About three weeks ago, in the City State of Raam…
It is the second third day of the Month of Breeze, known as Fifthover in the Merchant’s Calendar, immediately following the Five Day Festival of the Cooling Sun, the chief observance of the Season of the Sun Descending, which lies under the zodiac of Hortle the Spider.
Raam, storied city-state of the sorcerer-queen Abalach-Re, 5th Champion of the Warbringer Rajaat, the Orc-Plague, the Grand Vizier of Badna, Kaghan of the Temüjin, the Dark Lady, and the Queen of Shadows, has upon difficult times.
The once-famed mines of the city have run dry, and the fields are now unable to support the metropolis’ burgeoning population.
Chaos is only held at bay by the tyrannical rule of the Grand Vizier, Abalach-Re. On every crowded street-corner, her cruel will is enforced outwardly and covertly by the combined efforts of the Grand Vizier’s street enforcers, the scimitar-wielding manṣabdāri, as well as the assassins known as the kuotagha or hashâshīn, who lurk in the shadows.
Yet, in time, even this shall not be sufficient to avert disaster…
Jimbli enjoys the brief respite from the intense oppression of the midday sun offered by his audience in the House M’ke compound, the chief headquarters of the Raam’s primary merchant house situated precipitously top a steep acropolis near the heart of the teeming cityscape.
It is a sense of limited relief that seems unlikely to last.
Having been dragged unceremoniously to the compound by the ostensible ‘mark’ of his unsuccessful attempt at brigandage, the halfling now faces an uncertain fate.
It is however, considerably less-decided than that of his brothers in the criminal organization known as the Syāmavarṇa Karāroṭa, the “Dark Ring,” who were felled by Adiyta M’ke, the young, and apparently psionically-gifted, scion of the house, who now draws Jimbli hither to whatever awaits at the compound.
The step-sided tell upon which the residences of House M’ke constructed sits in the threatening shadow of Jebel al Hashâshīn, the Mountain of Assassins in the Bedouin desert tongue of the horse lords who conquered this city for the Grand Vizier some millennium or more in the now ill-remembered past.
Moreover, this precipitous rise which offers a scenic vantage to the House M’ke compound is made up of ancient temple ruins from the city’s early days, for the complex is one product of the Grand Vizier’s savage conquest of the city. Though its origins are obscured somewhat by later renovations, the site was originally one of the Mandirā Rāvaṇa, the many temples of the ogre-king Rāvaṇa worshipped by the population of humans or Desi who founded Raam. Both the deity Rāvaṇa and the other yakṣas, the ogre-magi who once rule the native humans, as well as varanas, elves, dwarves, nagas, and others who formed the diverse population of the city, were struck down by Abalach-Re’s conquest. This temple was pulled down by the horse warriors, the Temüjin, and a new structure, an elaborate palace and kārvānsarāy—the latter a way stop for the merchant palace’s many outgoing and returning caravans. It is now known as the Apadāna M’ke, the Palace of M’ke (outside view).
Even given these tribulations, past and present, the halfling finds himself enjoying the shade offered by one of the many audience halls of the M’ke compound (interior view).
This reverie is quickly disrupted by Zahiriddin Babur, chief procurator of House M’ke, speaks in a highl-pitched, enervated voice to Aditya,
”Yes, I do see that you’ve dragged in another brigand, but… what am [i[I[/i] supposed to do with it – a half man of this sort surely won’t be of much use as a beast of burden?”
Zahiriddin’s high turban, egg-shell white and brilliant even in the dissipated rays of the sun which enter the audience chamber, appears in form like the many onion domes of the vast city. It bobs slightly as his features assume a felicitous aspect, seeking Aditya’s response,
The young, hawk-nosed Desi man replies in earnest,
”This one has useful psionic talents – leashed with a control collar, he will serve as an excellent watch dog for our excursion.”
Nodding reflectively, the Chief Procurator then gestures towards two other figures, a pair of muscular muls, fitted with long, open-chested vests and baggy pants. Their twin sabers each mark them as members of the queen’s manṣabdāri, specifically the ‘born eunuchs’ who functions as a special caste of enforcers.
”Very well, young Aditiya, but it will not, I am sure be entirely sufficient. Consider these -- Azam and Hidr are… on retainer from the nobles of House Altantsetseg, the House of the Golden Flower, and favored of the Grand Vizier. They will ensure your safe arrival at the diamond mines of Kalidnay, as well as the other mineral and gem deposits it is hoped this expedition will be able to exploit for the betterment of our fair city’s current sorry fortunes.”
The two muls betray nothing but an amused grimace, and the collection of some dozen other M’ke functionaries gathered in their shadow, at the back of the audience hall similarly remain silent as Zahiriddin dismisses them….
Three days ago… approaching the mountain in which rest the diamond mines of Kalidnay…
The past weeks have largely passes without event, the small caravan wending its way gradually south through the often formless expanses of the Great Alluvial Sand Wastes.
That is until three nights past when, JImbli is awakened by the tortured screams of his compatriots.
The bruised and bloodied bodies of several House M’ke operatives are strewn upon the sand at the feet of the creatures that have replaced the two mul manṣabdāri of House Altantsetseg on loan to the M’ke expedition. In their place are two reptilian creatures who quickly silence the screams of the surviving caravan members.
”Know that we are the Second Born of the Scale, servants of Great Dregoth, the Sleeping King of the City of Silt, and that your lives have been taken in hand by the power of the Lord of Ten Thousand Corpses. The rule of the Grand Vizier draws to a close as our lord awakens to avenge his ancient defeat, and you shall play a small part in putting right that ancient injustice. The ruins of Kalidnay have stirred, and opened the way to a vast power which our lord must possess to triumph over his betrayers. You shall all have the honor of serving as offerings to the keepers of the mines, so that we may pass below and seek the treasure desired by the Sleeping King.”
The reptilian creature continues to speak in a threatening tone,
[b]”Know that there is no escape, and no other path open, you who have been chosen.”
The remaining days are a blur, the drugs and magics administered by the mysterious creatures incapacitate JImbli and his compatriots.
Fevered memories alone remain, dim recollections of pale-skinned creatures and their curious speech as his assailants deliver their offerings to those who now rule the ancient mines.
And here, too, you may have this one as well."
The intellect devouerer, controlling the fallen ritualist, pushes another prisoner, a halfling, into the midst of the convocation,