You and your companion, safe within the ostentatious walls of Tyr, take a rare moment of respite, your adrenaline drained as if you were a psionic after a psychic duel.
This is the perfect moment for you to rest, as it is one of the rare times of the day where the weather in this dead land is agreeable to you; the sun does not scorch your tattooed skin, draining you of comfort and water, nor does the night’s unforgiving cold chill your very bones.
You sit on a small stool in front of a vacant Guard stall; empty, for travelers rarely enter the city from the north or east after the crimson sun reaches its mid-day zenith.
His racing heart slows only gradually as Caelum considers his surroundings.
Wiping the sweat from his bald head the Dwarf curses the haze that lies over the memories of his former life.
“At one time I could have told you every trading post in this region, but now…” Caelum mutters as Tutoc nods gravely. “Not enough time, or coin, for me to gather the information we need from the taverns.”
Then the memory of a fast talking human caraveneer springs to mind, “We’ll see how well that braggart’s stories of home serve me.”
To your back (north) is the gate you hastily entered through, the half-giant guard gazing through a look-out hole in the great wall. So still does he stand that if you hadn’t already seen him move to open the gate, you would think him a statue.
To your right, the empty Guard stall, and a few paces behind that, the side of a huge, windowless sandstone building, standing five times a Half-Giant’s height, no doubt teeming with humanity and deception.
To your left, a twenty-stride wide road abruptly ending at another large building, aesthetically mirroring the one to your right.
Looking forward, the two parallel series of buildings form a breezeway away from the gate that leads as far as your eye can see. Now and then breaks in the lines of building appear, creating shady intersections, allowing you to duck into side roads and alleys, if need be.
With the time and weather being agreeable, men of every race bustle back and forth via these “crossroads”, using this last bit of time before the nightly cold blows in to pick up water for the night, to make that one last deal, to pick that last pocket, to see their mistress one more time…
Your companion stands next to you, awaiting your next move. He is unable to sit, for he is too large for such comforts as stall stools. As he is wont to do, his dwarf-fist-sized eyes look to you for guidance, awaiting your knowledge of this huge living city.
As you recall the boisterous words of that caraveneer, a flood of information pours into your mind, remembering what you can about the region and the city you now find yourself. Once you dissect the info as quickly as your dwarf brain allows you, the picture of your next move becomes clearer…
Caelum, his giant partner sticking closely behind, heads around one of the corners close by to find those whom would cry out to the gods… if those gods had not forsaken his cursed land.
A small human family, reeking of the smells of the city and stinking of hunger look up from their small mats placed in a corner between two buildings. They look up at you with eyes too large for their face, thinking you are another one of the city’s guards pushing them along.
Without provocation, you cast your hand before the family and exclaim “I bring blessings from the life-giving element. Drink.” You then cast Create Water an empty bucket by the family’s hovel. The family takes a moment to stare at you in disbelief, then furiously cups the life-sustaining coolness to their lips, the children splashing their filthy in the cool liquid.
You ask the way to the Water Temple and in between gulps you can make out them pointing you south, south, go south. And so you go.
As you continue through the city, the sun to your left falls behind the city walls. Darkness comes, and with it, cold. You pull your tunic tighter to your chest.
The dark city seems to come alive all at once as torches are lit all around, casting their dancing shadows every which way.
As you head south, you pass what some passer-by informs you is The Ziggurat, an enormous pyramid-step structure reaching as far as the eye can see ahead as well as up. As you pause for a moment and gaze at its imposing image you think to yourself that surely Man has not constructed such a massive and wondrous creation. The mere sight of it only furthers your resolve to make your mark on this land, so devoid is it of wonders.
Around the Ziggurat you see many beggars and put-upons, so information is easy to come by once you again bring drink with the wave of your hand. This time they tell you to travel to the end of the Ziggurat (it has an end? you think), and then cut west.
As you approach the end of the Ziggurat, the tall, jutting bleachers of The Arena now fill your eyes. The stands are both imposing and impressive, but they are a feather-of-an-Aarakocra next to the Ziggurat. But that is not your way, so west you go.
