A Sojourn To Kantan's Streets

Malharath stands outside the door of the rented room. It is morning and the canteen is very quiet and mostly empty, except for some traders who are eating some lard covered breakfast. Bami exits the room and nods at you as he heads out in the rain on his own errand.

One thing you noticed the night before after the match. When you looked up into the crowd you noticed a section of spectators who dressed and acted with the mannerisms of Sun Folk.

You did ask Boroff about his method of exploding The Enclave that held Og’olo’s dire secrets. Boroff confesses while he used the mutant shit to fuel the fires, he used the Ley Line Nexus to really give his formula power. The Ley Lines boost ritual and alchemy magic, which allowed him to really do some damage.He is not aware of any Ley Lines Nexus here in Kantan. He believes the closest one would be north of here in the mountains. He can ignite a lot of crap if you can find it. But, Kantan seems to have a complex sewer system in place that takes waste and rainwater underground. You have noticed large whirlpools over the grates in some intersections and low ground that is draining the vast amounts of rainwater. Likely storing it for the long year-long dry season.

Having only rudimentary knowledge of the cities layout, Malharath approaches the traders and salutes them with the traditional greeting for addressing outsiders.

“Brothers of mine are here to witness my showing in the games, but our plans for reunion were thwarted by my late arrival. Perhaps one of you can spare your time, or a servant, to escort me among the city’s districts? There is modest coin in the deed.”

Meanwhile, Malharath is reflecting on his brief time in the city, his foray to meet Arn, and then to the arena. Did he pass through any districts where he would have seen those that would pass as street urchins. What he wants is to buy the services of those that are familiar with the city and who deal in information and secrets, but aren’t yet in the pocket of the Cos Brothers.

Your recollections of the city are pretty sharp. You didn’t really notice any low level street urchins or any areas of structures and streets that would perhaps denote a lower class. Kantan’s streets were mostly empty due to the rains. Not much work to be done in the downpours and rain. And the city is kept under quite a bit of control and discipline. This is more like an old fashion company town where the undesirable or broke pay a different price for being unable to pay their own way in labor or services. Any underbelly of Kantan is kept in enclosed spots as entertainment to pay faithful and loyal subjects of the Cos Brothers. And under strict administrative control as a commodity like any other. Anyone else in town is doing business under contract or working with other slaver factions on some level.

The two human traders are not richly adorned. You suspect they are lowly middle men who bring supplies into Kantan from distant points on contract. They likely don’t deal in slaves or make a huge profit but consider it steady work.

“Kantan is no place to be moving about without wits about you.” replies the taller man. He isn’t very old but is aged from so many miles trekking the harsh trade routes. His companion agrees with a nod while soaking his flat bread in some congealed lard like gravy. The companion eyes you but doesn’t add much to the conversation. He is a runt of a man but skinny looking from long days on the trail himself.

“We don’t have any servants beyond a few low down draft lizards. But, we can show you around a bit after breakfast if you got a few coins for the guiding and for the trouble of being soaked to my bones by the rains. And buy a swig of the canteen’s cactus bitter when we return to warm up.”

“I have sufficient wit, but neither a map, a guide, or time to be idle. We will start by buying you a suitable leather cloak and sandals, and treating them with bees-wax. It will help keep your bones dry and spirits up, while we are about on our business. It will be dead weight in your packs when the rains end, but invaluable during this season.”

Malharath gestures to the runt, “You may come, if you wish, or remain to tend to your day’s business. My pay is the same, regardless.”

Turning back to the taller of the two, he says, “My kinsfolk are from the deep desert and will prefer to be among their own kind. They will likely be lodged where they can gaze beyond the walls. We have never had much tolerance for the confines of cities. Be quick with your gruel, so we can be on our way.”

The taller one stands slowly and pushes his own empty plate aside. He takes the small clay coin from you and whistles to the cook who is standing nearby. When he has the cook’s attention he tosses the small coin to the cook who pockets it. The younger one continues slopping up his greasy bread.

“Let’s get moving stranger.” The taller one adds hefting up a rain coat of lizard hides. “No need for new clothes. Just add an extra round of cactus bitter when we are done. Be good to get out of this inn and canteen for a bit. We have been cramped up in here since the rains came. We had hoped to make better time and get away. But, the road was difficult and dangerous this last month. So what little profits we made will be spent on food and a room until the we can get moving along again.”

“My name is Nibb and I used to hail from Koffae but have been a tramp tradesman since the plague broke out down there. I guess I was lucky to have been away when it really took hold.”

“Nag here grew up in Kantan a long time ago and was a slave before he bought his way to freedom. We been business partners for some time now. Going on a rainy season or two. He doesn’t care much for the rain.”

