A Simple Job

The Tembo

Bloodied again by the anakore ambush and perhaps feeling they had bitten off more than a few merchants and caravan guards were really prepared to chew, the party nevertheless soldiers on in pursuit of the bandits holding Belana Wavir.

As they follow the now-days-old trail, they come across the bodies of five slain thri-kreen. Thuk’Cha appears taken aback. Stunned, if a kreen can be said to feel that emotion. These are the bodies of The Children, a secretive hive that even the general kreen population knows little about, and is totally hidden from any outsiders. It’s apparent these thri-kreen have been murdered by the raiders.

Soon after, the bandits’ lair emerges into view: a collection of huts, ramshackle buildings and tents sitting atop a 100-foot plateau that has a road winding around the outside. Even from a great distance, Hiccup is able to spot a woman who looks like she might be Belana Wavir inside one of the buildings.

Deciding that a frontal assault is not wise, the party decides to take Thuk’Cha’s advice and seek help from The Children, thinking the secretive hive may be ready to exact vengeance. Thuk’Cha however, has no more than a rough idea where to find The Children. He tells them that in order to locate them, he will have to retune the hiveseeker to guide them. That will require Binder’s Weed. And the nearest source of Binder’s Weed he knows is in a canyon frequented by a tembo.

The tembo is a terrifying creature, despised across Athas, and the party enters its lair with caution, only to find it empty, except for a few small kruthiks gnawing on the discarded flesh and bones of animals and humanoids previously consumed by the tembo. In the corner, growing next to a small pool of water formed by a steady drip down the cave wall, is the Binder’s Weed.

A few of the kruthiks die before the party decides to ignore them, gather up the Binder’s Weed and whatever else of value they can find, and get out. Before they can, though, the tembo shows up at the entrance to the cave.

“Ah,” it snarls in a hissing whisper. "The water … the smell of it fills your nose, does it not? Such an intoxicating smell. The smell of life. I hope you tasted it – it is quite sweet and delicious. But for you, it is the smell of death, for you have stumbled where you should not be.

“But I have recently eaten, and I cannot overfeed the kruthiks or they become insufferable. You, and you,” he says, pointing to Thuk’Cha and the dray, Toothless, “You may leave. Leave the softskins and go.”

Toothless begins to walk out, and the tembo lets her go. The rest of the party, knowing they must fight for their lives, attacks.

The tembo quickly realizes it has miscalculated by staying in the narrow cave entrance rather than bounding down in the main cave chamber, where it could have used its great maneuverability to deadly effect. The situation is made worse by the return of Toothless, who never intended to leave in the first place. Trapped, surrounded and blinded, the tembo falls, spitting in frustrated rage.

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Rescue

The battle to free the merchants kidnapped by the Black Raiders rages on, and has reached a point of near desperation. Arvin’s Man is down, unconscious after several vicious blows from a massive, cornered, enraged goliath. The gnoll mercenary, with barely enough time to find his place amongst the makeshift, ragtag group, is dead. Throat torn out at the hands of a slaver’s scourge, poisoned by kank venom, he bleeds out in the sand, surrounded by enemies.

But all is not lost. Thuk’Cha and Carraksul, foraging for small game at night, hear the sounds of the struggle and leap into the fight. With the desert-toughened thri-kreen and the tough former slave entering the fray, the tide quickly turns. The goliath goes down first. Even in death the massive half-giant is dangerous; even as he breathes his last breath, he lashes out and delivers a powerful blow, injuring the dray caravan guard, Toothless. But with the arrival of help, the remaining bandits are dispatched quickly.

The hostages are freed, but only a few of them are in a position to drive the tavern-sized mekillot, or to defend themselves from danger along the way back home to Altaruk. After some begging and cajoling by the freed slaves, and wheedling by Hiccup, the party agrees to take them back to the trading town. They’re able to leave them with another group – some merchants they find traveling along the Trade Road.

Setting back off again, with Thuk’Cha in the lead, they again find the trail of the Black Raiders. More than a day passes. As night starts to fall on the second day, they come across the torn carcasses of two riders and four kanks. Clearly there were more riders here, but there is no sign of them now.

Thuk’Cha squats down and examines the scene. “Anakores. Make haste.” The party starts to run, but the dunes are endless. Soon, the signs are are upon them – shifting sands and burrowing noises signal the arrival of the scaly night creatures.

