The Burning Sands

Arrival in Tyr
Having completed their first job, the party must decide where to go from here

The caravan approached the gate with their skiffs – Brick lying unconscious on the middle one, trying to fight off the blinding sickness he contracted after their battle with the Tsalaxa guards – and joined the line of merchants and travelers waiting to enter Tyr. The line was slow-moving, and by the the party was approaching the gate they could see why: there was a group of templars at the gate, apparently taking the name of each person to enter, and collecting taxes from those bringing in cargo. Traven and Thoradin conferred, and decided that they didn’t want to declare their cargo. Traven spent the rest of the time coaching Lamont, and when they arrived at the gate Lamont asked to see the templars’ commanding officer. After a short delay, the commander showed up and he and Lamont had a quiet conversation. Lamont offered the commander a deal: allow them to enter without declaring their cargo, forego the normal taxes, and they’d pay the templar detail directly instead. Thankfully, this particular captain was more greedy than loyal, and he accepted the deal. They paid him a hefty sum in sticks, with a bonus in ancient copper and silver coins, and were waved through the gate and into the city of Tyr.

The winding path of Caravan Way led them to Iron Square, where the trade houses had their offices. They found the Wavir office, and Lamont entered to find Rhotan Vor. Lamont spent a few minutes examining the room – walls covered in shelves, holding all manner of trade samples on display, before noticing the well-dressed mul behind a counter at the back of the main room. He inquired after Rhotan, and the secretary soon returned with him in tow. Rhotan was surprised to see them so soon, but excited that they’d managed to secure the treasure and his skiffs. He had them bring the skiffs around into the alley, where a large gate opened into the walled courtyard behind the trade office. With the skiffs and the treasure safely behind the Wavir compound walls, Rhotan told them that he had several other potential opportunites that he thought they could help with, if they were looking for work.

The party discussed finding a space to rent as an office and base of operations in Tyr. They decided to look for a space in the caravan district, to be near the convergence of the noble district and the warrens, and near the main gates. After a few days of searching, they found a suitable space – a room facing the street, just large enough to open a small tavern, with additional rooms for an office / study, a barracks with space for ten simple beds, and one last room that they planned to convert to a vault. Another few days saw the spaces outfitted with basic but functional furniture, and the vault walls and door reinforced. They hired two serving staff for the tavern, and two guards to keep watch over the place, particularly the vault. Traven met with the templars’ gate captain again, to tell him that their newly opened tavern would give a 10% discount to the templars who worked the gates, as an offer of goodwill.

After moving their remaining treasure into the vault, they began to look for contacts in town. The proprietor of the best-known tavern in the caravan district (The Golden Inix), a pompous half-elf named Rowan, spent several hours telling exceedingly boring tales to Traven and giving him advice on how to run the bar, but Traven felt he would be a good contact in the future as long as they could keep him convinced that they were suitably impressed with his stories and experience. They also investigated a well-known weapon shop on Caravan Way, Grik’s Weaponry. Run by a very large mul named, unsurprisingly, Grik, the shop sold all manner of weapons, but with a particular preference for the showy and flashy. Grik seemed to cater to the city’s gladiators, being an ex-champion himself. They set up an appointment to view his “special stock”, and discovered that he had a small cache of iron-bladed weapons in very old styles – Traven bought himself an iron longsword for an exorbitant fee. They sold two of the weapons from the Madar Vault to Grik as well, to offset the cost of the iron blade.

Finally, they met with Rhotan again, to discuss his other leads. He laid out four rumors that had crossed his path lately. First, one of Rhotan’s contacts reported seeing a mostly-intact tower high in the mountain range that splits the Forest Ridge, east of the Crystal Forest and southwest of Tyr. It was his opinion that if it was as intact as his contact claimed, it was worth exploring. Second, There was a building at the center of a part of Under-Tyr called The Sorrows which had never been breached. No one knew what it contained, but it was rumored to be the crypt or house of some ancient noble family. Third, the ruins of the city of Arkhold on the edges of the Silt Sea, far beyond Balic, were supposed to hold vast wealth, and their remote location meant that they were largely unexplored by treasure hunters. Last, and most risky, The Temple of the Sky Serpent deep in the Forest Ridge had been explored by many groups over the years, finding only endless winding tunnels. But when the moons aligned in a certain way above the temple, snake-men poured out through greenish portals to perform strange rituals. None who tried to enter the during the alignment had ever managed to return, but it was Rhotan’s feeling that the snakemen who issued forth from the temple must come from somewhere, and that place may well have vast wealth – possibly even abundant metal or water. After some deliberation, they decided that the tower to the southwest would be the best combination of accessible and lucrative.