“True, I will stay with the comforts of the inn. The offer is generous but you don’t need two to tow you around Kantan. It isn’t a big place.” Nag adds with a yawn. “As for your friends. I have seen others who dress and act a little like you. Your people stand out from the others who come this way and I must admit you the most friendly of the bunch I have ever met. They come every year to the Trials and I have seen them on the road as well. You will find The Blight over on the far side of the tower. They maintain their own building there in the embassy quarter. Mind yourself over that way Nibb.”

“Nag, is it my people or the district you call the ‘The Blight’? Surely, you don’t speak ill of my kin. We are honorable people. Lir blesses us with life where others find only toil and suffering. We watch over the sacred places and wonder at the creation born in the deep desert. Are our customs truly that strange?”

Your people are cruel things from those I have met. Even meeting you makes me nervous but there is only one of you. And too be honest the rain isn’t so terrible to me. I rather sit here then make money from your kind. The Blight is what they call themselves … the The Tribe of Blight to be more formal. Or the Blood Drinkers to be rude. I suppose since we are being honest. How many slaves have you eaten? I have never seen the Feasts that the old traders talk about. But, too many talk of it to just be rumor."

Nag says this while looking at you with a tension in his muscles. He does not drop his eyes but he is very nervous about saying these things to you.

Nibb intercedes, “Forgive Nag … he forgets himself.”

He jabs Nag on the shoulder, “Keep your wits!” Nibb is shaken by the turn of the conversation and worried about your reaction.

Nag’s talk recalls to you a curious old story you remember some elders would tell. But, you can’t remember the gist of the story beyond a lost tribe that turned its back on the other tribes and disappeared into civilized lands. It was supposedly nothing more than a legend to scare small ones into avoiding contact with the corruption of the outside world.
Malharath is a bit disturbed by the stories as well, but opts to shrug them off for the time being.

“You must have traveled much to hear such stories. I was told such things as a child. But haven’t believed such nonsense since my first season as a man.”

Malharath claps Nag on the back as he moves to the door with Nibb.

“Don’t fear, Nibb, if you are frightened by tales meant for children, you need only accompany me to the Embassy District. Since I have your services for the day, I will see all of the city. I need to learn the layout of this city and its districts, and if you will indulge me, I would like to know the news you have heard from your home.”

Once the two are outside Mal turns to Nibb.

“You and I are bound by strange twists of fate. The plague keeps you from returning home, while it is what brought my company here. Our master was invited to the games after the E’Zut clan had to withdraw. Some say they were who brought the plague on your people when they strayed too far into the Black Stone Forest.”

“So, tell me, Nibb, where will we go first?”
“Your people are cruel things from those I have met. Even meeting you makes me nervous but there is only one of you. And too be honest the rain isn’t so terrible to me. I rather sit here then make money from your kind. The Blight is what they call themselves … the The Tribe of Blight to be more formal. Or the Blood Drinkers to be rude. I suppose since we are being honest. How many slaves have you eaten? I have never seen the Feasts that the old traders talk about. But, too many talk of it to just be rumor.”

Nag says this while looking at you with a tension in his muscles. He does not drop his eyes but he is very nervous about saying these things to you.

Nibb intercedes, “Forgive Nag … he forgets himself.”

He jabs Nag on the shoulder, “Keep your wits!” Nibb is shaken by the turn of the conversation and worried about your reaction.

Nag’s talk recalls to you a curious old story you remember some elders would tell. But, you can’t remember the gist of the story beyond a lost tribe that turned its back on the other tribes and disappeared into civilized lands. It was supposedly nothing more than a legend to scare small ones into avoiding contact with the corruption of the outside world.

Malharath is a bit disturbed by the stories as well, but opts to shrug them off for the time being.

“You must have traveled much to hear such stories. I was told such things as a child. But haven’t believed such nonsense since my first season as a man.”

Malharath claps Nag on the back as he moves to the door with Nibb.

“Don’t fear, Nibb, if you are frightened by tales meant for children, you need only accompany me to the Embassy District. Since I have your services for the day, I will see all of the city. I need to learn the layout of this city and its districts, and if you will indulge me, I would like to know the news you have heard from your home.”

Once the two are outside Mal turns to Nibb.

“You and I are bound by strange twists of fate. The plague keeps you from returning home, while it is what brought my company here. Our master was invited to the games after the E’Zut clan had to withdraw. Some say they were who brought the plague on your people when they strayed too far into the Black Stone Forest.”

“So, tell me, Nibb, where will we go first?”

