After staying overnight in the underground room, the caravan survivors and the party gathered together what items of worth they could salvage and set off back to Altaruk. Rhotan Vor was immensely pleased to see them, welcoming the adventurers into his house and plying them with drink. After they had taken their fill of food and drink, he gathered them round and outlined his wish to locate the fabled tomb of House Madar. “All I need is some trustworthy folk who know how to handle themselves in a fight, and if we were successful in finding the tomb, rewards would be considerable.” The party agreed enthusiastically, and plans were made to depart the following day.
Naivara and Ku-ki’cha went walking in the marketplace, the eladrin looking for antiques, and the thri-kreen for information on the mul woman Neska. They found their purses considerably lightened afterwards; Ku-ki’cha, unused to the ways of town folk, was puzzled as to how this might have happened. Naivara had a good idea why and went straight to the commander of the guard to report she had been robbed. Zul Akfrenar heard her complaint in silence and offered his sympathies; apparently pickpocketing was rife in the settlement, but he would do his best to apprehend the culprits. Naivara also arranged an audience with the Governor, a corpulent, impatient man named Arisphistaneles. She enquired discreetly for news of her lost love Aramil, but none was forthcoming. However, in deference to Naivara’s lineage, Arisphistaneles said he would pass on any information. Ku-ki’cha was less successful in arranging an audience, his disjointed Common failing to cut any ice with the guards.
The following day a small wagon train set off from Altaruk, following the north road towards the Silver Springs oasis through the Tablelands. The adventurers guarded the front and rear, and Rhotan Vor and a few of his guards and retainers travelled in wagons in between them. As they approached a small oasis, a small lithe form sprang up from behind a dune and headed away toward the north. The party were aware the Crimson Sands bandits operated in this region, and readied their weapons. Rhotan Vor ordered the wagons to halt. “Here’s where you earn your money”, he said. “Go and take care of whatever’s over there.” Wil, Naivara, Graven and Ku-ki’cha fanned out and advanced.
The oasis was little more than a muddy pool in the bottom of a depression. As they came over the summit of the dune sloping down to the water, the party spotted the bandits; a halfling, toward the rear, a dwarf, and three humans. They were clad in hide armour and wielded barbed spears. Graven noticed that the ground around the halfling and dwarf suddenly seemed to blacken and wither; defiler, he thought, then to his side the thri-kreen monk reeled and staggered in pain. The three humans were racing forward, spears levelled. Graven commanded his spirit familiar to take the form of a small sandstorm and sent it against them. Naivara disappeared and reappeared behind the advancing bandits, then launched a devastating wave of mental energy against one human causing blood to run from his nostrils and eye sockets. Unexpectedly, he seemed to revive; the halfling seemed to be able to heal him from a distance. Immediately after, flames licked along the bandits’ spears, scorching flesh wherever they struck. Ku-ki’cha slumped to the sand, a victim of the halfling sun priest’s psionics. Graven chanted a healing ritual that got him back on his six feet, then one of the human bandits grappled him. Wil, lost in some strange fearful battle rage, slashed left and right, and flashes of lightning struck those enemies facing his comrades. Naivara was being closely pressed by one bandit, then a blow from Ku-ki’cha’s gythka distracted him. She faded out of sight, sidestepped, then killed her attacker with a mental thrust. A cloud of whirling sand, Graven’s familiar, engulfed the bandits, blinding them. As one bandit after another fell to the party’s attacks, the little sun priest moved up and Graven felt the bite of his unnatural magics. Graven counterattacked with powerful blows of his mace. Wil joined the fight and the halfling fell in a flurry of sword blows.