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Vengeance
Assassination, treasure, and senseless murder

Having lost a few days recovering from their wounds, they pushed themselves hard to catch up with the caravan, travelling along the road towards Raam for the better part of a week. Traversing the mountainous region south of the Dragon’s Bowl, they saw signs of tarek raiding parties, and guessed they’d have left the caravan alone due to the number of armed guards. They kept a watch out for any opportunistic raiders, and so were not surprised when a party of tareks sprung out at them from a rocky area just uphill from the main track. Their shaman made the earth rise up against the PCs, clutching at their feet, and shaking them to their knees, while the raiders charged in close with their deadly heartpicks. Each of the party had a close brush with death during the battle, but in the end it was the tareks who fell. Traveling onward, they came within sight of the caravan in the far distance, a few days later. They decided to wait for nightfall and attack under cover of darkness.

Meanwhile, the famed former gladiator known as "Ballsmasher" had decided to travel from Raam back to Tyr, where his status as a freed slave would be respected instead of constantly questioned. Seeing a large group with three skiffs heading towards him, he stayed on the road just long enough to discern the House Tsalaxa livery on the guards, then quietly skirted the group, well off into the desert. House Tsalaxa had sold him into slavery years ago, and though he wanted his revenge he decided that a party of two dozen guards would be too much to take on. Farther up the road, however, he ran across the party following the caravan. They were only too happy to have another hand for the attack, so the group brought him in on the plan.

Once darkness had falled and the majority of the guards had pulled out their bedrolls and drifted off, Traven skulked through the darkness to the outer ring of six guards. Silently, he slipped inside their watch and one by one he slit their throats. Being careful to avoid the two better-armored guard captains on watch, he brought down four of the watchers before one of the captains heard a muffled cry from the last. The captain’s shouts brought the whole camp to attention, but the rest of the party was already in their midst, having slipped through the gap Traven had made in their line. While the sleeping guards staggered to their feet, Thoradin summoned clouds of insects to swarm them, stinging several of them to death. Behind him, Lamont fought off several of the guards and one of their captains, eventually being knocked unconscious by their assault. On the edges of the camp, Ballsmasher and Brick teamed up on one of the captains, quickly dropping him before moving on to the others. Brick was a whirlwind of death, cutting through guards and captains with equal ferocity, which Ballsmasher and Thoradin tried to keep Lamont safe. Traven, meanwhile, was surrounded by one of the guard squads and their captain, but he fought back fiercly and killed the captain and several of the guards.

After the battle they managed to revive Lamont, and rested at the camp for the night. The following morning, they sent Brick to Raam to find a skiff pilot since they were a man short to pilot all three skiffs. He found it was easy enough to hire a pilot for the promise of 10 sticks on reaching Tyr. Once they had the necessary manpower to control the skiffs, they set out for Tyr. On the way back they stopped at the aaracokra village again and presented the tribe with a gift – the tabards of the slain Tsalaxa guards, which the tribe’s shaman took gratefully. After ten days, nearing the city of Tyr, they quietly killed the hired guard in the night and hid his body, so as to keep the treasure all for themselves. The following day, the caravan gate of Tyr came into sight in the distance.

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Ambushed
In which our heroes are foolishly left for dead

The group fought off the angry spirits, Lamont’s healing giving them the edge to survive the vicious attacks of the ghosts. After the fight, they carefully destroyed the obelisk without getting close to it. As soon as the obelisk was broken, the oppressive atmosphere in the chamber vanished. After catching their breath, they moved to examine the smoky greyish wall they had noticed in an alcove at the back of the chamber. After some examination, they determined the substance to be a foil of tarnished silver. Realizing that this must be a door like the copper-foiled ones leading in to the crypt, they set about to try and open it. Despite Brick springing one of the traps woven into the door with magic, Thoradin and Traven managed to trigger the latch mecahnism after several hours’ work. The door slid into the floor with a loud grinding noise, to reveal a large chamber with scattered piles of treasure, and an imposing withered figure in tattered armor dragging a large sword. It seemed that Darom Madar’s hatred for his House Tsalaxa enemies had turned him into an oath wight, doomed to guard his vault from their descendants.

The wight charged into combat, lashing out with its massive sword and bloodying several PCs in turn before they could bring their full powers to bear against him. After a furious battle, the corpse of Darom Madar lay still and silent on the floor of his vault, finally at rest.

The party took an inventory of the magical gear scattered through the piles, and began collecting the metal coins, of which there were several thousand sticks worth. They hid the coins, collected the magic items, scraped the silver from the top of the now-sunken door to hide its true nature, then went to fetch Rhotan and the skiffs. The pilots loaded the piles of ceramic currency into the clay pots they’d brought for the purpose, and everyone headed back out into the canyon. Halfway from the vault to the lip of the canyon, a large group of men stepped up to the canyon edges on both sides, loaded crossbows pointed at the party.