“The plague is a fate I would not wish on any enemy. I saw some of the victims the last time I was in Kaffae when it was just starting. Crazed looking men with madness in their eye and covered in moss that sprouted from their skin. They were being forced into a corner in one of the outlying villages I was passing through. The villagers burned them alive but the infected fought on for some time. Catching many of the villagers on fire or killing them before the last of them finally burned up. The whole city-state was under the cloud of fear that goes with plague. And you heard the strangest stories about the plague itself. How in the villages to the south the dead from the plague were covered in the moss and from them took seed a fast spreading toxic forest. Whole villages covered in mutant growths. In the end the last days a few refugees I met said Kaffae was on fire all day. The Sorcerer-Kings guards were burning any structure where the plague had killed. One Mul said, the whole sky was covered in smoke.”

Nibb shakes his head and pats your shoulder. “Nag is right. You are a strange Blighter. You are nothing like the bastards I have met before.”

The rain is falling steady and you are knee deep in muddy clay. Nibb pans his arms around. “This traveler is the Traveler District. The eastern most side of Kantan. It is where those who work the roads and come to trade stay. It is covered in flophouses and inns. Small places for outrageous prices to lie down and rest and get the hell out of this place.”

The further toward the center is the open markets. That is where slave trade and common goods are sold. On the southern tip of the ring of Kantan is where the more established traders hold private shops (Arn’s is located here) and residences. You will also find some of the consortium member’s have strongholds there such as the Three Winds and also lesser slaver guilds. You can also find some exotic entertainment there such as brothels and private fighting arenas in that area as well. The northern ring is the garrison and stables of the Cos Brothers guards. Most of the western side of the ring is the Embassy District and special buildings that the Cos Brothers keep secretive about. Likely a bunch of warehouses. I could be wrong about that … the Cos Brothers keep their slaves underground and many say there are vaults down there as well. A lot of digging and construction goes on under Kantan. At least Nag says so. He worked on a few of the crews as a lad."

“You tell me what sparks your interest. And we will see about getting there.”

Malharath makes a mental note of the vaults beneath the city, and the special buildings the Cos Brothers are so secretive about. He wonders if perhaps the underground city might provide a means for moving around the city with some secrecy. Likely the entrances are guarded…Perhaps after Nag has had a good meal and a good deal of liquor he’ll be open to telling what he knows of them. He also surmises that if the Thorns are holed up somewhere it would be on the east or south side. Perhaps Nag will know who to talk to about tracking down the would-be assassins. Malharath doubts that Qq is as well connected in this city as he lets on.

“Let us start to the South. There is a merchant there that I must inquire with, and if possible I’d like to see some of the consortium strongholds. You mention the Three Winds are there. Have you dealt with them? If so, I’d like to call upon them. Since they have been eliminated from the games, I’m sure they’ll have plenty of time for entertaining a guest. After that, we will go to the Embassy District.”

“Hearing you talk about your partner, Nag, it may be good to have him along. He seems to know something of the city, both inside and out. If you can convince him to come, I’ll make sure there are cactus bitters to sate the both of you.”

“Let Nag be … he’d sooner play some bones with the other travelers then go out here. And he doesn’t care for you much you. Not to say he won’t warm up to you. He is judging you by what he has known in the past with little thought of the present. Besides he is good with the luck. Maybe he can recoup our loses on this trip from a few unlucky caravan guards.”

You stroll south through the muddy streets in the morning rain when it seems heaviest. Nibb is huffing as he prods along. You pass countless inns, flophouses, and stables for outsiders and traders. The streets are mostly empty. You can see General Torque out marching his men in the rain. His growls and commands cut through the rain. At one point you pass some oddly aloof hooded women in fine armor made from some impressive beast’s armored plates. Nibb takes in south out of the Travelers District and into the southern area. Here the buildings are larger a little more grand in stature. They are all visibly guarded with cautious eyes.

Nibb takes you to rambling structure with a low wall around it. The interior yard is covered in a variety of cactus that serve as a garden. The wall is adorn with the symbol of the Three Winds Merchant Guild. “This is Bitta the Thin’s abode. Each Wind keeps their own structure in Kantan. One in the east, one in the west, and this one in the south.”

“Bitta is likely the most honest of the Three Winds and even his bird bones are as hollow as his word.”

You take in the fashionable estate. It is a flat roof construction of bricks and exotic woods with light seen behind the curtains and drawn wooden shutters. It is more like two or three structures build together over time. Like Bitta had bought separate property over time and combined them. You think you can hear a soft music playing from the building from the upper story. A few Ko-Kree and a Human stand on the porch and they have noticed you studying the building.

Malharath unfurls Qq’s penant, fastens it to his spear, hoists it high and calls out to the gawking onlookers.

“I come calling uninvited, but surely not unexpected. Show me to your master, so I might untangle his fate before the evenings games, and entertain him with a tale of tragedy and intrigue.”

I telepathically tell Nibb, “While I am here, you hold your tongue as a trained servant does. Not a word is to be said to these men.”