Small, blocky yurts litter the landscape, most not much taller than your Half-Giant companion. The city seems to itch with power, but you’re not such why. As you’re no longer in the shadow of the Ziggurat, the blue moon’s light illuminates these streets.
A sign is ahead. It reads: Preserver’s District. How fitting, you think.
Though an area of town rich in power and goodness, there are still beggars huddled in alleys, curling up in their thin tunics for warmth. A mul beggar, no doubt a retired gladiator who has nowhere else to go, catches your eye, and your whip your magic, giving him a momentary pause from his troubles. For your grace, he shows you the way to the temple. Only a few blocks away, it appears.
As you make the last turn towards your destination, you hear small whispers of “Bringer of the Life Drink” with sidelong glances coming your way. It appears your actions with the beggars have not gone unnoticed.
Before you enter the small, dry garden n front of the temple, you glance to your left and enjoy one quick southern glance at The Golden Tower in the distance; the monolith seeming to reach up to the stars themselves is silhouetted in front of a bright desert moon.
Coming back to the task at hand, you stand before The Water temple, its large domed top standing in contrast to the usual flat-topped surfaces littering Tyr’s skyline. As you walk across the garden which struggles to survive in front of the Water Temple you notice small, wavy, etched designs covering the temple walls. Apparently these are supposed to signify waves, mythical rolls ripples of water cause by the moon pulling on huge bodies of water. They say sometimes these ripples can get as high as a man! Most don’t believe any such thing could happen, but you…
Finally, you knock on the etched door, using a chord that reaches inside the temple to ring a large internal bell. A moment passes, and a half-elf answers the door. From the look of his clothes, you know him to be an initiate. His first look is to your massive companion, for those such as him do not usually frequent this area. After a moment of gawking, his attention turns to you. The initiate finally asks “What do you bring?”
In response, the Dwarf plants his trident firmly in front of him. “A gift for your fountain,” Caelum says while leaning his trident toward the initiate.
The taller half-elf grabs a clay cup from within his robes and holds it beneath the triple points, catching the slow stream of water that’s begun flowing from the barbed fish spine tips. With the cup filled he replies, “Let the faithful never thirst,” thus completing the identification ritual.
With that, the initiate opens the heavy temple door completely and motions for the pair to follow him inside. Tutoc, following closely behind Caelum, is able to stand to his full height in the large anteroom of the Temple. He’s followed his master into a half dozen such temples since they began traveling together but this is the largest and most beautiful twice over. The anteroom’s walls, floor and ceiling are covered with the shells of water creatures brought from the Last Sea at great expense. But the Gladiator’s eyes are drawn to the massive silver fountain in the center of the room from which the poor and thirsty gather to scoop cups of precious water every morning.
As the half-elf dumps the water Caelum conjured into the rush of the silver fountain, the Dwarf’s eyes pick out the entrance-ways and narrow stairs that are almost invisible due to the clever design of the shells.
A staircase on the right hand wall leads to the Temple’s Dome, the meeting place for those who study the Fire of the Sky.
Another staircase in a shadowed area by the far wall, that one descends to the underground quarters of those whose thoughts are bent toward the Despair of the Drowned.
An out of place spiral of dark shells upsets the pattern on the left hand wall, it certainly functions as the disguised entryway to the rooms of the Desert Mirage Masters.
Finally, Caelum spots an archway beneath an image of fishing boats hauling in nets full of their daily catch – the dream of all those following the path of the Living Waters and where Caelum will find Water Clerics of his ilk.
“Wait for me here,” Caelum barks as Tutoc immediately sits on the floor, resting his Swatter on his crossed legs. The initiate walks toward the fishermen archway and Caelum realizes the half-elf has already identified his Path. “His training must be nearly complete,” Caelum thinks while following.
The hallway through the arch is adorned with silk tapestries depicting the miracles of Water Cleric martyrs over the millennia. Caelum identifies the Thirst Quencher of Balic, the Water-Bringer of the Waste and the Flood Turner before his thoughts are distracted by the sound of voices up ahead.
