“You want us… to steal… the Blood Crystal… from Slither? We are talking about the same Slither here, aren’t we? ‘Cause the one I mean is a walking fortress of bone owned by an undying defiler mage.” Maro folded his arms and looked across the table. They were in Tyr again, having passed via Altaruk. Soon after their arrival a representative of House Shom had sought a meeting at a local inn and it was this person who sat opposite. Kivrin was an elf of indeterminate age but whose garb identified him as a regular desert traveller. Undeterred by Maro’s comment, he answered calmly, “The very same. You may know that it is part of the Crown of Dust, the ancient artifact once held by Yar-” here he lowered his voice and glanced around the tavern,
“Yarnath. And yes, I want you to steal it. Not just because it would be a great prize, but because I believe Yarnath uses it to control the city and to defile the land further to advance his power. This cannot continue. Now, you’ve sought a fragment of the Crown for us before, without success”, (he glanced at Althaea, but her face was expressionless) “I’m sure you are capable of such a dangerous undertaking. I would of course accompany you, but I have my own objectives within Slither. Once inside, you must seek the Crystal on your own.” “What do you know of the defences?” asked Maro. Kivrin produced a scrap of parchment on which a rough diagram had been sketched. “The top of Slither is made up of a series of towers. We’ll need to find a way up to them and then you’ll have to climb to the top of this one and work your way down to the chamber where the crystal lies. I expect you know the place is garrisoned – humans, elves and tareks – but I’ve heard talk of a tame, or enslaved, tembo somewhere.” There was a collective intake of breath. “We shall need a minute or two to discuss this,” said Althaea. “Of course,” said Kivrin, rising and heading for the door.
Maropona, Gwen, Althaea, Mik and Naivara clustered around the table. “This is madness. You do know that, don’t you?” hissed the mul. “Maro, everything we do is high risk,” answered Althaea. “Going after… the other thing… was dangerous, but we came through it.” “Not all of us,” said Mik solemnly. Naivara spoke. “We all miss Ku-ki’cha. But he died a warrior’s death, and he would not have hesitated in the face of danger. I came out here seeking my Aramil and I sense he is somewhere in that place. I would go to Slither alone if there was a chance of seeing his face again.” “Hah,” said Mik, “there’s no arguing with a woman in love. I suppose I’ll have to come too, just to keep you out of trouble.” “Sure to be some good loot in there too,” added Gwen, eyes glistening greedily. Maropona looked around in exasperation. “All right. Damned if I’m going to be the odd one out. But we’re a man short. We could really do with another hand for a job like this.” He looked around the tavern. Most of the patrons were seated in groups like themselves, but one sat alone. Now and again one of the drinkers would glance curiously over at him, but turn away fearfully before they could catch his gaze. The solitary figure wore the wrappings most desert travellers wore, over a suit of leather armour. He sat, unmoving, looking straight at their table, and as they finished speaking he rose and approached.
“I have wandered the wastes long to reach this place, drawn by a vision of a city of bone and a crown of power.“ (Maro rolled his eyes, Kalak’s piss, we’ve picked up a nutter already. ) The stranger sat down in the seat Kivren had vacated. “I am Sha-karn, shaman of the sun. I oppose those who would defile this poor, parched land with their vile magics.” So saying, he cast aside his face-coverings to reveal golden skin scored with markings of deep red and a corona of shimmering crimson that circled his head closely. “You fear Yarnath, but even the mightiest evil may be cast down by the brave. If you will accept me, my powers are at your service.” There was a silence. Naivara was first to speak. “I remember reading about your kind. You’re a genasi, aren’t you?” Sha-karn’s features twisted in a smile. “Yes. Few of us remain – though I could say the same of you, eladrin girl. To see one of your kind is unusual. Two-“ (he glanced at Althaea) “well, surely that is a portent. A good one, I hope.” Mik spoke. “You seem to know a lot about our business. Why should we trust you?” “Whether you trust me or not is unimportant. I go with the elf Kivrin. He seeks your aid, so why should we not go together?” Althea scanned the newcomer’s face keenly, but could find no sign of duplicity there nor in Sha-karn’s steady, assured voice. She made up her mind. “As you said a short while ago, Maro, we could use some extra help. I say he comes with us.”