The human steps forward and while he is a small man in stature you can see that he is strung with long muscles a few scars that a test to serious combat experience. He has lived a long and brutal life.

“Your talk is a bit overwrought youngster. But, Beckett knows your face warrior. I saw you fight against the Cold Hands and the Dregs. Your band fights with the quality of skill and foolishness. You will learn better once you have seen more fights or die. Come in with your manservant and I will see if the master will speak to you.”

You pass through the garden of cactus and notice how some quiver with a life that could be just rain drops or something more dangerous. One particular plant steams in the rain and flexes its twisted stock.

You pass upon the porch out of the rain. The ko-kree present you with rough fur towels to dry yourselves. They careful stoop and wipe the mud from the bottom of your boots before letting you pass through the door. Beckett holds the door open and admits you into the first hall making sure to keep you in front of him at all times. As you enter the hall you see that it is two stories high with a balcony around the top. The place is lit with burning stones that hand from crude metal chains that give off little heat. The quality of the light is like that of twilight before the sun sets.

Beckett motions for you to go upstairs and follows you up. He takes you around the balcony to a set of large double stone doors where two more ko-kree stand in listless guard poses. At the sight of Beckett they straighten their backs and tighten the grip on their pole arms. Beckett asks something of one of them in a strange tongue and the creature nods and disappears through the large doorway. After a moment it returns and beckons toward you. Beckett enters behind you and sends the guard back outside. Beckett closes the door behind the three of you. And stands there in front of the door with his arms crossed. You find yourself in a large room where every wall, ceiling, floor space is covered in a dancing pattern of paintings. They are one immense artwork to your eye. The style is very aboriginal and chaotic but you can pick up a little of some story in their lines and abstract shapes depicting various creatures and places. You sense the art captures both time and place and that it shows various places as they change over time.

A few large pillows are arranged in a semi-circle on the floor in the center of the room. In the corners braziers give off a glow with the same burning rock you saw hanging from the rafters outside.

Beckett’s voice is full and confident, “Seat yourself.”

You take your seats. Nibb sits on the stone behind you on the stone. He knows the role of a lesser all too well.

Malharath sits in silence for a while. You can hear Beckett’s breathing but he does not move a muscle in his patient wait. You hear the tickle of bells and from a door concealed in one of the walls enter Bitta the Thin. He is wearing a silk robe and many bells hang from his robe. They are tiny clay bells that clatter with his every moment.

“Malharath, this is the first we meet! Pardon my delay in meeting you.”

“Greetings Bitta, we have not had the pleasure of meeting. My companions told me of your propositions. Although we could not accommodate you and your partners, I come to lessen the slight of the refusal. The rains will come again, and should we survive this trial, we will need a sponsor. Qq is has neither the stomach nor wits for another season of this.”

“QQ is an unique personality. He has fought across the known arenas of every city-state and when his arm grew old he trained and entertained with his fighting men. It is a wonder he still lives with such vigor. It is a blessing to see such life in this world. How exactly did you come to be represented by him to begin with? You are not like other warriors he has trained. In fact you remind me of a Blighter. But, they never work outside of their cursed tribe. You are something entirely different or at least my senses tell me so.”

You tell him you were tracking Naut Forlong to claim the bounty on is head. But, instead ended up saving QQ’s life and what remained of his fighters from some beasts in the Savage Mountains. He offered you employment due to the circumstances he found himself. And how you and your companions were able to bargain a very good percentage. You tell him you are indeed no Blighter and inquire more about them.

“Naut! Ha! A wild chase if I ever heard of one. Most say he is dead.”

“Yes, while you have some resemblance to the Blight you are by no right a Blight from what I can tell.”

“The Blight have been known to desert traders and deep sand dwellers for centuries. They roamed out of hidden areas at first, raiding and sometimes trading, but mostly keeping to themselves. A few centuries back they went and served with the God-Emperor for nearly a couple hundred years by his request. It is said that they had watched the city-states from afar and thirsted for the knowledge and power they held for some purpose all their own. During their service they committed the worst of the Emperor’s wishes for promised knowledge or artifacts from the past. It was them who cut down the Dragonborn at his command. Poisoning their water and slaughtering them in their barracks when the Emperor would have nothing more to do with his own creations anymore. There are stories of them hunting the fugitive surviving lizards across the vast deserts and broken lands; making sport of the murder. Eventually the God-Emperor gave them slave and land rights to many desolate areas and so they disappeared back into the seldom visited wastes. In recent time their domain has grown and they now touch up on the borders of the cities. Where they once took slaves from the thin stocks of the wastes. Now they operate along the trade routes and take slaves of travelers or merchants without contracts of high standing. The Blight believe the strongest shall rule and those who can not defend themselves or gain the protection of the strong are simply prey. They are a brooding lot and worship Sa-Nah-Gig. They sacrifice the most talented of their captives to her in hidden ruins and eat those bodies. There are high holidays they celebrate where they are … The Feast is the worst of the lot. They dine on living flesh the whole night and drink blood to that bitch god of theirs.”