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Hot Pursuit

After coming across a wrecked group of wagons and the road and coming under attack by ssurrans, the party notices a dazed gnoll guard – another employee of the merchant house, wandering confusedly nearby. Knowing strength lies in numbers, the gnoll, dragonborn, mul, human and elf decide to join forces. Any attempts to get to know each other are cut short though, before the disastrous trip gets a little worse.

A lone rider appears on the horizon, riding toward them from the northwest at top speed. As he nears, they see he is wearing the clothes of a House Wavir guard.

“Make your best time forward!” the rider calls out. “What’s left of the caravan is under attack!”

The party does just that, pushing their sole remaining crodlu to his limit to make up ground, although they’re not exactly sure how far they have to go.

As it turns out, they were just a few miles behind the front of the caravan, which seems to have survived the storm, albeit in bad shape. Those few miles were one too many, however. They see dozens of riders on kanks, swirling around the wagons, then galloping off into the desert.

Four bandits riding war-trained kanks remain – greedy stragglers. They quickly regret their decision to stay behind, as the party sets upon them, killing them all, down to the last surviving beast as it attempts to flee.

Among the frightened and wounded survivors is a guard, lying in a pool of his own blood, who ashamedly tells them that this was the work of the Black Raiders, and that he doesn’t know what happened after he was knocked out.

One thing is apparent – there don’t seem to be any high-level Wavir merchants here. Belana Wavir is notably absent, almost assuredly a kidnap victim.

As the party is investigating, one of the thri-kreen scouts Wavir had hired to help the massive caravan trots in from the north. He points out the easy-to-follow trail the raiders have left. They apparently number in the scores, and have taken the giant hollowed-out beetle carapace, full of hostages, and the mekillot that pulls it.

The party sets off after the Black Raiders, but not until they had extracted a promise of a reward – one wagon’s worth of profits – from one of the low-level merchants remaining. By late afternoon, they find them: three guards around a small campfire, and a wagon full of bound hostages.

Pyotr’s attempt at stealth fails, as the sharp-eyed guards notice the vampire skulking behind a rock. The fight is on. Two human bandits fall, leaving a huge goliath enforcer with his back to the mekillot, swinging his greatclub in rage. The end is in sight, until three latecomers arrive in camp: a pair of kank riders and a huge, sneering slavemaster wielding a vicious scourge.

The newly arrived gnoll runs over to intercept the newcomers, but they are too much for him. After laying one of the riders low, the slaver’s scourge finds its way through the barbarian’s defenses and tears his throat open. Already poisoned by one of the kanks, he dies there, writhing silently in the sand as his new companions look on in horror.

The fight, far from resolved, goes on …

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Rolling On

The massive Wavir caravan rouses to life in the cold predawn light. The merchants in their traveling cloaks eat a quick breakfast, harness the animals, tighten the lashings on the wagons, and then set off for the second day of the five-day passage. Within an hour the sun is up, turning the land into a murderous oven. A typical day, in other words.

The peaks of the Sharpshard Mountains dwindle behind the convoy as the Great Alluvial Sand Wastes stretch out ahead.

A couple hours before high sun, Hiccup starts to hear cracking sounds from underneath his wagon. Soon there is a loud snap: The axle has failed. The entire procession grinds to a halt. Belana rides back to assess the situation and frowns at the poor condition of the elven wagon. Hearing that it will take a couple of hours to fix, she assigns Arvin’s Man’s wagon to wait, assist and accompany the elf once he’s back and rolling, along with five guards. The schedule cannot be interrupted; the two wagons will just have to catch up at nightfall.

Two hours pass, and the axle is fixed. The small group sets off again. But soon the light begins to dim. The reason is clear to anyone who’s traveled the roads: A storm is coming from the south. Fast. The caravan barely has time to stop and unharness the animals before it’s upon them.

It’s a big one. The group finds scant shelter on the barren plain, and the storm does its worst, killing the guards and three of the four crodlus. The party is scoured by flying sand and debris, and most of the cargo is lost. But it finally passes. The five have survived, but are considerably worse for wear.

They set off again, and after a few hours of slow travel, begin to see remnants of the Wavir caravan. A wagon here and there – an occasional body buried in sand. Eventually they come upon what must have been a group of about five wagons. Nobody here survived.

But the party is not alone. A scavenging band of ssurrans, with a couple of pet baazrags, has noticed too. The ssurrans attack. When it’s over, the ssurrans are dead, and Piotr lies near death, but the party has survived, barely.

