The Heart of a Defiled Land

Day 1: A Day Like Any Other

It’s an ordinary day in Skalin’s Rib. Perhaps a bit on the busy side, especially in the season of High Sun. Twelve caravans have arrived in the last three days, joining the eight that arrived earlier and have yet to finish selling their wares. The Fools Bazaar is bustling with buyers and sellers; jugglers, acrobats and musicians; beggars, pickpockets and prostitutes.

Stavros the Innkeeper, who somehow manages to run a highly successful hostel and keep the Fools Bazaar fairly well-organized, has already settled the early-arriving elf bands into their traditional spots at the outskirts of the market, and is now devoting his full attention to the recent arrivals from Balic. Two House Tomblador slave caravans have rolled in, one on the heels of the first, and need space.

As usual, there is a healthy contingent of town guard in the market, patrolling in twos, eyes open for trouble, but not expecting anything serious. They’re sweating in their armor: It’s only been a week since the Festival of the Highest Sun, and it’s hot in Skalin’s Rib.

Madoc the Ashen, a sergeant of the guard, and FelAmros Tarmikos, a corporal assigned to Madoc, make up one of these market patrols. The generally well-behaved crowd is a bit more subdued when these two big men are near. The sergeant, with his stern glare, predatory features and strange, pale gray skin (an extreme rarity in a land where the sun burns ferociously) is intimidating enough. But the combination of Madoc and Fel, a massive, 7-foot goliath with a battleaxe strapped to his back, leaves even the hardest bargainers in a mood for politeness.

As the morning passes into noon, the usual torpor that marks the hottest part of the day is missing. A buzz passes through the marketplace. Merchants leave their stalls to whisper, wide-eyed, to their neighbors.

As the two guards begin to notice the gossip spreading like wildfire, a boy, one of the town runners often used by the guard, sprints up to Madoc and Fel. He looks to Madoc.

“Sir, you’re wanted in the officers quarters! Osa wants to speak with you.”

Madoc and Fel hurry to meet Osa, the town guard captain. She informs them of the nature of the big news in town: House Wavir is bringing in an especially large and valuable load of spices into Arat’s Landing, which is basically a dock to offload skimmers from the Sea of Silt, 15 miles east of town. The spices will be carried by four giants, which is such a rare and exotic event that the Landing is sure to be full of crowds of gawkers. Osa orders them to go “first thing the next morning.”

Thuk’Cha finishes his work caretaking the Skalin’s Rib oasis and heads west, toward the foothills of the Sharpshard Mountains. His help is needed at the Bulos Farm. Farmer Bulos has an orchard of olive trees, and many of them are mysteriously withering and blackened. Thuk’Cha spends the rest of the evening nursing the trees back to life. He thinks some disease is may be affecting the trees. With more work to do, the thri-kreen decides to stay the night in the Bulos’s stable and finish in the morning.

Arulo Barat, bored as usual in his job as a bouncer, leaves town at dusk and heads for his favorite place to be alone and think – a flat rock outcropping about 50 feet above the Trade Road, where the road begins to rise until it eventually crosses Skalin’s Pass. He likes this spot because he can watch others without being seen. The rogue has no trouble with the climb up the cliff face.

Mord Droverson spends his day as he does many busy market days – scrounging and begging in the Fools Bazaar. As he settles down with a sandwich he acquired, he is struck by a vision of fire, death and destruction, warning him to get out of town before morning. Mord gathers his meager belongings and attempts to telepathically contact his friend, Fel, to warn him.

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