“Puloni has risen as their leader in recent times and his reign has been brutal. He was the one who at first weakened the Wull Tribe to the point that the idiot General Torque could crush them. He has also been creating tension between himself and the city-state of Harzon. But, it would be ill advised for him to openly challenge a Sorcerer-Queen.”

You inquire, “General Torque is not well received?”

“Torque is a fool short and simple. He achieved much on the dust thrown up by greater forces at work. He is opportunistic and a brute. I don’t expect him to last long. Murkle has managed to keep him in check on our western border with the help of the Poison Skins. The Skins for some reason find Murkle to be quite a character and do business with him easily. So far he just a collector for the Skins and Murkle’s caravans and extorts the locals in the Red Rocks. But, he has little sway outside of those dried up hovels. But, his methods are not good business. He razes villages that have been good sources for long years. He plunders all for a short term profit. Soon it will just be him and the beasts in the Red Rocks and what then? If he tries to move on he will push all our hands to swat him like a Blow Fly.”

Bitta brings the conversation back to your offer for a partnership next season.

“As you have seen from the Trials these are not beasts and swaggering men you face in these fights. The Three Winds are after all a merchant guild, sure we have muscle and clout, but most of it is on good sources in all avenues of trade. We are not dealers of the exotic nor do we bind ourselves to darkness. Nor are we from bloodlines like the Dun’ka. We are traders short and simple. And it is no easy task to wager here for good routes and contracts on the winning matches of others. "

“You and your companions are a rare thing. I would say destiny had a hand in your meetings. And I would love to profit from destiny. To be honest one good season would be enough to satisfy me.”

You lead in with explaining how you understand how much the Trials mean to the Thirteen. And then tell a slightly dishonest version of Andal’s death at the hands of an undisclosed servant of the God Emperor and the Blood Changeling version of The Gloaming, offering the crystal tipped spear as proof of the victory.

“So tell me, Bitta, why would the God Emperor desire to interfere with the games? Rumor has it that someone in Kantan plans to bloody their blade before the end of the rains. Imagine what someone might accomplish with not just one, but a company of impostors within these walls? With the thirteen at their throats, who would stand to gain from such chaos?”

“The God Emperor doesn’t give a shit about us. We are just a piece of twine he uses to bind the land. The Emperor is not himself. He spends a lot of time looking at the stars and worrying. Meanwhile he places demands on us and his armies and the other kings and queens. There is always some strange artifact or person he is trying to find. I suspect we have turned in dozens of people and items that turned out to be nothing. But, with such vague descriptions what can we do but guess and play along with his madness. His shapeshifters are well known to us and many outsiders. They are rare creatures created from dragon blood and I wonder if he even has a dozen of them in his service.”

“There is tension among the Thirteen at all times. But, I can’t imagine what personal gain any of them could obtain that they would risk so dearly.”

“One thing that does make me nervous of late is this deal that Zul Clan made with the Night Priests. Sure is has been profitable! Yet I can feel my soul recoil every time I am near one of them. I can’t see how Blind Rage can entertain them so often as guests. Even now one of their ships is moored up on the tower so we can work out this season’s quotas.”

Bitta does seem honestly disturbed by the Night Priests. Based on his conversation you think it wasn’t a deal he would have brokered on his own, nor is it a deal he wishes to continue but has no choice.

“The night priests are a bad bit of business. Rumor has it they are dead beneath the metal – nothing but dust and bones. Those of my kin that have used “The Way” to speak to them have heard the insane screaming of many from a single mind. They are not natural and there is no profit that can be had in dealing with such as those. I was glad to send the Dregs to their end, rather than see them handed over to them. I hope your obligations to them are insignificant."

“The Thirteen have made a strong binding deal with the Night Priests and we struggle to keep up with their quotas for slaves. At first they just wanted the lowest creatures we could find. But, now they purchase all regardless of price. We had to cut them off from our supply to a degree to protect our markets and trade. Since any slave given to them disappears with them across the Feral Wastes and return to the trade. But, they are becoming more demanding and have been offering some of the Thirteen very tempting artifacts and forgotten knowledge in exchange for more slaves. Rumors of our affiliation with these cold creatures is starting to spread and already some prefer to sell to other traders.”

“Cold Hands also said they were dead underneath but he won’t say more of it. You would think he would feel at home with them but he also treats them distantly.”

You gaze into Bitta’s fate, and steer him away from having any early morning business and tell him in the afternoon the field will be fair, but in the evening he should choose wisely since he will be able to strike a very good deal.

