“Halt, travellers! You are required to pay a tax before entering Tyr – the price is 50 silvers.” Two armed men barred the way, bearing Tyrian insignia. House Wavir’s caravan was approaching the outskirts of Tyr, passing through a crowded ramshackle settlement that sprawled outside the city’s Caravan Gate. Ku-ki’cha stood in front of the two soldiers, glancing back at the skiff bearing Rhotan Vor, wondering if he would pay the tolls. The dwarf seemed to ignore the soldiers and the skiffs rolled by them. Obviously he has some arrangement with them, or his rank exempts him from paying, thought the monk, and fished in his coin-pouch for the five gold, not wanting to infringe the law even before entering Tyr. He did not notice that his companions had chosen to ignore the two soldiers, and trotted up to join them. “Did those men take any money from you?” asked Rhotan. “Yes, they were toll collectors. I paid them five gold.” The dwarf smiled. “I think you’ve been had, friend. Those weren’t city guards, just a couple of scam artists.” Ku-ki’cha turned and ran back, trying to spot the two men, but they had disappeared in the milling crowds. He shrugged and ran back to the others. It’s just money, after all, he thought.
There were more – this time, genuine – guards outside the Caravan Gate, and the adventurers were required to hand over five gold apiece. They noticed that Rhotan was having to hand over significantly more, and he grumbled loud and long about how an honest merchant was expected to make a living. Braz stepped through the Caravan District crowds confidently; he knew this city well, and was already making a list of people he should drop in to see. The others followed behind, eyes wide and marvelling at the sights, sounds and smells. In the distance they could see the coloured steps of the great Ziggurat, looming over everything like some huge child’s toy.
Rhotan had paid the adventurers their share of the money recovered from House Madar’s vault: four hundred gold apiece, and the promise of a share of whatever was in the sealed chests. “I shall send word once we have them open,” he said, “meanwhile, stay and enjoy the city. Althaea, my dear, you don’t look at all well. Please, come stay with us until the desert sickness has passed.” Travelling through the Sand Wastes had taken its toll on the bard over the past day or so and she chose to accept Rhotan’s offer. The party chose to stay at the Golden Inix, a popular inn located in the Caravan District.
After dumping their stuff at the Inix, the travellers wandered the streets for a while. Graven stopped to watch an elf juggler. She was obviously popular with the evening crowd, receiving their cheers with smiles and laughter. Finally she finished and turned to a large, painted wooden box behind her. “And now,” she called out, “I need a brave volunteer to help me with my last marvel today – you, sir dwarf, come forward!” Graven saw she was pointing at him. Curious, he walked over and stood next to the elf as the crowd applauded politely. The juggler lifted the lid of the box and held it open, gesturing theatrically for Graven to enter. He climbed in and was gently made to crouch down, then the lid was replaced. The elf turned to the audience. “Now remember how this works – you have to say my name three times – on three, one , two three…” “Jossi! Jossi! JOSSI!” roared the crowd, and the elf tapped the box, then removed the lid with a flourish and tipped it so all could see it was now empty. She was rewarded with thunderous applause and shouting, and bowed gracefully. “That’s all for now! See you tomorrow!”.
“A bath! A lovely, hot, bath!” cried Naivara. “That’s what I’m going to have!”. “Of course, miss,” said the innkeeper, adding with some pride, “You may like to know that here at the Golden Enix no guest bathes in water that has been used more than a mere three times.” “Maybe you could bathe in Wil’s saliva – I’ve seen how he looks at you sometimes”, Graven quipped mischievously. “Graven!” the young eladrin exclaimed. “You’re terrible! I’m having a bath and that’s that. Please see to the arrangements,” she said to the innkeep with patrician imperiousness, and then strolled over to the table where her companions were seated. “Did I tell you about my dream last night?” asked Naivara. “I dreamed I saw Aramil again… and there was this face carved out of stone…” Wil, as usual brooding over his cup of brown ale, looked up sharply. “Wait.. stone face… male eladrin… I had that dream too! Damn you, stay out of my head, girl!” There was an awkward silence. Naivara’s eyes widened. “That wasn’t me, Wil, you must-” “Just go and have your bath”, Wil cut in contemptuously. The psion glared at him, looking hurt, but turned and walked out of the room. Wil watched her go, half imagining warm water running over her smooth flesh, then took a long pull at his ale and slumped back. As usual, there would be many more drinks to follow it.
The party passed the night at the inn. Ku-ki’cha did not sleep with them, preferring the tranquillity of a seat on the Golden Inix’s roof where he could contemplate the city after dark. He was surprised to see Graven arrive in the small hours of the morning, rubbing his head and arm. Apparently after the box lid went on he pushed it off and found himself in a dark deserted street in the Warrens – the armpit of Tyr. Straight afterwards something had hit him hard and he had lain unconscious. When he awoke, he found himself lying in the street, but someone had tattooed a lion – the symbol of the city-state of Urik – on his upper arm. “Oh, and they took my money as well”, he finished glumly.
