Climbing their way past the giant sand pile in the doorway of the tomb, the group pulled themselves to their feet and surveyed their surroundings. They were in a small ravine, which they remembered entering, and the desert sun was already high overhead. They had been underground for more than a day, and the heat was immediately intolerable. Scouting around, Ral found something disturbing – they were nowhere near the edge of the desert where they started. The sandstorm seemed to have somehow transported them to this area, perhaps even dropping them here on purpose. Given the nature of the being they had released, they suspected that Montu Chezzak had somehow influenced the sands from within his tomb. Shackleton spotted what might be a settlement far off in the distance, so they began to make their way towards it. Malaxder told the entire group that no matter what happened, they should not admit to releasing Montu Chezzak, or tell anyone what happened.
As they traveled, they began to notice someone coming towards them from a distance. Walking along, they finally saw a figure riding what appeared to be a giant worm come up from beneath the sands several feet ahead of them, and step off is mount. The figure appeared to be clad in heavy armor, and was wielding a lance. As they approached, he set down his lance and removed his helmet, revealing the face of an Asherati, one of the desert dwellers Mal had read about.
The figure approached very politely and introduced himself as Amhapar Nadeeha, a paladin of Dol Arrah. He asked them where they had come from and how they came to be in the middle of the desert. Malaxder maintained his stance of revealing nothing of what happened, and the rest of the group was very non-committal in their answers. Amhapar accepted their odd story, including the tale of the mysterious sandstorm, and offered to give them a ride to the nearest settlement, the city of Al Shiraz. Although Tierel was very creeped out by his mount, an ashworm named Ahnkeru, they gladly accepted his help and together they made their way to the city.
Along the way, they stopped for the night to rest and Amhapar used a magic item he had to create a very comfortable shelter for all, complete with food and drink. Tierel chose to sleep outside, feeling very uncomfortable in Amhapar’s presence and with the odd looks he was giving her from time to time. During the evening, Amhapar asked again about how they came to be in that part of the desert, and Malaxder once again deflected the conversation away from that subject. After a while, Amhapar let the subject drop and the next morning they continued on their way to Al Shiraz.
Arriving in the city, Amhapar guided them to a small tavern where they could be comfortable. Seeing all the odd races, Tierel asked if any Drow lived in the area, and Amhapar said that some lived in the Skyraker Claws far to the north, but he did not know of any others. He offered to try and find a guide for the group, if they were willing to wait at the tavern.
After he left, Mal and Tierel told the group that they were certain Amhapar knew what had happened, and was probably going to get the city guards to throw them in prison. Anton felt that was unlikely, and Shackleton declared that no guards could possibly overcome them all together. Mal told the group that fighting an entire city was unwise, but that if they told the truth they might be able to bargain down to a lower sentence. They bickered back and forth until the tavern door opened again, and Amhapar returned with a small goblinoid behind him, and no city guards.
He introduced the goblin woman as Stikuchi Niski, a druid of the Niski clan of Bhuka goblinoids. Stikuchi stepped boldly up to the group, but before she could speak, Mal told them that they had a confession to make. He then told the entire story of their adventure in the Tomb of Montu Chezzak, and confessed that they thought they might have released him accidentally. Stikuchi and Amhapar listened quietly during the entire tale, taking in everything Mal and the others said. Finally, Amhapar looked down at the small goblin woman and told her that he was right, they weren’t bad people after all. Stikuchi grunted and said she agreed with him, and told the group that if they wanted to prove their good character they would help the desert peoples defend themselves from this threat. The group quickly agreed, and Amhapar escorted them to the palace of Sheik Nezami-ye Ganjavi, Ruler of Al Shiraz.
The Sheik’s court was a place of constant distractions and entertainments, and they found the sheik in the middle of it all. When they told him they were here to bring bad news, the sheik escorted them to a different room, with different distractions, and settled down in a large overstuffed chair to hear what they had to say. Telling the tale of the tomb and the monsters within seemed to offer him some amusement, but when they mentioned that they might have released Montu Chezzak, the sheik actually raised an eyebrow in concern. When the group offered to try and find him and stop him, he was perfectly happy to let them confront him, and offered what aid he could. Stikuchi told them that there were several locations he might travel to first to rebuild his power. They could try and find the Sunken Library, they could journey into the desert and attempt to find the Mirage Tower, or they could try and locate the Valley of the Marru, and stop him from raising an army once again. After much consideration, the group decided to go to the Sunken Library and see what knowledge they could gain from the ancient secrets of the giants. Stikuchi told them that while the precise location of the Library was unknown, the area it was once in was thick with caves and tunnels beneath the sands, and one of those would likely lead to it.
While the others did some shopping and prepping for the journey, Ral went and made contact with the local desert druids, hiring them as guides for the long trip. His generous “donation” to them made the druids even more friendly, and the when the group left they traveled in relative comfort on camelback, with the druids expending their spells to keep them all cool, fed and watered. The druids led them to the camp of a nomad clan, who gladly gave their hospitality when they druids told them how rich the group was. Speaking with the clan head, he asked them for their help against a group of monsters that had recently been raiding the camp, and had killed some of their strongest warriors. The group agreed to help, and spent the night watching carefully around the camp.
Early in the morning before the sun came up, a trio of jet-black trolls attacked the camp, but were driven off by Mal and Anton. The group took a few moments to gear up and cast protective spells before pursuing the trolls into the nearby foothills. After some searching, they found a cavern guarded by trained basilisks, and fought their way inside. While inside, they were ambushed from below ground by ankhegs, and Anton was nearly drug under the sands to his death. Finally, after defeating the guardian creatures, the group ambushed the trolls in their deep lair and reclaimed the nomad’s treasure that had been stolen.