“Bitta looks bows his beak slightly. We shall see soothsayer how your vision carries. If you are true I will have to consult with you again and perhaps return the favor with some of my profits.”

Outside you and Nibb trudge toward Arn’s shop. Nibb looks at you perplexed but says nothing though you can see him hiding his thoughts the best he can.

Arn’s shop once again feels unreal and wavering as you enter. It is the same empty sterile room with the smooth face of Arn smiling in his soft way at you as you enter. Part of your mind believes there are others in the room but you can’t see or detect them.

“Ah, the Sun Folk who bargains like a seasoned merchant. I hope you find the long spear to your liking. I took some pride in its construction.” Arn you realize today is levitating slightly and bobs like a Float Worm from the high mesas of the eastern deserts.

“It is good to see you again. Your presence conjures a vision of the eastern deserts and the worms that hover gracefully above it. Yes, the spear is artfully done, if only it’s wielder had made better use of it in the arena. Pardon me being brief, but my request this time is hopefully a simpler one. During the journey here a valuable tool was stolen from us, a Fey Fuser. Do you have such a thing in your possession or the means to make one?”

“I fear I am ignorant of such an instrument by this name. What can you tell me of it? Perhaps I know it by another name. There are many languages spoken upon the sand and stone.”

“It’s a device, similar to a rod, that provides power to the Ley lines of Lir. When used at a rune portal in capable hands, the portals may be activated.”

“I have only heard of them. The God-Emperor’s lieutenants and operatives use them. They call them the Turtle’s Teeth.”

“Such a grim name for such a useful device. Hmm…that’s very unfortunate. Surely a man wise in the crafting of arcane items has some idea where they might be found or how they are crafted?”

“The tooth is said to come from a great creature that is no more. That the Emperor has them recovered from the Lir-Khan Silts at great costs.”

During the last arena match, I unleashed my mental reserves, but failed to connect with my opponent. I’ve heard of a crystal focus that can capture the dissipating power once, so all is not lost. Would you have any such items among your stores?

“The crystals you speak of are some what common in the northern Savage Mountains. Not to say they are easy to acquire but I do have a stock. I can provide them to you at 160 Dragon Marks per crystal.” He seems to materialize a canister out of thin air. Crystals of various colors and cuts drift up from it. They hang suspended in the air. Arn’s reflection in them is twisted and unrecognizable to you.

You start out towards the western side of town where Val-Drek has his embassy stronghold. Along the way you relate tales of your tribe and their customs to Nibb. From time to time he will ask a question about some rite or task.

“The furrows of your brow betray your thoughts Nibb. Out with it. There is nothing to fear from me, and I would prefer to hear the words directly from your mouth.”

“I am not worried about you so much traveler. But, you see I have been a trader my whole life and I know a thing or two about talk. I know for certain you told Bitta some outright lies and also a skirted the truth in other ways. And I saw the circles you weaved into your talk. It was a good game you played. But, like any shell game it is easier to see the trick from the outside. Considering who you were dealing … it leaves me wondering why you are in Kantan traveler. There are some rumors you know.”

The homes and towers in the eastern quarter are all fine and well guarded. You doubt you could find a roost to watch Val’Drek’s abode without being noticed by the inhabitants. There are no public buildings or businesses in this area. To the far east are a line of large stone buildings that are very long and tall in neat rolls. At best you can use some of the uneven streets to create a blind to watch Val’Drek’s adobe. But, you must keep shifting not to draw attention to yourself in the street.

“Nibb, I’d be interested in whatever you know about such rumors. You can trust that we are not the subject of those rumors, but as outsiders, eyes will surely fall upon me and my company if such events come to pass. As for why I’m here, I’m not entirely sure. Fate works in strange ways. I would be much happier back among my people gathering water, but that instead I am here fighting for the profit and entertainment of savages.”

“Look at that building and it’s occupants,” Malharath says, nodding to Val-Drek’s stronghold, “Lir would be a better place were they all dead, and rumor has it that they will all die in Kantan before the rains end. However, should such things come to pass, my company and I may be fighting our way out of this city. As skilled as we are at combat, fighting the better part of the Thirteen’s collected guards is beyond us. So, for now, you and I will watch that building quietly and carefully, in hopes of gaining some chance insight into the subject of rumors. When we return to the inn, we will talk to Nag about these things and whether he knows of ways to move about this city or between its buildings without being noticed”

I nod at the neat rows or long tall buildings. “What are those? The warehouses of the Cos Brothers, perhaps?”

Also, when Bitta mentioned a ship docked at the tower, I pictured it would sit on top of it. Is that accurate? Or would it be alongside it? Is the top of the tower visible through the rains?