The following morning found the companions touring the shops in the Merchant District, looking for supplies. There was a commotion in the street behind and two thri-kreen ran past the group. On either side of the highway, elves were running along the rooftops, three on each side. The thri-kreen turned to face back the way they had come. Great, thought Braz, we’re in the middle of someone else’s fight. Behind them a voice rang out. It belonged to an impressively armed and armoured human, flanked by three dwarves. Braz noted the man’s square-trimmed beard and the lion embroidered into his tunic. “This is your lucky day, dogs of Tyr. Hamanu, the Lion God, has chosen you to join the ranks of his worshippers. You should feel honoured – however I am afraid this is going to hurt a lot.” With that, the bearded man ordered his troops to attack. The party found themselves dodging sharp-edged chatkchas thrown by the elves above them and unable to retreat or advance as the dwarves and thri-kreen closed in. Immediately Ku-ki’cha sprang up on one rooftop and set about the elves on that side, while Braz faded from view and circled round their enemies at street level. It was a short battle, and though the party fought well, Naivara, Althaea, Wil and Graven soon lay unconscious. Ignoring the monk above them, the Urikites set about dragging them away. Braz appeared beside Ku-ki’cha. “No sense in fighting on now – they’re too strong for us to handle. Let’s follow them.” However, despite the half-elf’s knowledge of Tyr they lost their quarry in the crowds. Despondent, they returned to the inn, but not long after the others appeared, battered but alive. They had all awoken with their possessions but, like Graven, all had a small tattoo of a Urik lion.“Ku-ki’cha sees no sense in this,” the thri-kreen chirped. “Slaves get tattoos, yet you are still free.” Naivara examined her little lion thoughtfully. “Perhaps they’re magical… some way of keeping track of us, or even listening to us.”
The following (still moonlit) day found the companions watching Jossi perform her act. The disappearing box featured again, and this time a well-dressed merchant was cajoled to enter it. Braz became one with the shadows and transported himself into the box. Jossi glanced in, aware something was different. Braz saw her smile briefly, then close the lid and tap. He felt a sense of motion as Graven had done, then the lid lifted and he looked up to see several unfriendly looking elven faces. “Let’s see what fat fish Jossi’s caught for us today,” said one. The assassin stood up, maintaining his invisibility. Naturally the elves – Toothcutters, he guessed, from their colours – were mystified. “I could have sworn I heard someone come through,” the first one said again. Braz took advantage of the moment to step out of the box and conceal himself in a nearby alley. He guessed the place to be somewhere in the Warrens. The gang members put the lid back and waited. A faint pop was heard and the Toothcutters hauled out the merchant Braz had seen a minute before. “Mind your head!” one called, and as if signalled, another coshed the man unconscious. The footpads, still supporting the merchant, lowered him to the ground, and then set to rifling through his belongings.
Wil, Graven, Naivara and Ku-ki’cha watched the merchant step into the box, then Jossi invited the crowd to call her name three times, and showed the box to be empty. “Now, I shall bring him back!” she called. She removed the lid and prepared to step inside. Graven stepped forward. “Wait – you robbed me last night!” The elf set her face in an expression of mock anger. “A thief, am I?” With one fluid motion she snatched the shaman’s coin-pouch from his belt and flung it down, scattering coins everywhere. Taking advantage of the confusion, she crouched down and closed the lid on top of her. The dwarf pulled it back but the box was empty. Frustrated, he set to retrieving his spilled money.
About a minute after the Toothcutters had clubbed the merchant, Braz saw the juggler step out of the box and call over to them. “Sorry lads, this one’s got to go back – the rubes at the other end are suspicious.” She stood looking around, as if expecting to see someone. Braz pulled himself closer against the alley wall. Grumbling, the elves loaded their unconscious victim back into the box. Jossi held something under his nose and as he began to stir, she replaced the lid smartly and tapped the cube. Again there was a faint pop, and when the merchant struggled to his feet, nursing his head, he was back in the Caravan District, being applauded by the audience. The adventurers tried, unsuccessfully, to tail the two men who came to collect the box, and instead walked to the Noble District where they were able to bluff past the House Wavir guards and get an audience with their former employer. Each showed him their Urik tattoo and asked what it could mean, but the dwarf shook his head and shrugged. “I know not,” he said, “I have not seen its like before. I think, friends, you had best be careful. Please stay at my house tonight, it will be safer.”
That night, as Wil slept, he dreamed he stood in the desert before a great face of stone and a giant dust devil came up from the sands and engulfed him. The scene changed, and it was as if he saw prisoners being slaughtered in offering to something, he knew not what. Naivara also had a disturbed night; she dreamed of Aramil again, but she was afraid.
The following morning found the travellers exploring the shops of the Artisan’s District. Ku-ki’cha chatted with the half-orc Karlen, who was keen to hear tales of their adventures, and seemed frustrated when the thri-kreen seemed reluctant to discuss their recent activities. Braz and Naivara met with a curiously tall and slim dwarf named Elhorn who worked as a messenger for House Shom. Shom, it appeared, was a small trading house that had fallen on hard times and was branching out into treasure-hunting to boost its fortunes. Elhorn passed them a letter containing an invitation to help them find the Face in the Stone, a fabled temple located north-east of Tyr. A Shom caravan, sent to find the temple, had gone missing, and the house were keen to know what had become of it. Feeling at a loose end, and keen for their next adventure the party accepted the offer and set about equipping themselves for the journey. Ku-ki’cha, against his better judgement, gave Naivara a handful of gold to help her purchase a rather wheezy-looking crodlu, which she nevertheless fussed over like a pet. Braz, feeling a hand at his pocket and expecting robbery, instead found a note. It warned him to be careful as ‘Yarnath seeks the same’. “Yarnath…” he said aloud. The legends spoke of a feared sorcerer of that name who, it was said, had preserved himself even beyond death and had constructed a fearsome moving fortress of living bone which stalked the wastes.