A well-dressed, if dusty, man in the colors of Hours Tsalaxa stepped out into view at the top of the sloping canyon end, accompanied by an aaracokra. Rhotan immediately recognized the man and hissed out his name – Tyron Tsalaxa. Tyron thanked them eloquently for recovering the treasure for him, and said that their corpses would make an excellent feast for “these savages”, motioning to the aaracokra at his side. He gestured to his troops, and dozens of bolts streaked through the canyon. Rhotan, the pilots, and the PCs were all struck down.

The group awakened some time later, finding themselves in a crude tent. An aaracokra was there, apparently some kind of healer. The bird-man explained to them that the Tsalaxa had left the party to them apparently as some form of payment, assuming that they’d simply devour them. The tribe carried them back to their village atop a nearby mesa, and their shaman used his healing skills and elemental powers to heal their wounds and restore them to health. Rhotan was there as well, but only one of the skiff pilots had survived his wounds. The Tsalaxa men had even left the group their gear, being far more interested in the loaded skiffs.

The shaman later explained that their scouts had been keeping tabs on the Tsalaxa group since the ambush. About twenty-four men, half their total strength, went northeast on the road to Raam with the skiffs, and the others went south towards Silver Spring, accompanied by Tyron. After some discussion, the party decided to pursue the skiffs and try to recover the treasure. Rhotan told them that he would be taking the remaining skiff pilot and returning to his offices in Tyr, writing off the whole trip as a bad investment. However, he told them to look him up if they found themselves in the city, as he would probably be able to provide them with more work if they wanted it. He also asked that if they did manage to recover the skiffs, they return them to him – but said that whatever they recovered of the treasure would be theirs to keep, since as things stood it was lost to him anyway.

The party traded with the tribe for supplies, and arranged to have a scout lead them to the edges of the tribe’s territory (the aaracokra were happy to help, since the Tsalaxa had greatly insulted them). The group reached the road to Raam without incident, and the scouts turned back to return to their mesa as the PCs set off towards Raam.

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The Vault of Darom Madar
In which none of the heroes die, for once

While waiting for Rhotan Vor to arrive in Silver Spring, Traven and Thoradin canvassed the local taverns and hiring posts, looking for additional help. After a few hours of searching, they had found two likely prospects: a human ardent named Lamont and a hulking Half-Giant barbarian calling himself Brick.

Once Rhotan Vor arrived, they reported to him about their meeting with Toramund that morning, and explained what the chieftain had told them about the Canyon of Gothay. Rhotan planned to stop over a full day to water, rest, and resupply the caravan, and requested that the party again scout ahead by half a day to deal with any threats. He seemed to approve of their choices for additional guards, and offered Lamont and Brick the same deal he’d given Thoradin and Traven – their pick of the treasure plus a cut of the sale once they reached Tyr.

Setting out the next morning, the party traveled for two days to the northwest through the scorching desert, to the edges of the Alluvial Sand Wastes. Toramund’s directions proved correct, and they soon found themselves standing on the lip of a ragged canyon. The walls were pocked with small caves along its entire half-mile length, an the bottom was covered in sand drifting in off the Wastes. The party spent some time searching the area at the top of the canyon, and soon discovered a set of recent footprints – booted feet, traveling towards one end of the canyon.

Following the footprints, they entered the canyon, but soon lost the trail in the blown sand of the canyon floor. They began to search nearby caves, and thanks to Brick and Thoradin, managed to avoid a few caves occupied by creatures, until they found one deep enough to shelter the party for the night, and empty aside from some sand and a few old bones. During the night, Brick heard a cry from farther down the canyon, cut off suddenly. Other than that incident, the night passed quietly.

Emerging from the cave the next day, they spotted an aarakocra scout circling over the canyon at the far end. They debated a course of action, but decided against confronting the creature, since aarakocra typically hunt in groups, and are more trouble than a small party can handle. Slipping farther up the canyon, they explored caves at ground level while trying to stay out of sight of the circling scout. Eventually they came to a deeper cavern filled with bodies.

There seemed to be two distinct styles of dress on the corpses, most of which were dessicated corpses or reduced to mere bones. However, a recently-killed gith lay on the floor of the cavern in a pool of blood. Thoradin investigated the gith, and determined that it was killed by a sword-thrust through the chest. Meanwhile, Brick tried to get an obsidian longsword he spotted in the grip of one of the older corpses, but the skeleton began to rise jerkily to its feet. The rest of the older bodies followed suit, and the group suddenly found itself fighting off a barrage of bone arrows from the skeletons, while confronting a pair of zombies, one of whom proved able to teleport and shroud itself in darkness. They were able to identify the insignias on the tabards and cloaks of the undead – the zombies were members of House Tsalaxa in life, while the skeletons had been members of House Madar.