The ship is moored alongside atop of the giant carved tower. Mostly obscured by rain beyond a dim outline.

Nibb listens to your story and nods a few times with the rain tracing his chin. He develops a serious look as you continue.

“They are a harsh reality traveler. These self made rulers and tyrants. Without them the roads would be dangerous and all trade would collapse. It is their might that holds the thin balance against the wild and savage things. Have you considered what the world would be like if the city-states were left to their own defense and the land between given back to the desert and its laws? What of the Night Priests? You have seen their ship floating up there. Floating on thin air without a tremble in its hull from the rain. They are patient with us now since we are many. But, they have taken many slaves into the desert and none have returned. No one knows what becomes of them or what use they make of the them. The world is barely holding its own against the desert and mutants. Will you risk what peace lives for such a small victory here? It isn’t that I don’t agree with you traveler. It is that I have traveled the roads. I know the fear of some places because of what lurks just past the border of their settlements. And I know it is the Emperor and these piss poor tyrants that keep the world in shape … at least enough for them to profit from it.”

“I suppose those are warehouses. They weren’t there the last season I was here.”

“You are a smart and cautious man, Nibb. I cannot argue that the God Emperor serves a purpose as master of all and bulwark against chaos. But you must also realize that I am one of the Sunfolk, mutant, born of the desert. I would prefer freedom on the sands and silt to a life among the tyrants in their cities. Where tyranny turns a blind eye, life flourishes.”

“Then there is also the matter of the Turtle, the Night, the Dawn, the Dragon, and the sundering of this world thousands of years ago….but these are not tales to be told while knee deep in mud among the city of the slavers.This is an ancient world, and if the fates will it, it will be reborn.”

“For now, let us put such things aside, and see who is frequenting the abode of the God Emperor’s servant.”

“While we are skulking in the rain, tell me some tales of the roads you have traveled.”

I’ll spend a few hours, baring over-exposure to the elements, skulking around Val-Drek’s stronghold. Next step is a pass by the warehouses, then to the North district and back to the inn.

Nibb sits in silence for a while as you keep an eye on Val’Drek’s stronghold.

“At least the Sand Fleas aren’t a bother during the rains” he muses.

“As for tales. I am not sure there is much to tell. I have seen a lot of dust and markets. Mostly to the south and east. I have stood on the shore of the Dune Sea. The mounds rippling away to the horizon. But, never dared to sail on the big ships that roll across the sands on stone wheels. Seen the pyramids of Buma’Tu until I was bored of them, and once made the trip to Gazing Rim. Which is a place I care not to visit again.”

“I even once saw The Dark Skies. Lucky for me and my lizards it was going the other way.”

After some time in the rain you see a small group entering Val’Drek’s stronghold they appear to be the female warriors you have been seeing off and on in Kantan. They stay for about a hour and leave. A short time later arrives an odd caravan of humanoids in odd full body armor that covers every aspect of them. They are large in stature and lob a bit when walking. Some walk in a hunch fashion. They enter and spend quite some time. You wait for them to leave. They emerge and you realize the time has slipped into the evening and that this evenings match is starting against Cold Hand. But, then you see the strange armored figures exit the building and head back southward.

“I have seen those female warriors around the city. Do you know who they or the heavily armed brutes are?”

Malharath. slips out from his the current observation post and heads off after the strange armored figures, telepathically entreating Nibb to follow him if he wishes, or to meat him back at the inn otherwise.

“I know my way from here. You may follow me, or return to the comfort and safety of the inn.”

“The women are the warrior maidens of the city-state of Harzon. A city of women ruled by The Veiled Queen. I have never seen the likes of those in that queer armor before.”

As you slip out you can see that Nibb is numb with cold from the rain but he follows after you.

The shapes move through the streets with sure strides. You catch more detailed glimpses of the armor covering them head to toe. The head piece includes round eye pieces made of some dark glass and it looks like a sand filter covering their face. The filter like device makes the heads seem large and misshapen. They proceed to a dome shaped structure in the southern district and enter it. A symbol engraved on the door shows a wolf’s head showing a snarl.

Nibb hisses between his teeth and whispers into your ear. “The symbol of Benn … the demon city! I had no idea this was here.”

Darkness is falling in Kantan and your comrades are entering the arena inside the carved tower.

“This is distressing. We must go. Zatch and his minions rule the night.”

I make note of the domes location and begin heading back to the inn along a circuitous route, checking to make sure we’re not followed. If the party is fighting now, they should be arriving back at the inn at about the same time (baring any further delays).

You head back to the inn at a fast pace. Even Nibb seems a little on edge after discovering the seal of Benn on the door. The rain is lighter right now and has become a constant drizzle with heavy mist in the pale sunset. You can barely see a dozen yards in front of you. Lights are shining in all the windows you pass and there seem to be more people out. Likely the audience leaving the arena fights on their way back. They are mostly shadows and muted voices in the mists.