Rummaging amongst the wagons pays off. The party finds enough goods to fill their one remaining wagon about halfway (all the single surviving crodlu will be able to pull), plus enough food and water to keep them all alive an extra day. And, among the scattered remnants of a cargo of weapons, one ingenious pair of retractable wrist razors.

But it’s late afternoon now. Dark will come soon, and the party is alone on the wastes, days from civilization in either direction.

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Tyr-bound

Things started badly for the party, and now they’re worse.

Arvin’s Man, Piotr and Carraksul arise before the sun, and head down to prepare their cart for departure. They find that the cart they hitched outside is still there, but the animals to pull it are missing. Knowing they’ll need help, they awaken Hiccup and Toothless to help in the hunt.

After scouting, sleuthing and intimidating their way through the elven quarter of Altaruk, they finally find it hidden in plain sight – in a public stable. Already late for the caravan departure – too late to satisfy their urge to punish the thieves responsible – they rush to get to the city gate.

There is already a huge lineup of wagons waiting when they pull up: about 30 wagons all told, carrying loads of grain, timber, and arms and armor. About 30 merchants and 50 guards are making the trip to Tyr to see for themselves the state of the city and learn the truth of the fate of the sorcerer-king Kalak. It’s one of the largest caravans anyone’s ever seen.

As the wagons are about to roll, Belana Wavir, the head of House Wavir, stands up to make a speech. She tells the merchants they are walking into an unknown situation, but she’s determined that Wavir will emerge stronger than ever. Rumor has it that a slave uprising brought down Kalak, she says, so it would not be seemly to bring slaves on this trip.

“Who among you is a slave,” she asks the gathered men and women. Several raise their hands – slavery is accepted but not encouraged in Wavir.

“You’re free,” she says with a wave of a hand. “I release you from your bond. But I ask you to help us one more time before you leave us. Help us get this caravan to Tyr. Help us and I’ll remember and reward your service. Abandon us, and I’ll remember that as well.”

All of the slaves, including Carraksul, look slightly stunned, but none leave, and the wagon train rumbles into motion.

Four thri-kreen runners serve as the caravan’s scouts, fanned out wide (as much as a half a mile) from the front of the convoy. At the fore of those traveling on the road is Belana, riding a litter carried by eight well-armed mul guards. Behind her is a mekillot – the enormous, saurian creature. Atop the mekillot is its handler and an assistant riding in a howdah, and it pulls the carapace of a giant, dead beetle, which has been outfitted with wheels and filled with an interior structure to make it suitable for human travel. About 15 prominent merchants – VIPs in House Wavir – ride inside the beetle. Behind that stretches the long line of wagons. Outriders on crodlus and erdlus keep watch and carry messages up and down the line.

A full day of travel passes. The caravan is making good time and not being harrassed. The sheer size and numbers of the group must be intimidating to would-be marauders.

Belana signals a halt for the day, and the caravan comes to a halt and sets up camp for the night. The night, like the day, proceeds without incident.

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Day Zero, or How We Got Here

It’s been a long stretch of bad luck for Arvin’s Man. The merchant, who regularly runs trade goods on the week-long trek between Balic and Altaruk, was a day out of the crossroads town when his a crew – a cobbled-together group of local toughs – finally got up the guts to turn on him, steal his cargo, and run him off into the sands, along with his slave, Carraksul.

Their cart and most of their belongings with them, the two struggle into Altaruk, making their way to the local headquarters of House Wavir. They are told by a busy clerk to pick up a pair of crodlus and a wagon, and report back first thing in the morning. They discover that their fortunes continue to wane; they have been put up outside the town gates, in a dingy inn near the elven district and the Fool’s Bazaar.

Arvin’s Man and Carraksul decide to find solace in a bottle, and to seek the day’s gossip. At a tavern they learn some shocking news: It appears Kalak is dead, and that it was at the hands of a slave uprising. Details are sketchy, but Tyr appears to be in the throes of previously inconceivable change. It becomes apparent that tomorrow’s trip will be to Tyr, where Wavir hopes to get a leg up on the competition in dealing with whatever power has emerged.

They also do a little sleuthing and discover some people who may know some people who hijacked their wagon. They’re told those people may be in town again in a few days’ time.

Also while in the bar, the two meet an elven merchant, Hiccup, and his long-time guard, Toothless, a dragonborn ranger. The Hiccup and Arvin’s Man see potential in traveling together for mutual profit and protection.

The four, satisfied, head off to bed to sleep.

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