While searching the cavern, Malaxder noticed a strange decoration on the back wall. It appeared to be a picture of an archway, with a design of flowers flowing up and around the arch. At the bottom of the arch on either side of what would have been a portal was a pair of pots. Investigating, Anton decided to pour some water into the pots, and the design on the wall came to life, growing colorful and sprouting small berries from the design. Eating a berry, Mal found that the doorway was suddenly visible and tangible to him, and he was able to enter the room beyond. Taking their cue from him, the others ate a berry from the design and entered the chamber beyond.
Within, they found themselves in a tremendous library, with stacks and shelves of books and scrolls all around them. Unfortunately, most of the books were too fragile to read as Baph discovered when he tried to take one off the shelf and it disintegrated in his hands. Baph continued pulling books off the shelf, hoping to find one that would stay intact, while Malaxder gritted his teeth at the wanton destruction he was causing. Finally, Tierel discovered a corridor leading deeper within, the walls covered with images of warriors wielding weapons in combat. Shackleton translated an inscription on the floor: “_If you name me, you break me. You need me to pass._”
After much discussion, the group decided that Silence was the answer to the riddle, and Tierel snuck through the hallway as quietly as she could. On the far side, she found a face carved in bas-relief into the wall. Experimenting for a moment, she found if she covered the face’s ears, the magic of the hall was suppressed. Covering the ears, the rest of the party made their way through and into the chambers beyond.
Exploring some more and examining the area, the group began to hear strange whispers at the edge of their hearing. Ghostly sounds and a supernatural chill permeated everywhere they went, although Anton was not able to pinpoint a precise source of the strange manifestations. Looking around, they found another room with four stone pillars in it, each with carvings of open books on top of them. Malaxder magically enlarged Shackleton so he could lift him onto the pillars, and the group entered the room. As they did, a field of force sprung up over both doorways, trapping Ral & Storm outside. Magic missiles began to fire from each pillar at everyone in the room, and Malaxder determined that each carved book had a word puzzle on it, that needed to be solved to deactivate the trap. Shackleton and Mal raced around the room as fast as they could while the others tried in vain to ward off the magic missiles. Finally, Mal solved the last puzzle and the magic deactivated, as did the force fields over the doors.
Proceeding into the next room, there were more shelves and books but many of them were locked behind grates, both protecting them and preventing access to them. The locks were no match for Shackleton and Tierel, and Malaxder took several of the books down and examined their contents. They were still fragile with age, but Mal was experienced in handling old books carefully and had few problems reading them.
The books told a strange story: they spoke of the giants learning magic from the dragons, and the age of enlightenment and magical discovery that followed. They also told of an invasion from another plane, and of terrible beings called the Quori. The wars that followed were terrible and destructive, as the giants and the Quori fought for control of Xen’drik itself. The book’s tone was somewhat propaganda-like, painting the giants as noble defenders and the Quori as nightmarish outsiders. Ral identified the Quori as the “evil spirits” of his faith, the Path of Enlightenment.
Meanwhile, Shackleton and Tierel continued exploring the library. They finally came upon a doorway with a cold, dry breeze blowing from it. On the floor before the doorway was another riddle: “_Some say I am unfair. I am everywhere you look, and even in the depths of the desert you will find me. The giants shaped me, though any fool can create me. I was given to you long ago, and you need me to pass._”
After more debate and discussion, Ral finally declared that he thought the answer was Life, although that didn’t make a lot of sense to him, that you would just need to be alive to pass the wards. Anton suspected that undead of some kind must be imprisoned within, and the wards were not to keep others out, but to keep them in. Finally Tierel snuck her way carefully in, and beyond found a massive chamber crammed with magical tomes, scrolls and other artifacts. In the middle on a raised dias, a solitary humanoid sat slumped in its throne, its eyes glowing with a strange green light. She slipped quickly back out and reported what she had found to the others, allowing them to brace themselves for what Anton thought might be a lich.
Entering the room again, they addressed the lich and it acknowledged them, asking if they were slaves of the giants or free. They declared they were slaves to no one, and the lich bade them partake of the trove of magic if they chose. There was a price however – every item they took would be a drain upon their souls, as the price for maintaining this vault against the giants. When the group tried to explain that the giants were long dead, the guardian did not seem to understand. Mal asked the guardian about Montu Chezzak, and it explained that it had taught the secrets of the sand shapers to him, as he had asked. It offered to teach them as well, but they declined. Tierel asked if there was a way to defeat him, as he had started serving the giants, and the guardian said it did not know of a way, but that others might. The guardian advised them to seek out the dragons, as they knew more of the ways of magic than any other beings.
Malaxder, unable to resist the lure of the powerful magic within, asked the rest of the group to help him gather as much as they could. While each person grabbed an item or two, Mal took on far more than he could sustain, and collapsed under the effect of the magical drain. Anton carried him and his treasures back to the surface, and they spent the evening recovering the in troll’s cave before going back to the nomad camp.
The next morning, they successfully shook off the effects of the energy drain and returned to the nomads camp. Climbing out of the foothills and back towards the campground, they could already see the cloud of smoke rising from it. Girding themselves for battle, they arrived to find the camp utterly destroyed, every tent a smoking ruin. They at first blamed the trolls, until they found the smoldering remains of two trolls in the camp as well. Ral noticed that the sand in the area had shifted dramatically, and while Mal suspected that Montu Chezzak had been trying to find them, Shackleton pointed out that no one in the camp had been tortured. None of the bodies were tied up, no one appeared to have been taken prisoner – this was simply a slaughter. Not a scrap of useful equipment or treasure was found in the camp, he had apparently taken everything after the battle and carried on into to the desert, or perhaps into the Library…no one knew. They gathered up what little they could find and began the long trek on foot back across the desert to Al Shiraz.