Withing the ancient long vacant halls of Lir’s temple, Malharath, Pau, and Garret discuss the disappearance of Rannor at length. Based on what the new of the warlord and his motives, Malharath concludes that he is most likely not a traitor, and took advantage of the opportunity to serve his own selfish ends. During this brief respite, it is also decided that Pau will wield the Surgeon’s Knife. As much as he despises the necrotic aura of the blade, it will serve as a powerful focus for his fighting style. In exchange, he provides Rande-Daren with the Eye of Mur. It is also at this time that Malharath realizes that although the prescient aspects of his telepathy are growing, he has lost his connection with the Spirit of Lir, likely as a result of the reincarnation of Rande-Daren. Lastly, when Qq has finally regained enough strength to move about safely, he retrieves a hidden chest from his disabled wagon. Inside are the clay tokens that authorize his presence in Kantan.
“I need to know if our deal is still good?”, he asks. “I know I can count on Bami and Tarak to fight for me in the arenas, but things have changed for the rest of you. And you two”, he says, pointing to Mika and Rande-Daren, “never were under contract as members of this company.”
It is decided that the winnings will be split 45:55 between the party and Qq. Rande has no strong feeling one way or the other about the venture, while Mika takes a bit more motivating. Qq entices her with the rumor that a powerful ancient artifact, the “Robe of Stars”, will be given to the winning arena combatants. She’s intrigued enough to lend her skills to the endeavor. Pau and Malharath are also still committed to finding Naut, as well as delivering The Secret to the Iron Riders.
Just before dawn the party prepares for what they hope is the final leg of their journey to Kantan. Bami, both fascinated by the ancient portal and the ley lines that converge at this spot, opts to stay behind for a day, both to consecrate the location for future wardens and to make sure Rannor is not returning. Qq makes arrangements to meet him at Kantan a day after the party arrives. Garret makes a final inspection of the portal and realizes that the marker that was activated by Rannor was the same one used to transport him to Marlone from Buma-Tu when he first met the party.
For three days the party treks back to the main canyon leading eastward finding food, water, and some shelter along the way. At last the eastward journey is resumed. After the first day, the path splits, and Qq directs the party to take the high road. Another day passes and the path leads up to a broad plateau. Travel continues without incident for another day.
On the following day, Rande and Malharath sense a disturbance in the air and spy a dark line approaching from the east. Everyone fears it is the Dark Skies. As it nears, Tarak and Boroff confirm that it is not one of the chaos storms, but a natural phenomenon. It is the rains.
The torrential rain turn the barren dusty landscape into a muddy nearly impassable mess. The remaining three day journey to Kantan will now take five. Everyone struggles with mud, cold, and damp of the unfamiliar environment. During the first two arduous days of travel, each traveler gives some strength to endure in the debilitating environment. Luckily, Tarak and Garret are able combine their wits in order to find a camp site that provides a modicum of shelter and relief during the second evening.
On the third day, Daren spies a body clinging to a rock and partially buried in the mud. Malharath, fearing quicksand or other dangers, ties a rope to Pau, who approaches the body. It is a human, armored in scale, and carrying weapons. Daren concentrates on the man and senses the divine presence of Lir in him. He is drawn from the mud and taken to shelter until he can recover and regain consciousness.
Upon reviving, he looks upon Daren, and throws himself at his feet. “Alas, saint of Lir, I have found you. Bless the great mother who carries the tree of life and pilots the faithful.”, he prays, clutching a remnant of some ancient relic, strung on cord, between his hands.
Boroff sees the object, and gasps in disbelief, “Could it be? This is a relic of the scepter of Lir! I had thought it destroyed and lost in its entirety. Father Tom, Lir’s last great servant, carried her scepter, but it was shattered when he plunged it into a Chaos Orb.”
As the man recovers, he is asked many questions, and the party learns that he was drawn to the mountains on a pilgrimage in pursuit of a vision given unto him by the Lir. The rains caught him unprepared. Malharath listens intently to his story, ascertains that he is telling the truth, and beckons Daren to reveal The Secret.