The half-elf halts as the hallway ends, “A Fellow Cleric, a Believer in the Living Waters and a traveler from strange lands has brought a gift for our fountain. “
“Then allow him in,” a raspy human voice replies. The initiate motions for Caelum to enter and then retreats back towards the anteroom.
Caelum is greeted by a Thri-kreen, an Elf and an ancient human, the only figure not to speak is a man-sized melting figure of a water elemental rising from a bowl of water.
As usual, Caelum is questioned closely on his personal history. It’s normal to evoke this level of interest when you’re the only Dwarf Water Cleric most have seen in a Dragon’s Age.
Caelum ends the interview as he always does, “I have sworn my life to finding the Source and returning oceans, lakes and rivers to the Tablelands and a Dwarf’s oath binds tighter than most.”
These words are greeted with gasps, for most know the awful doom that awaits a Dwarf who dies leaving their life’s work unfinished. “Perhaps Dwarf stubborness is what our cause has needed these long years and we must aid you in this quest as we are able,” the old Cleric Razet declares.
“Our friend here from the Water Plane has been following the Cerulean Storms and sees much, perhaps he can help guide you,” Razet continues.
The Elemental speaks for the first time with a voice that seems to come from the deeps of an ancient ocean, “Listen closely for I may have a clue or two for you to ponder…”
At the moment he speaks his last word, you hear a knock at the front door beyond the chamber. You barely take notice, but the Water Elemental stares in the direction of the door, his magical senses at full alert.
You hear the half-elf initiative open the door, ask what the visitor brings- then the squeal of death. Ugh! Whiz!
The Water Element suddenly dissipates into the bowl of water. The four of you rush to the archway facing the anteroom. The half-elf who let you in lay dying in the doorway, riddled with arrows.
Outside the door he just opened, you see a crowd of over a dozen men. They have the look of a grizzled veterans and pitiless mercenaries, pushing their way inside.
Turoc, always alert for danger, rushes the door and uses his massive frame and stout feet to keep the would-be intruders right outside the door. It is all he can do to keep them at bay. Arrows whoosh past him into the anteroom.
Other priests rush out and down the spiraled shell stairs, their shouts of confusion finally focusing as yells of “Shut the door!” A few of them rush to do so and begin moving the huge stone door to a close.
Your eyes quickly scan the crowd once again. With the last crack of the open door you spot those black, devoid eyes. Volib. You gasp. Simultaneously, his eyes meet yours. He lifts up a finger to point at you and yells “THERE—-“
DUME! The stone door shuts with a purpose, drowning out his words. You can already hear the men outside frantically yelling to break the door down. You can tell that Turoc has tasted battle and is hungry for more.
The ancient human priest next to you turns his wise gaze toward you. “You must go- NOW! The Living Water draw is too strong within you. And besides, we can’t have you die here. I don’t want to be staring at your spirit for the rest of my life!” He says those last words with a sly smile. “NOW GO! Up the Fire in the Sky dome!”
As Caelum departs he says: “May we swim together in the Living Waters one day.”
Tutoc and Caelum rush up the stairs, the Half-Giant using his massive frame to shoulder the door to the roof open, never slowing his stride. You stagger for a moment as the intense light and heat of the outside attacks you.
Once your eyes and pores quickly acclimated to the usual harsh conditions, you assess your surroundings: 50 feet off the ground, and surrounded by flat topped, low rising building; the Temple being the tallest building of the surrounding rooftops.
A passing glance between you both reveals your next steps: you (reluctantly) climb upon Tutoc’s back, feeling his massive muscles beneath his studded leather armor. Though so large, his natural size and physical prowess allow him to move from rooftop to rooftop as through he were an Aarakockra in flight.
You make your path east, wind blowing across your bald scalp as Tutoc bounds from building to building. Upon landing on the third roof, you can sense crumbles of the roof falling into the building from the sheer weight and force of Tutoc’s landing. No matter; the real danger still lies behind.
As you land upon that third roof you take a moment and glance behind you. The dozen pursuers just emerged onto the temple roof, quickly spotting you, with but one empty rooftop separating you both. Volib stands behind them. There is no way they will continue to follow us up here, you think.
