Our voyage is mostly uneventful. Charles spends the time watching over the pirates’ gold while Yan begins constructing the means with which we will carry it. As we approach the coast, however, the weather starts to turn. Unnaturally so. A storm appears from nowhere, and in the center stands a giant figure. We have little time to guess towards his nature, though, as our ship is being torn apart by winds and rock. We hurry to the rowboats. Grumnil is not quick enough and falls into the water. Can he swim? He certainly wears a lot of armor. And as a dwarf, he might not have had the opportunity to learn. I reach out through the possibilities and place him on the boat, and myself in the sea. I have little trouble swimming to our small craft, and we make our way to shore.
The storm quickly passes, and it becomes unbearably hot on the beach. We clear out a campsite and decide to rest until nightfall. But for me, sleep brings no relief from the temperature. I remain… completely aware of the heat. In an attempt to alleviate this condition, I begin to shed extraneous parts of my armor. I doubt it will help much. A small sandstorm starts up around us, but our tents protect us from any dangers such a thing might bring.
Eventually the light and heat fade, and we prepare to travel. Something has changed during the storm. We’ve… been moved? We are no longer on the coast; rather, we are significantly inland. Is Razza trying to throw us off course, or are our mysterious benefactors attempting to push us in the right direction.
There is some sort of commotion in the distance. We approach. A flock of giant birds, rocs, are attacking an encampment. There are no people visible, but they’re taking advantage of the meager protection offered by their tents. Their animals lack even that. We drive off the rocs with little difficulty. The inhabitants, nomads, are understandably grateful. We tell them where we need to go, and they offer directions. We must head east to the Crossroads of Destiny, and then south to reach the city of Huzuz. So we head off.
While our voyage through the desert is calm, it is not without its interests. As we travel, we see various figures on the horizon. We do not approach, and neither do they. It is possible they did not see us, but we are not moving stealthily. The riverbed we are to use as a landmark is in fact an ancient aqueduct. I wonder how long it has been since water flowed through it.
As we make camp, I ask to see the treasure map that Charles won in our previous planar travel. He hands it over, and I compare it to the map given to us by the nomads, noting several shared landmarks. Charles is annoyed that I did not bring this to his attention earlier; the destination noted on our first map is not far from where we were, but we’ve spent hours walking directly away from it. However, we don’t have the supplies to turn around. We must continue to Huzuz. From there we can purchase more food and water before following this peculiar map.
On the next night, we arrive at an abandoned city. We skirt around the edges until we notice an engraving in the streets. It is a representation of one of the wardstones. Intrigued, we enter the empty city. There are more inscriptions, but they are not like the first. And then we see people, or shades of people. Flickering translucent images of vendors selling wares and children running in the street. The city’s memory, perhaps? But then they disappear. Some of my companions look uneasy, and we return to our previous path.
We eventually arrive at an inn, rest, and begin the last step of this journey. On the streets we pass more curious inhabitants of this realm: a battalion of heavily tattooed warriors. They are heading in the direction opposite of ours. I assume they came from Huzuz. I wonder if there is a war to be fought. From the dispositions of the people we’ve seen so far, it’s unlikely, but it could be that they have yet to be affected by the fighting.
At last we reach the city of Huzuz. As we move through the marketplace, I notice that the population is much more diverse than that of other cities of Toril, although not nearly as eclectic as Sigil. As I think of my city I feel a twisting pain in my chest. What, what is this? But there’s no time to dwell; Grumnil is bellowing about something. I look up and see the cause of his outcry: a group of robed thugs are attempting to burn down a stall full of scrolls. Of course. Grumnil’s peculiar and arbitrary faith would not allow such a thing. He charges across the marketplace. I follow, and then outpace, him. Curiously, some random beggar is rushing to help us. I suppose he must thing we are equally odd.
The arsonists are not simple thugs, but rather potent pyromancers. Still, we are able to defeat them. The beggar proves surprisingly adept, aided in some way by his pet monkey. The guards arrive shortly after the danger has passed. At first they meet us with suspicion, but that changes to reverence when they recognize the beggar, or rather, the prince.
We are taken to the palace where we are introduced to the royal family. The princess seems rather unhappy to see us, but perhaps she is confused as to why we are here. I must admit, I share the sentiment. Why bring us to the palace? We also meet the royal advisor, Jafar, and his parrot. No, not just any parrot. The same parrot that followed us back while we fought the Black Talon. My mind races, things start to fall into place. Gant mentioned that Razza placed a spy in our group. But, with the timing, there are only a few possibilities for what the spy could be. The parrot is easily the most likely candidate. I start putting together the equations for killing the bird immediately, but we are being dismissed. It is suggested that we take the opportunity to clean ourselves up. I look down at myself, covered in dust, splattered with blood, and sporting a few burn marks. I reach up to my face and feel a cut that could easily turn into another scar. Yes, a bath doesn’t sound bad.
