After their strange dream, the adventurers awaken, only to find that they are unable to fall back asleep for the evening. When morning arrives, each is greeted by a guard at their door that escorts them to their meeting with Urgen.
The armed escort leads you through the silent streets of Kahliahl. All is quiet after last night’s festivities except for a few merchants here and there preparing their stores for the coming day. You notice a crew killing the last remnants of the night’s viperous skri‘s but other than that, nothing unusual catches your eye. As you approach the temple of Shil’Kah, the solid bone bells chime out from the rafters, noting the breaking of first light, and preparing the citizens for the coming day. One of the guards mutters a scripture lesson under his breath and kisses a pendant chained to his neck before leading you up the temple steps. “One must always be wary of the rising sun, lest it bring perils with it from beyond the horizon. So says the great Urgen.”
You enter the temple, noting the exotic blue silks and draperies that line the black stone walls and festoon the statues of great heroes and priests of Shil’Kah. You have heard the stories of these statues your entire life, but after last night’s dream, looking at them brings only chills of dread to your goose-bumped skin.
“So, you have dreamt it at last I see.” a timeless voice rings out from the back of the temple, wizened by the years. You recognize it immediately as belonging to Urgen. “No. No need to kneel before me.” A tall slender man steps out from a shadowed culvert and looks you full in the face. He cracks a sly smile at you and winks. You find yourself astonished to see the high priest without his sacred mask, something that would never happen in public.
Arzt realizes that only the priest high council is allowed to see the bare face of Shil’Kah’s avatar, and fewer are allowed to speak with him when he is unadorned in sacrament.
More shocking though is the realization that Urgen is not nearly as ancient as you would have thought him to be. For as long as you have lived here, he has always been the high priest. Yet here, standing before you, is a man no older than his mid-twenties. Hazelnut hair falls down past his shoulders, and his sharp blue eyes shatter all clarity that you thought you may have had in the world. This is the warrior from your dreams, the one who wrenched the eye from the tentacled monstrosity.
Urgen nods his head at you, noting your dawning realization. “Yes, it was me in your dreams. That was… oh what now… two, three thousand years ago? I have been the keeper of this temple ever since. You see my children, the temple is but a guise, a ruse my comrades and I devised as a means of protecting Shil’Kah‘s corpse from any who would wish to awaken her. Yes, that was her who was slain in your dreams. The great beast is nothing but the purest of evils, but one cannot go around spouting ‘Please, help us protect this great evil from awakening!’. That’s a job only a foolish druid would take, and only a handful of those idiots would at that. No, instead we built a cult, one where Shil’Kah was a deity of great abundance, love, life, and the last ‘true’ god left in the world, though in truth she is nothing more than an unchained elemental that grew far too intelligent for its own good.
We would build a religion so filled with fanatic fervor that we would be surrounded at all times with people who would die to protect the sacred well from intruders. It has worked for centuries. That is, until now. For you see:”
Urgen pauses and reaches his hand behind the large central altar at the forefront of the temple, producing from some unseen cubby a large piece of ruby-like crystal, jagged with cracks, but emitting a faint red glow that barely illuminates the stone around it.
“I hold before you a piece of the awakening stone, the organ that holds Shil’Kah‘s mind and heart. It is this that gives her power and allows her to control that seething mass of a body out there we call the brine. Yes my children, we have stayed alive all these years by using Shil’Kah‘s body as sustenance, and feeding it those it would need to sustain itself. The benefits are too great to allow it to dwindle too much. Do not misunderstand me, it would never die, but it would certainly lose some of its…potency…should we ever stop feeding it. Immortality for one” he motions to himself, “enhanced psionics for another” he beckons to the sacred altar where his spear is kept and you watch as it flies through the air to his grip. “And of course, an abundance of wealth.” He motions to a thrall standing watch in the corner. He pauses for another moment, admiring his great masterpiece. “But, as you can see, the heart glows. It only glows when another piece of it is near. It is faint right now, but every time those damnable halfling attack it glows brighter. I’m afraid that they’ve somehow retrieved a piece of the heart and have brought it here in hopes of awakening Shil’Kah. All it would take is a single piece of the crystal coming in contact with the brine to awaken a shambling likeness of her, and even that would be enough to tear this world asunder. To make matters worth, Varis and his foolish Kriltan seek to forcefully reunite the shards and awaken Shil’Kah. It seems that we’ve done too good of a job preaching of worldly salvation should she be returned to Athas.”
Arzt can tell that Urgen suspects something more about the other shard of the heart. “Yes, you are right. I fear that one of my former allies has turned against us. Varis’ fervor for the awakening happened almost over night, and around the same time that the halfling incursions began. I believe the two are connected. I do not believe Varis alone has the power or intelligence to orchestrate something of this nature. However, the sorcerer kings are vast in power and influence, and while I have never revealed my true nature to anyone, you will find that the sorcerer kings and I have much in common. I have no idea who it is that has betrayed us, but I’m hoping you can find out. If it is as I suspect, and a sorcerer king is behind this, I’m afraid our fight may be much worse than I feared.”
