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.

Night 1
The Attack

Mord manages to reach his friend Fel to warn him of his vision. Fel shares the vision with Madoc, who scornfully reminds him of his duty as a soldier to protect Skalin’s Rib. Despite Madoc’s anger, the two visit the guard captain, Osa. Rather than dismiss the vision, she gives credence to it, but sends Fel and Madoc to Arat’s Landing anyway, along with the young guardsman Drahbet, a bard.

The four walk set out into the night, going east.

As they are leaving, Zeburon’s villainous band of Black Raiders are arriving. Arulo Barat’s quiet night is interrupted by the sound of 100 kanks storming over Skalin’s Pass. The raiders have overrun the guard outpost at the top of the pass.

The reavers, barely slowed by the garrison, roll on toward the Rib, torching fields and orchards along the way, spreading wildfires that Thuk’Cha must put out. The kreen druid, in the area to help Farmer Bulos with his olive trees, battles the blazes to the point of exhaustion, eventually halting their spread and saving Bulos Farm.

Drahbet, Fel, Madoc and Mord arrive just after dawn, as a plume of smoke rises from Skalin’s Rib. Determined to follow orders, the soldiers stay where they are.

Soon the main attraction arrives. Four giants, hired by House Wavir, carrying a massive platform loaded with spices from the east, arrive a couple hours after dawn. This leads to yet more obstacles; the bandit attack has cut way down on the available workforce, and help is needed offloading the goods. Despite their pressing need, the guardsmen pitch in and get the job done for, earning respect and grudging gratitude from Halman Wavir, scion of the merchant house.

Day 2

After fighting the fire, Thuk’Cha makes his way into Skalin’s Rib and reports for duty. Unfortunately, he’s kept waiting at the barracks for hours for some unknown reason.

Arulo follows the bandits into town, where he finds his home atop the Dragon Inn ablaze, along with everything else outside the town walls. He sees that the remnants of the Black Raiders are preparing to leave, and he takes the opportunity to rescue some of his hoard of gold from the apartment.

Two raiders finally notice him and attempt to run him down, but Arulo manages to slickly avoid the attempt to trample him, and to leave a nasty wound on one of the raiders. He can’t escape notice of the city guards though. They see him from the town walls and, assuming him to be one of the Black Raiders, capture and imprison him.

Madoc, Fel, Drahbet and Mord, finally free of the demanding Wavir merchant, borrow crodlus and head to Skalin’s Rib. The four are briefed in the mayor’s office, where they’re joined by Thuk’Cha (finally told what his job is to be) and a chained Arulo.

Osa offers Arulo a chance to redeem himself, and he accepts. The party is ordered to recover about 40 missing prisoners, including three children that they’re told are especially high-priority, along with two stolen mekillots.

They track their quarry west, over Skalin’s Pass, and then south, along the Sharpshard Mountains. Thuk’Cha notices that the bandits have split into two groups, one with a mekillot heading south, and one group (apparently kank riders) heading southwest.

The party follows the mekillot group, eventually catching up at sundown as the bandits are stopping for the night. Despite a failed attempt at an ambush, the party puts down the bandits, thanks partly to four slaves. The raiders had freed the four to unload some of the stolen goods, then ordered them to fight when it was clear a fight was coming. However, an inspiring speech by Madoc convinces them to fight to free themselves instead. Unfortunately, all four die at the hands of the raiders, but the rescue attempt is successful.

Letter to Morwynn

Dearest Morwynn,

When I was a child, my father told me of iron.

“Iron is immensely strong,” he said. “It can break a bone twice its thickness in a single swing. Those who find it, and are masterful enough to work it, bathe it in fire and pound it with hammers. They craft it into a finely honed implement of war: tougher and sharper with each burn and strike.”

There was a day when I needed to imagine I was made of iron. In the open air of the arena there was no weapon stronger than a fiercely determined mind. One must always believe themselves the strongest, the sturdiest, the most powerful. Anything less and your life is forfeit.

We spent the last day traveling halfway across the Tablelands and back. First we had duties in Arat’s Landing, but an attack on the Rib brought us back with haste. Black Raiders, if you can believe it. Zeburon’s dogs threw themselves at the gate of the Rib, and stole off with goods and citizens that were held beyond the wall.

Saddled with a fool of a thief, we managed to hunt down one band of these raiders and bring our citizens home. We’ll depart soon to bring the rest back before they are lost to the slavers.

There was a day when I needed to imagine I was made of iron. I have come to realize it is no longer my imagination. Forged in the fiery arena with a thousand hammer blows, I have become an implement of war myself.

I wonder if there’s a path of return.

Yours in liberty,
Madoc Caeledan

Night 2

HejkinUnhappy with the rogue, the party locks Arulo into one of the cages that had formerly been used to hold slaves. Then, with slaves and mekillots in tow, they begin the trip back to Skalin’s Rib. Shortly before they cross the pass though, they are set upon by a group of hejkins and kruthiks – no doubt drawn by the irresistible scent of so much soft flesh.

Arulo manages to free himself during the fight and help beat back the onslaught, earning a bit of grudging respect from the guardsmen and his own temporary freedom.

The six continue on to Skalin’s Rib. They are greeted with handshakes and smiles at the garrison atop Skalin’s Pass by soldiers excited to see their comrades strike back at the Black Raiders. They continue on, making it to the Rib by dawn.


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