“The secret of the Great Other has been gathering the faithful. What do you know of this?”
Farr knows nothing of the ancient chest held in front of him.
Malharath continues, “If you will join us, we must have your oath.”, then explains the importance of the ancient item, and demands the oath that all others have sworn. Likewise, he request that Tarak and Qq, having learned of The Secret, also swear the oath. All do so, and Farr feels the favor of Lir upon them.
Travel continues for another two days and nights, until a debilitated traveler’s rest is found, raising hopes that Kantan is near. Then, at last, the rains lighten and a massive spire of rock emerges from its shroud of clouds. It is a single column of volcanic rock, ascending over 1000 feet above the plateau, and ringed by a ridge of sandstone. Qq points to the monolithic spire, and exclaims, “At last! We are here.”
It is then that the party begins to notice that the mountain appears to be covered in a beguiling assortment of intricate carvings. As they draw closer and the light fades, they can make out lighted windows and balconies carved into the spire. The entire mountain, a hardened basalt core of an ancient volcano, has been carved into a city adorned with stylized totemic visages of animals, slaves, and their captors.
Qq leads them to one of the many gates lining the low wall. It is guarded by well armed Goliaths and administered by strange rat-men the party have never seen before. The rat-men are vaguely similar to fanglings, but hairier and distinctly scaled. He presents himself, the party, and hands his tokens to the rat-ling. Admission is granted and Qq leads everyone to their first real shelter in ages. They wind their way through the sprawling city that fills the gap between the mountain and its wall. Along the way, the glimpse the covered and cobbled merchant lanes that are reserved for the use of the wealthy and powerful.
A week’s shelter is secured and Qq departs to negotiate entry into the games. Pau, after initially attempting to secretly trail Qq, is discovered and welcomed to accompany him through the merchant district and to a coven of the rat-lings at the Gate of The Games. Qq negotiates furiously, but is disappointed with the results, and returns to the party.
While, Qq and Pau run their errand, Malharath secures the name and location of a master craftsman and purveyor of relics who is know as Arn The Dealer. Mika and Tarak accompany him, and then is later joined by Pau. Malharath has some success haggling with Arn, and sells the fine scale mail and short swords taken from The Speaker’s men. In addition he has Arn fashion one into a longspear. Pau presents the Surgeon’s Knife, but Arn is disgusted by the the ancient metal blade and refuses to speak of it.
Returning to the inn, Qq breaks the news to the party. Tomorrow they will fight in the arena, but must face “The Dregs” before admission into the games will be granted. The Dregs, he explains, are those unfit for sale in the slave markets, and are used as fodder for the entertainment in the lower arenas. Those that are unfortunate enough to survive are sold to the Ro-Rexian night priests.
On the following day Qq leads the way to the lower arena and bids them to enter without pomp or ceremony. When they are amassed at the center of the arena a rat-ling is lowered on ropes and the match is called. The arena gates are thrown open and a mob of nearly 40 to 50 filthy, raving lunatics stream in from all sides. They are clad in rags and armed with clubs or improvised armaments.
Garret is the first to leap into action, making a break for a corner and hurling two chaos bolts into the mob. The erratic arcane pulses careen through the assailants and fells seven. Everyone else follows his lead, hoping to establish a defensive position before the mob descends on them. As the first of the mob descends on them, twelve of the raving savages have died. Their clubs, rocks, and claws fly wildly, and only a few strikes actually hit with any force. The party consolidates their position and as the mob closes ranks, Garret unleashes the mists of disarray and Pau hurls himself through a know of foes. The mists claim many, while Pau severs limb from trunk with the full fury of his martial techniques.
Within minutes, the mob has been dispatched, while the party barely shows a scratch. There is muted applause from the spectators. Qq, however, is more fervent in his excitement.
“You’ve done it!”, he exclaims, “Tomorrow you gain entry into the games, and the real challenge begins.”