Walking back out of the tower, the group began their trek into the desert, this time with their full magical protections active. They got only a few short steps, however, before the desert sands opened up and the great dragon Sunataderapophis appeared before them. He regarded them warily for a moment, as if unsure of what he was seeing. Finally, he said he was surprised to see Ral, and to see that Malaxder was alive once again. When pressed, he said that the Prophecy had said that Ral would not survive and Mal would remain a ghost. The party confessed their ignorance of the Prophecy, and the dragon refused to speak on it anymore, although his words haunted them later.
He demanded the return of the Arcane Shard, and of his price for it’s use – the statue of Montu Chezzak to add to his “collection of conquerers.” The party turned over both gladly, and also surrendered the epic rings that had allowed them to survive the battle. The dragon collected these carefully, securing the shard again beneath his scales. He then bid them farewell, and disappeared back beneath the sands, to return to his city and contemplate the Prophecy.
Returning to Al Shiraz, the group found it had changed dramatically in their absence. The walls seemed less sturdy, and the gate was guarded by a single sleeping guard. Stikuchi, looking much older and frailer, met them and confirmed that they had only been gone a few days, less time than they had experienced themselves. As promised, she presented Tierel with the Dream Stone, and asked if they still wanted to meet with the Shiek. Baph definitely did, as he wanted another bottle of the Shiek’s fine wines, and they made their way through the seemingly transformed city.
As they walked, they saw that the buildings were far fewer, the tents smaller and less elaborate, and the Sheik’s palace was entirely gone. In it’s place stood a low ranch, dozens of herd animals gathered in the middle around a small well. The Sheik’s children worked lazily around the ranch, tending to the animals and staying out of the scorching sun.
Walking along, they passed a stone monument, carved with an image of a armored figure riding a sandworm. Anton recognized the image as being Amahapar, and asked Stikuchi about it. She explained that Amhapar Nadeeha was a desert paladin who lived more than 100 years ago, and who was a great hero to the desert peoples. When they said that they had met Amhapar, Stikuchi nodded sagely and told them that the people believed that Amhapar’s spirit still wandered the desert, helping those in need. When they told her of rescuing Amhapar from the evils of Dendera, she seemed to disbelieve them.
Making their way into the Shiek’s home, they entered a low building, smelling of animals and dried fruits. Simple wooden furniture filled the small space, and paintings and other bits of art covered the walls. Looking closer, they saw that some of the images depicted were things they saw themselves – the room of sages, floating on magical platforms; the chamber filled with board games, with the players stooped over examining their pieces; even the throne room lined on both sides with advisers, generals and magicians. As they looked around in growing disbelief, the Sheik entered the room. He no longer appeared as a quasi-magical being, but as a simple man wearing working clothes and covered in dust. He amicably shook hands with each of them, delivering to Baph the bottle of fine wine he promised. When they asked about Makarim, he told them he’d married her off to a trader in Ghammas, years ago. After a bit of chatting, he took his leave again, citing his need to attend to his herds and the laziness of his children. Stikuchi escorted them out once again, and they finally took their leave of the desert city, disturbed by the transformation they had witnessed.
With no further business in the city or in the desert, they took to the road again and made their way back to Stormreach.