But you doubt Volib’s hate. He yells something- something you can not hear, but the jist is obvious- for a dozen or so of his men begin the chase across these rooftops.
The salty mercenaries each make the first jump to the first roof… except for the last one, a fat mul (you didn’t know there were fat muls) with a cudgel, who barely makes it halfway to the second rooftop before disappearing, no doubt falling to the alleys below.
Like a hungry Thri-Kreen after its prey, the men continue to pursue you. As you and Tutoc make it to the fourth roof, the pursuers jump to the second roof, still one empty rooftop separating you both. Another of the mercenaries falls to the unknown below. Ten men now hot on your trail.
To the third roof they leap, and yet again, another does not make it. Nine men.
All the while, you and Tutoc easily make it over the first four roofs, with the last roof a bit higher than the other ones*. Nevertheless, Tutoc clears the divide quite easily. You stand on that flat rooftop, a little more than 30 paces by 30 paces wide. You glance around the sides of the building; no other roofs to jump to now, just a 60 foot drop into the bustling alley-marketplace below.
You do not forget there are men on your trail. They jump to the roof next to yours, and it appears that another man does not make the fall… wait- he caught the ledge. Thirst! He pulled himself up!
Nine… Nine leathery, rope-muscled men armed to the teeth one rooftop away from you. They quickly catch their breath and assess their surroundings. You take it from their quick actions that they are not run of the mill goons, but seasoned veterans. Three of them train their stone-tipped arrows on you. The other six loosen their weapons in their sheaths, preparing for a fight. It is but one jump from them to you.
One of the men tries to offer concession to you: come over there peacefully and mercy will be granted by Volib…
There is a dead, peaceful quiet as they await your next move, the only sound a faint white noise from the market below. You are keenly aware of the sun’s heat beating down on your head and the tenseness of Tutoc’s muscles as he is ready to move at the first sound of your decision. You perceive every wisp of wind and shifting of weight around you.
A memory flashes through Caelum’s mind, the first time he experienced the power of Water. The Dwarf calls upon his faith, I accept that Water is Life, and reaches for that corner of the Water Plane where clouds obscure and hide (Fog Cloud – 2nd Level)...
As Tutoc turns to face the nine warriors arrayed against him, a familiar feeling settles over him. Cold grips him as the heat of the day is replaced by the Battle Chill, the noise of the street now seems to be cheers of a crowd. The Half-Giant is at home and he will give them a great show.
But before Tutoc can start to hoist his Swatter, a mist begins forming before his very eyes.
“The Water,” Tutoc realizes that rushing into battle is the old way and curses his slow working brain.
“Master says, ‘Water follows the Path of Lease Ramistance.’”
With that almost-right thought, the former Gladiator takes a quick glance below (not noticing Caelum’s efforts to separate himself from his mad disciple) and leaps to the street below…
The men facing you show a flash of surprise in their eyes as they feel you about to attack. Their weapons are now in their hands.
However, with a quick change of heart, you motion to Tutoc to head off of the side of the edge, which he does immediately, without hesitation. Before you pass out of sight of your pursuers, an arrow whizzes by your head and you hear gasps coming from the men; they did not expect such a move from you.
Your attention turns to the fall. The velocity of the fall weighs down your limbs. Tutoc, with you on his back, can not position himself to fall correctly, yet when he jumped he spotted a meat merchant down below, his billowing canvas-top to his stand quickly approaching you as you both fall.
Whiiiip- you tear through the canvas top.
Curtoooo- your hard landing shatters the wooden meat stand… but the meat sure did soften your fall.
You are unhurt, cushioned by Tutoc’s massive frame. You bounce up to assess your surroundings, and Tutoc leaps up right after you, trying to appear unhurt, but you see a moment of hesitation in his movements; the fall definitely took a toll on his tough body.
Gasps come from the crowded market. The Half-Elf vendor whose stand you smashed curses you in a harsh language unfamiliar to either of you.
You have but a moment before the men are back on your trail. North to your left, South to your right. Both ways alive with merchant stands and crowds. You have seen no map, so you don’t know which way is more (or less) advantageous.
Caelum will head North, “We’ll have to head North eventually if we’re going to reach Urik.”
