The Lost Seas

The Approach to Altaruk

Paying the Levy 3

As remembered by Birel Windchaser

When the dust cleared nothing seemed to remain of Mahindrazal or its inhabitants, and many of our personal possessions had been lost in the chaos as well, including our provisions. We were up the dune without water. Fortunately we had a rough idea where we were, I regained my knack for recognizing the cardinal directions, and despite the harsh conditions my companions displayed an almost elven resilience. When we finally began to approach Altaruk, we were hungry and thirsty, but still vigorous. Which may have saved our skins.

The first people we saw on the road to the city were a ragged bunch running towards us in a frenzy, with pursuers close on their trail. The slavers called out to us for aid, but tired from the journey and not wanting to offend Bost, I had no interest at all in getting involved in this particular tussle, and stepped off the road to let the commotion pass. To my astonishment, once they realized we were not going to help some of the slavers (who were covered in desert garb but were of Elven stature) turned to attack us.

A couple archers climbed up on a ridge while jhakar handlers confronted us in the road. My plan was to help Bost dispatch the ground force before climbing up to deal with the archers, but between fatigue and being forced to fight with a staff (my trikal disappeared with Mahindrazal) it felt like I spent half the battle swinging at thin air. Fortunately Bost was as unshakable as always, and the archers were no match for Vilsis’ bow (although he did have a bit of help from one of the escaped slaves). Chat’G’Hak had taken off after a couple of the slavers who continued to pursue the fugitives. When she returned she was covered in blood, and though I’m never sure if I’m reading the Thri-Kreen correctly she seemed almost jubilant in a way that made me thoroughly distrustful. I can guess what might have put her in such a good mood.

We spoke briefly with the slave who had attacked the archer and I tended his wounds as best I could. Slaves were being gathered around Altaruk for the Dragon’s levy, which explained their desperation, and his adamant refusal to go anywhere near Altaruk again. Despite our warnings he was intent on wandering into the desert. Though it pained me a bit to see precious water wasted on what was most likely a hopeless cause, we let the slave take what meager provisions the slavers had been carrying and depart on his way.

The slavers themselves had had their faces covered by desert headgear, but when we searched the bodies we discovered that behind the desert goggles their faces were marked with kohl. I don’t know what surprised me more—that my first encounter with N ight Runners was an overt attack, or that my side was victorious.

Finally in sight of Altaruk, we saw a great commotion outside the city walls. Three great slave camps were stationed there, although one looked emptier than the others and seemed to be preparing to dismbark. As we approached, Balican soldiers marched out of the mountains. None were injured, but all walked with a weariness that was almost painful to watch. They met the remnants of the empty camp, boarded a craft with no wheels, and glided away across the Sea of Silt.

The second camp was Gulgan and seemed large enough to include the Dragon’s thousand slaves and a triple complement of guards to handle them.

The third camp was curious. It seemed neither as organized nor as uniform as the others, and from what we could tell it included members of the Red Chord as well as more elves similar in bearing to the Night Runners we had just encountered.

We came across La-Tik, a Thri-Kreen peddler wanting to sell us overpriced (albeit useful) desert gear. While haggling we got some information from her as well—apparently no one seemed sure exactly where the third camp came from, although most presumed it contained Nibenay’s levy. It also seemed they may have been a bit under their quota, which would explain why slavers would be willing to risk attacking an armed party. I wasn’t sure that I found the Nibenese explanation convincing, but at the moment I was more interested in entering the city to acquire water, food, and a new trikal. We donned our new goggles and masks to keep about the abrasive mist that gathered around the sea from time to time, and approached the city gate.

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