down. Never having seen the hidden Malak or Jotano, he assumed the massacre was treachery from Ekee, and died cursing her name.

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