As you and your gladiator companion dust yourselves off from the fall, you realize there is little time to waste and you seem to feel the men continuing their pursuit. Dwarven logic leads you north, so that way you go.
It is not easy for a Half-Giant to navigate through these bustling, cramped streets, filled with vendors, purchasers, and thieves. As the sun begins its descent to the west, the alley is actually cool, as the tall buildings on either side protect you from that crimson scorcher. That does not make the heat on the back of your neck any less.
You glance behind you as you run through the streets and see that six men have landed safely after making the same jump off the side of the building as you had.
Thinking it is too tough to outrun thugs with a Half-Giant head sticking above the crowd, you duck into an alley, again using the oft-overlooked beggars for help in finding your way.
All but one beggar points you towards an abandoned brothel a few blocks away. You and Tutoc quickly make your way to and inside the building; the half-way locked door is no match for Tutoc’s shoulder.
Inside you find the smell of old dust, sand, and sin. Despite being dark on the interior, it is hotter inside this building than in the alley, for no breeze can enter this windowless oven. Sweat pours from you due to the heat… or maybe it’s from the fear of being found.
You peak out a crack in the door, with the only light in the building coming from this single gateway to the outside. Your face is illuminated, the rest of you, hidden in shadow. Waiting…
As you stare out into the hot receding day, Tutoc takes this opportunity to look around your hideout… or what could become your coffin.
You sense Tutoc rummaging around the one-room floor of this building behind you, but you dare not take your eyes off the crack to the outside. You hear him stomp up the stairs in the far corner of the house. You then heed the floorboards creaking against his massive weight, and a loosened hunk of dusk falls on your face as he searches. But still you look out.
After a few moments, Tutoc returns downstairs and tells you that there’s nothing upstairs but 4 rooms (presumably bedrooms for customers), none with windows. You nod and thank him.
… then it hits you. This is a brothel; there has to be more than one way out… just in case, you assume.
You kindly ask Tutoc to do an “extra special” search throughout the house once again, looking for any “hiding places.” Again, you sense his lumbering body rummaging through the small building again. And again, he returns. You can feel his broad smile as he proudly announces that yes, there is a hidden shoot at the end of the hallway upstairs, leading down into darkness. And what’s better- HE can fit in it! You only assume the shoot was built for two people to exit out of it at the same time, for the architects of this place surely did not have half-giants in mind during construction.
You compliment his finding, then turn your full attention back to the road in front of you. And not a moment too soon.
The six men that you saw jumping off of the rooftops now stand in single rile not 5 feet from your doorway, moving from the left to right of your vision, eyes and ears searching for something… searching for you.
Your breath is held. Your thick muscles are as still as a Sand Cactus in waiting. You move not even a hair on your head- if you had hair, that is.
This is the closest you have come to your pursuers, and they look even more seasoned up close than they did from afar. Your days of wandering tell you that they have many more weapons hidden under their piece-mail armor than most would notice. They seem close enough to touch.
Five of them pass you by, without so much as a glance at you… except for one.
A particularly menacing – mostly due to his missing ear- human stays back. He looks away from your building, then up, then toward your building, then seemingly right at you…
“Kolskegg, everything alright?” one of the other mercenaries ahead calls back.
“… yeah…” Kolskegg answers slowly.
Then his eyes move on, and his feet quickly follow. The pursuers are soon out of your sight.
You stand in the abandoned brothel with a feeling of relief washing over you.
Caelum pushes the door closed, wipes the sweat from his bald head and let’s out a long slow breath of relief.
He sees the question in Tutoc’s eyes, “What now?”
“We wait here until dark, my son. Let’s move over by the exit you found, I’m lucky to have your second set of eyes.”
Tutoc beams as they make their way to the entrance of the hidden shoot.
Come nightfall Caelum plans to return to the streets and try to seek out a caravan or other group that will be traveling East.
As the Dwarf Cleric’s eyes begin to droop in the dusty heat of the abandoned brothel, a smirk comes to his face. “Our enemies have already made a mistake Tutoc, we know one of their names. We’ll meet again Kolskegg…”
“We’ll meet again Kolskegg…” The words seem to echo in the empty room long after they leave your lips.
