Hope, Kaiju, Thoradin and Traven gathered the following morning in the caravanserai of Altaruk, where they were met by Rhotan Vor. While his men prepared three sand skiffs, loading supplies for the journey, Rhotan explained the first leg of the trip to the party. They would be heading north along the road (or what passes for a road in Athas) towards an oasis three days or so distant. From there, it was another two days to Silver Spring, where they would rest for a day or so and meet with the elven leader of that settlement, a man named Toramund. He explained that Toramund had a reputation as someone who knew the tablelands near Silver Spring like no one else, and that Rhotan wanted him to confirm the precise location of the canyon that supposedly holds the lost vault of Darom Madar.
Rhotan then introduced the party to Vintius Falco, a former gladiator who had served House Wavir in the past, and had been recommended to him by an agent of the house in Balic. He explianed that Falco would be going with them as an additional sword arm, in case of trouble. He further explained that he needed the party to scout ahead of the caravan by half a day or so, to deal with anything on the road that might impede their progress. He gave them enough supplies for the five-day trip to Silver Spring, and advised them to buy anything else they might need for the trip, and then head for the oasis. The caravan would leave 12 hours or so later, and catch up to them at Silver Spring.
While they were buying some potion fruit in the Altaruk marketplace, an elven woman approached Thoradin and asked if he was traveling north. He said that he was, and she offered to pay him if he would carry a letter for her to Toramund in Silver Spring. After brief negotiations, he agreed.
Supplied and as well-prepard as they were going to get, the group set out into the baking heat and dry dust of the northern road. At the end of the second day of travel, they lost the road – a recent sandstorm had eliminated all trace of the path. Spotting a ruined tower off to the east, they took shelter there for the night, and managed to climb to the top to get a better view of their surroundings. They sighted landmarks to the north that indicated where the road was, and picked it back up the following morning. Late in the third day, they sighted a small figure racing across the dunes far to the north. An hour or so later, they came to the lip of a small bowl valley, with a muddy oasis at the bottom, surrounded by some scrub bushes and small boulders. Approaching the oasis, they spotted several figures with red sashes tied around their waists trying to hide in the brush. Realizing that they’d be seen, the bandits attacked.
The battle proved to be brutal and bloody, as two humans armed with jagged bone spears engaged Falco and Traven, while a third flanked to tie up Kaiju. Hope and Thoradin tried to help the others fight off the spearmen while the bandit’s leaders, a dwarf sunpriest and a halfling psionicist, attacked the party’s casters from a distance. The balance shifted when Falco dropped one of the spearmen in a flurry of whirling blades, and left the second spearman badly hurt. Unfortunately, the third of the spearmen tangled Kaiju’s robes with his jagged spear, and pulling a dagger, gave him a bad slash to the gut that dropped the sorcerer. The halfling continued to blast Hope with psionic bursts, eventually catching him off guard and landing a massive shot that left Hope unconscious. Falco and Thoradin took the fight to the halfling and dwarf, while Traven kept the third spearman occupied. Although the halfling was easily dealt with, the dwarven sunpriest proved to be harder prey. By the time they’d managed to take him down, he’d done enough damage to leave Falco unconscious. Thoradin and Traven then fought a desperate battle against the last of the spearmen while their companions slipped slowly towards death. Sadly, all three of the unconscious party members died of their wounds before the last spearman took a bad step and slammed his spear into the rock Traven was standing on, shattering it. Battered and bloody, the bandit ran into the desert, leaving Thoradin and Traven alone in the middle of the horrific carnage.
The two surviving adventurers spent the rest of the evening gathering the posessions of the fallen, friend and foe alike, and burying their fallen comrades and the bandits, so as not to attract scavengers. They decided to wait at the oasis for Rhotan Vor and the caravan, rather than continuing to scout ahead. In the morning, they found the last of the spearmen lying dead near the water, apparently having returned in the night and then died of his wounds. When the skiffs arrived, they explained what had happened. Rhotan recognized the red sashes as being a badge of the bandits known as the Crimson Vipers, a vicious group that had been attacking small caravans all across the tablelands for a few months now. He said that if they brought the sashes to Silver Spring, they would probably be rewarded for killing the bandits. He said that he could spare one of his skiff crew to go with them as they headed for Silver Spring, and asked them to begin negotiatons with Toramund to find out the precise location of the Canyon of Gothay when they arrived. He also advised them to hire on more guards for the second leg of the trip, since if the vault was still intact, there would surely be some sort of danger awaiting them.
The reduced party set out again for the two day journey to Silver Spring. At the end of their first day of travel they realized a sandstorm was brewing to the west. They managed to get a tent set up and anchored before it hit, and spent a tense night huddled inside. Finally arriving in Silver Spring late the next day, they found lodging for the night at one of the several inns. In the morning, they sought out Toramund. The red sashes and the letter from Iseel were enough to convince Toramund’s secretary to let them see the chieftan, and they were led through a series of tunnels underneath the settlement of Silver Spring, to a small room where Toramund awaited them. During the trip, they had decyphered the letter, which was written in some sort of elven code – it was to notify Toramund that his son Ravee was in trouble with a gang of thieves in Tyr. Offering to help with his son’s situation seemed to buy Traven and Thoradin some respect, and the crimson sashes bought them a bit more. After some negotiations, Toramund gave them a series of landmarks that would lead them to the Canyon of Gothay.