Urgen paces before the altar, his arms crossed in front of his chest and a hand stroking his slender chin. “I have chosen you for this task as you are all in some way linked to my old friends and I. I do not know why you have had the dream, but I have seen it coming on the dune winds. You know the truth, you know who I am, why this religion is a farce and why Shil’Kah must not be awakened. I now place myself at your mercy. I am the sole person able to protect this shard from being taken, should whomever it is that has taken the other piece of the heart attack here. I plead with you, find out who leads this band of cannibals, retrieve the heart shard, and return it to me. I’ve acquired a number of magical artifacts over the centuries, and should you succeed, you may have your pick of any. So, what say you? Will you help even now, knowing that all that I have taught you over the years is a lie?”
The party grudgingly accepted Urgen’s offer.
“Very well. The halflings have recruited a tribe of Silt Runner to act as their front line and fodder. You may need to deal with them before you deal with the halflings. Before you leave, speak with Grilbin, I believe you know him quite well. He will provide you with any supplies you need for your journey. Also, please take with you my two finest thralls. They will help carry your packs and supplies and help guard you at your camps. Do your best to keep this discreet. There’s no telling what eyes and ears may be hiding in the city.” Urgen motions to the group of thralls standing guard at the entrance to the temple. They take up formation around you and lead you back out into the city. You ask to return to your apartments but the thralls pay no heed, leading you through the sand filled streets to a guard tower at the eastern entrance. Without saying a word, a single guard opens the door and leads you inside.
The sparsely decorated walls are bare except for a few skulls of thieves and desert beasts surrounding the city arms. At the center of the room sits a stone desk, and a groggy, half-asleep Grilbin perks up from his slumber as he notices you entering the room. “Ugh, hate morning shifts right after a festival. To think I feel like this after drinking so little. I’m getting too old it seems… Ah yes, I had word that you would need some supplies for some top secret excursion into the wastes! Aye, wish I could go with yeh.” The dwarf leaps onto the desk and swing his arms in mighty arcing sweeps, “Action! Adventure! Women! Uugh.” He grabs his head and plops back down into his seat, all energy drained from his body. He motions to a chest in the back of the room. “Take whatever you need. Try to leave the ale if you don’t mind…I’ll need some way to get rid of this hangover.”
The chest contains a variety of used equipment, obviously taken from the thieves and looters that have been executed over the years. Most of the armor is musty and sour smelling, and the weapons look as if they could use a good once over before seeing any real action. You also find several travelling packs next to the chest, each containing enough supplies to last you several weeks in the harsh desert.
As you are about to leave the tower, a veiled figure approaches the group. He holds in his hand a small leather bag. “Arzt, this is for you, from an anonymous interest in your cause.” He pauses, and then swiftly dips his hand into the bag, producing from it a clear, perfectly round glass orb filled with thick swirling sand. He hands it solemnly to Arzt. He dips his hand back into the bag and brings out several small vials of different colored earth. “This is a Silt Compass. In it is trapped the spirit of a sand elemental. It can guide you to any place you desire, so long as you have a sampling of sand from your destination.” He hands Arzt the sand samples. “This first one was taken from the halflings who have attacked us recently. It should lead you to their encampment. This set will lead you to each of the great cities of the sorcerer kings.” He produces another vial from the bag filled with a black charcoal-like substance and shudders violently before handing it to you. “Where this leads, my master did not divulge. She said only that you would know when you would need it and nothing more.”
Using her streetwise, Anders searches for information about the halflings before leaving the city. She was contacted by a man in full robes and garbs, with no visible skin anywhere that advised her of a group of Silt Runner that were not allied with the halflings that may, if lucky, offer their help to the adventurers. Khor sensed that the contact, even though odd and hard to read, was being honest in their statements. The strange individual gave Arzt a sampling of sand for his compass and left the party to their wanderings.
Lo-kag remembered the lay of the surrounding areas and told the party that there were several roaming tribes of Silt Runners in the surrounding area, but for the most part, the city was surrounded by wastes.
The thralls lead you through a side door in the walls, avoiding the gate guards and deposit you at the dune wastes directly outside of the city. According to you’re the silt compass, the halfling encampment lies to the southeast. As you examine the intricate map the compass creates, you here the familiar ‘Sqwark!’ of a Crodlu approaching. Two guards lead a small pack of the reptilian mounts your way. “A gift from our lord. May the brine wash over you in your travels.” The guards bow, leaving you with your new mounts, before heading back into the city gates. You check your supplies one last time before heading off.