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.