You enter the inn in the Travelers District where you have been staying. The door man has the shutter shut on his window.Not even the cook or waiter is visible. The canteen is empty except for a single figure seated and facing the door. He is a tall and thin man and you instantly recognize him as Sun Folk but it is obvious that he belongs to no tribe you have ever encountered. His armor is the dark mantle of giant scorpions and twin blades of black stone hang from his back. He has his palms down on the table you and you they are talons. Across the width of his face is tattoo of a blue hand with its fingers spread wide.

“So it is true.” He says as you stand and study him. His voice is hoarse and low but filled with bass.

“A lost brother has found his way from the wilds to the world. A child in a brothel with no idea of what is going on around him. And so young of seasons. But, here you are lost one.”

I ignore the man for the time being, and address Nibb.

“You’ve been a great help, but it is best you return to your quarters. We will settle our business when the canteen is re-opened for business.”

Nibb nods without a word and makes a cautious exit. Before exiting he gives you a second glance that makes you think he regrets leaving you here.

Once Nibb has left, I place myself between the stranger and the door before addressing him.

“You are mistaken. I am neither lost, or a child, nor sure that we can be counted as brothers. I am Malharath, chosen as warrior priest of the Black Axe, sojourner among the savages.”

“I presume you are a nightmare made real, a member of the lost who abandoned the deserts in pursuit of blood rites and dark power. I had thought your kind were the stuff of child’s tales; shadows meant to scare the little ones into obedience. So, tell me, shadow, what business do you have here? Are you greedy for clean blood from the desert to slake your thirst?”

“I see you are a child after all. Still believing in those stories for children told around fires in the desert. Listening to the tales of old men who have smoked the roots of Flower Tree and believe they are in touch with a dead world’s ghost. They dwell in an illusion and raise you and other children to see the same lie.”

“Yet here you are so far from the stones of your birth and among the savages. While you talk about the dream world the old elders fill your head to the brim. I wager you have seen things out here on the roads that cast doubt and questions on your perceptions. Just last night you fought for the pleasure and glory of slave traders. What else have you done Malharath of Black Axe? There will be a point I suspect when you will have to make a choice about what you once believed and what you have seen and heard yourself. I think you are already changing Malharath. We once upon a time were like you. Children wandering out the desert of ignorance. The Blight is now wise … wiser then you could imagine. We found our core teachings were true but we were only weakening ourselves with the old words.”

The Blighter has remained motionless as he speaks. This tone is a mono drone but you can sense real emotion in the words.

“We will give all the children a choice. But, we will not spare those who insist on weakness Malharath. You and the others will either stand in the sun or feed the Gloom.”

“You have no right to call me to account for my actions, or judge my business here. Nor will I be forced into false choices. Stand in the sun or feed the Gloom? Take your empty threats elsewhere. I make my own choices. When the games end, I will leave this den of madness with my company, and the elders will come to know the fate of the lost tribe. Your name will be a curse upon the sands. For now, take your lies back to your foul den and hope we do not meet under the open sky.”

“The tribes and your delusional elders will know of us first hand in the coming season child. The quotas this year for the Night are quite high. They are offering in trade the greatest of secrets. The tribes have flourished in these last centuries of isolation. It is an untapped resource we can not ignore and we are the only one among the Thirteen who can access it. We will give the tribes a choice of course. There are actually three options you see. Stand in the sun, feed the Gloom, or dwell with the Night. If they can not bring themselves to be strong we will choose for them and profit from it.”

The Blighter stands revealing his height and the quiet nature of his black armor. He straightens his neck and flexes his long fingers.

“It will not be under the open sky where I will meet you next child. I know your companions were victorious in their melee with the Hive. Tomorrow eve we will see each other under the stone of Kantan’s tower. We will see what the elders have wrought of you. Know it was Korvac that gave you a choice that you had not the strength to make, but should you come to your senses and look beyond your dream land. You can still come and drink with us.”

He steps quietly behind a crude pillar supporting the ceiling that for a second conceals his form. For a second you expect him to walk around the table and face you. But, he never emerges from the far side of the pillar. The room growing chilled in a way you have never experienced and a whisper of voices hums for a second and is gone.

Standing there looking at the empty room you hear your companions enter the room behind you. You can already sense that Pau was seriously injured from his thoughts. Boroff comes into the room with them and pauses studying the walls and shadows.

“It is a thin line between life and death” He whispers to himself in a trance like state before shaking off the daze and returning to his mending of Garret and Pau’s wounds.

A Sojourn To Kantan's Streets

Dark Skies jaredbb