All of us bar Yan, who uses magic to keep himself clean, head to the palace’s bathhouse. I disrobe. The others seem a little uneasy around me. I don’t know why, and for now I don’t really care. The bath reminds me of the pool in the gymnasium, although it is too shallow to do proper laps in. Besides, the splashing would probably annoy my companions. So I just slide into the water and concentrate on becoming clean.
I close my eyes for just a second, allowing myself to relax for the first time in weeks, and I realize we are about to be attacked. I rise from the pool as I prepare to protect my allies. My sword may be in my quarters, but the blades in my hair are here. I pluck one of the latter from its place and, with a little concentration, replace it with the former. The others, curiously enough, brought their weapons in with them. While that is certainly helpful, it is also rather strange. Were they expecting an attack, or are they finally sufficiently paranoid given the forces arrayed against us. We fight off our assailants with relative ease, but now I’ll need another bath. The guards finally arrive, and after making sure that we’re still alive, they say Jafar wants to see us as quickly as possible.
After getting cleaned up, we went to Jafar’s laboratory. He appears to be in the middle of a creation ritual, but he quickly finishes when we arrive. He starts explaining the various religious and arcane factions in the city; apparently we were attacked by a group of religious assassins. At this point I am no longer surprised that zealots are trying to kill us. These ones are just another group of barmies in an ever-growing mob. Jafar also asks us what our reason was for visiting the city in the first place. We tell him the truth, or the minimum amount that passes for it. He seems to recognize that we’re holding something back, but he does not press. We put forward that the princess might be responsible. He doesn’t believe this to be likely, but he admits that her behavior has been peculiar lately.
In return, we question him about his parrot and its behavior. He claims the parrot is his familiar. That is curious, as most familiars are not as independent as the parrot has been. Still, Jafar seems to be telling the truth. But, if this is so, then it seems very unlikely that the parrot is the agent Gant mentioned. And if not the parrot, that would leave… the pig statue? I must have muttered these last words, for Jafar snaps to attention at them. He is rather interested in the statue, asks to see it, and then offers to purchase it from us. Before we can accept, he takes the statue up and smashes it against the floor. It shatters, more like ceramic than the bronze it is made of. Amidst the shards is a cloth bag, from which Jafar pulls a deck of cards. He claims that it is a rather dangerous artifact for which he has been searching for some time. He reimburses us with a number of jade statuettes and a sharpened metal card. The card has a very pleasing feel, but it would serve better in Charles’s hands than mine.
I must admit, Jafar has made a positive impression on me. I don’t make a habit of trusting people; in fact, I make a habit of not trusting people. But I’d be willing to make an exception for him. Maybe. For now, however, we need to procure transportation to the library, as walking across the desert again would be unpleasant. We browse what the marketplace has to offer in terms of horses and camels. I suggest that instead of animals, we should see if someone is selling figurines of wondrous power. While certainly more expensive than horses would be, it would allow us to take our purchase with us wherever we go; something we were not able to do with our previous mounts.
We search, and find a stall that offers what we seek: a marble statuette of an elephant. I watch as Charles, Grumnil, and Yan attempt to haggle with the merchant. It is not exactly impressive. Perhaps the vendors are more stubborn than Charles is used to, or perhaps the lack of rest is starting to catch up with us. Seeing that he’s getting nowhere, Charles changes tactics, instead engaging in a game of chance, using some of our newfound wealth as the wager. He loses, so he then bids his sword. This time, he’s successful, winning the elephant statue as well as recuperating his previous losses. I can’t help but wonder if he just peeled the merchant.
In their curious way, Grumnil and Yan immediately begin gambling against each other. Yan wins most of the rounds, thanks in part to his blatant cheating. They’re wagering watch duty, which is strange because only a couple days ago they were content with letting me watch over them the entire night.
The elephant passes into my hands, as no one else seems interested in taking responsibility for its activation. It is a… curious thing, a bit heavier than a statue its size should be. I focus on transforming it, perhaps putting a bit more of myself than necessary, but I am successful nonetheless. The tiny statue has been replaced with a life-sized but still marble elephant. Whoever crafted it had a sense of humor, or at least thought they did, for the elephant is wearing a fez and a monocle. From a more practical viewpoint, a ladder and tent posts have been cut out of the creature’s mass, allowing for easier mounting and more comfortable travel. I’m… not sure how I feel about such things. I suppose it is the right of the maker, but shouldn’t the creator have some obligation to the creation? Oryx. It- no, his name is Oryx. If I have a name, then so will he.
Oryx carries us well out of the city, but as is our curse, we are stopped. An efreet stands before us, commanding that we cease our efforts in the name of his mistress. Is this the work of the princess? If so, she will regret dragging us down with local politics. Hopefully, the destruction of her servant will be a sufficient clue that she should leave us be.