Waiting in the brothel until dark, your mind begins to wonder to other things- the world, the sand, the water. All thought in this harsh land is on your surroundings.
Dark night came after a few hours of contemplation. You rouse Tutoc from his half-sleep and go up the stairs, the strain on the floorboards apparent as your giant servant steps upon them. Once atop the stairs, Tutoc proudly points you towards a false-wall which leads to quickly descending stairs.
You take these dark, stone stairs about two half-giant lengths down, and cross a nigh-pitch black tunnel, your hands out in front of you searching in the dark.
After 50 or so paces, a feint blue light shines from the top of the tunnel. You motion to Tutuc to lift you up, which he does easily. You remove the hatch covering above your head and find yourself in the middle of an empty marketplace, no doubt bustling during the day, but broken down at night as the merchants escape the cold that the dark brings. You pull yourself out of the tunnel, your companion pulling himself up behind quickly you.
You waste no time. Moving through the huddled masses along the alleyways, you catch wind of a local trader, Grik One Wing, who makes weekly runs from Tyr to Urik and back again. They tell you to find him in the Blue Breeze Tavern. A fitting omen, you think.
As you approach the sandy building, you note the sign swaying in the breeze above door is nothing but an old, huge, blue spear. Pushing the heavy stone doors open you find a dimly lit tavern sprawled before you. Low set tables and scattered chairs litter the room. Obscure dark stains upon the flagstone floor make you wonder at their origin. A long, low-slung bar sets against the far wall and you note that shadow seems to hang in every corner. A haven for the seedier side of life, you can only imagine.
How do I find this Grik One Wing, you think to yourself.
After a quick scan of the crowd, you notice an Aaracockra with only one arm- or, one wing, as they say- leaning at the bar, talking to the bartender. You approach him and quickly ask for a ride to Urik.
The birdman stares down at you across his crooked beak. “Urik, eh? I can take you there, sure as the sun is red. Cost ya about…” he scans you and your companion up and down, trying to guess how much he can squeeze out of your “…10 copper. And we leave at first light.”
At this Caelum asks for Grik One Wing to join him in one of the darkened corners to continue the discussion.
Grik, muttering something about his precious time, agrees. Before moving off to a corner table Caelum whispers something to the bartender who looks puzzled but nods his acquiescence.
The poorly lit corner seems even darker with Tutoc’s looming presence. “I’m not sure you understand what we’re asking you. We don’t wish to pay for an escort but rather to join your band, for a time, and do the jobs that need doing. I think young Tutoc’s skills speak for themselves but mine… you might have overlooked.”
At this the bartender reenters the main room with two reeking buckets. Patrons pull back at the sight and smell of them.
“Here yar – last week’s special and the piss bucket from out back,” the barkeep says as he sets the buckets down on the table. He leaves chuckling and Grik pushes back from the table, looking around warily suspecting a trick.
Caelum mutters quietly, “Life-giver, remove the corruption from this food and drink so that we may use it for the nourishment of our bodies.” [Cast: Purify Food and Water]
Tutoc grins knowingly as Grik leans forward to see the fresh stew and clear water that have replaced the fetid mess.
The Dwarf knows his fate could well rest with this feathered caravaneer, the silence draws out as he awaits Grik’s decision…
Grik leans forward to see the fresh stew and clear water that have replaced the fetid mess.
After a moment, he glances at you… then back at the bucket… his beak is nearly in the now-clean bucket.
Grik speaks with long pauses between his speech, saying to you “Water is worth ten times its weight in copper, my bald friend…. If you can do that along our trek, your talents- along with your brute friend’s- will be of much use to us… much use. Meet us outside the Caravan Gate at first light, and don’t forget how to do your… trick… while at the brothels tonight. Kaw-kaw-kaw” He ends by laughing at his “joke” as he walks away.
You ask the bartender about the Caravan Gate, and he explains to you that it is at the north side of the city; apparently, it was the gate that you and Tutoc (just barely) entered the city through.
Only a few restless hours remain before your journey to Urik…