After the fight, they explored the back of the cavern, where they spotted some worked stone during the battle. Farther back in the darkness, they discovered a pair of large doors, apparently made of some sort of greenish pitted substance. Bringing their sunrod close, they saw a reddish-orange gleam from some of the pits, and realized what the substance was – copper. Further investigation revealed that the metal was a thin foil adhered to stone, but in any case it was more metal than any of them had ever seen in one place.

They returned to the cave mouth and set up a tripwire using the shields of the fallen skeletons as a noisemaker, to warn them if anyone else followed them in. Thoradin found a spider in a corner of the cave and trapped it inside one of the bone tubes that formerly held salve against sunburn. Using his primal magic, he commanded the spider to bring a message to him, and then rigged the bone tube to tip over if something triggers their tripwire, freeing the creature.

Returning to the back of the cavern, Traven determined that the doors were neither locked nor trapped. Hearing nothing from within, they pushed the doors slowly open to reveal a large chamber cleanly cut into the rock, dominated by a large obelisk in the center. Carved all over with writing, the obelisk gave off a palpable aura of grief, sadness and anger. Three stone sarcophagi sat in niches along the left wall. Lamont examined the obelisk while Thoradin moved to check the sarcophagi. The writing on the obelisk proved to be names – the names of members of House Madar.

Thoradin heaved the lid off the first sarcophagus, revealing the desiccated corpse of a noblewoman in fine robes. Her eyes snapped open as an unearthly wailing filled the chamber. Ghostly forms swarmed through the walls and up from the floor, as the corpse lurched up from its resting place.

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To Silver Spring Oasis
Sandstorms, carnage and death

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.

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Sand Raiders
The desert is a harsh place

Guy Wiltleaf, Hope, Kaiju, and Traven Shadowplague set out from Altaruk to find a lost wagon and its cargo belonging to House Wavir, on the promise of a reward of 100 sticks. A mile or two north of the walls, they were set upon by silt runner ambushers. Guy was paralyzed by a darter’s blowgun and felled by a rager’s spear, while the rest of the party fought a desperate battle against two more ragers and a second darter. Bloodied and battered, they managed to kill two of the ragers, and the rest of the silt runners ran off. Lucky for the group, their ambushers weren’t expecting resistance.

They gathered what they could from their fallen companion’s corpse and dragged themselves back to Altaruk to rest and try to find someone to replace Guy. Hope met a dwarven druid named Thoradin in one of Altaruk’s bars, who agreed to join them in exchange for a share of the reward.

Setting off again in the evening, they traveled several miles before coming upon the lost wagon, swarming with kruthiks. The party’s approach alerted the creatures, who eagerly attacked – hopeful for a meal. Thoradin and Traven ended the battle unconscious and dying, but Hope and Kaiju managed to tend to their wounds, and after a rest the party examined the area. The wagon was empty of cargo, and the draft animals had snapped their traces and run off, but off to the north Thoradin found silt runner tracks and signs that several things had been dragged away.

Heading north following the tracks, the group came upon the ruins of an ancient tower, mostly broken and buried in the sands. Finding a stairway leading down, they discovered a pair of massive stone doors with torchlight leaking out through the cracks. Something was clearly moving around inside, but they were unable to learn any more than that. Slamming wide the doors, they surprised the silt runners and their ssurran leader. With the help of surprise and a coordinated attack, they quickly dispatched their foes.

They found three wagon drivers tied up in a corner, along with most of the goods from the caravan. The guards, grateful for being rescued from a gruesome death, told their saviors that the ssurran had been trying to open one of the ancient sarcophagi scattered around the tomb. Working together, the group managed to open it – among the bones they found a pair of Flame Bracers [level 3] and a gem in a silver setting.

Working with the drivers, the group hauled the cargo back to the wagon, and hauled the wagon back to Altaruk. They met a grateful Rhotan Vor, the dwarf who had hired them for the job, who gave them their reward plus a bonus of a survival day each, and his gratitude. He then told them that he had another job for them, if they were interested.

He explained that he’d potentially discovered the location of the Vault of Darom Madar, the legendary lost treasure of a now-dead merchant house. He offered them very generous terms (their pick of any treasure the vault might contain, plus a 10 percent share of the total once they reach Tyr) if they’d scout for his caravan and protect him and his employees on the trip to the vault, and from there back to Tyr. Of course, the vault may not exist, and other groups will certainly be looking for it as well…

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