With the tomb complex beneath Kirkuk magically sealed, the adventurers decided to pay a visit to the local sheik, Ramman al-Saddam, to inquire as to how they could assist the village. They were respectfully ushered into Ramman’s court, where he was handling a mercantile case involving a sale of lame horses by Abu the Horse Trader. After dismissing Abu, Ramman entertained the adventurers with coffee and dancing girls, then turned talk to business.
The sheik explained that bandits from the Al-Baki Hills to the south had been striking at caravans entering and leaving Kirkuk. The accuracy of their attacks had led Sheik Ramman to conclude that there must be a spy in the village. He tasked the adventurers with rooting out this spy, and discovering the location of the bandit’s base. “As strangers in our village, you may go places the natives would not, and ask questions we would not.” The party swore they would do this task for the sheik.
The adventurers promptly split up to begin their investigation. Senef used his shamanic powers to speak with the caravan’s horses. The horses spoke in hushed neighs of a terrifying blonde two-legged monster who brought death and despair – Ethlyn. Humorous, but not helpful.
Raziel went to visit his friend Bechir the Lame to see what the head of the village’s beggars knew. Bechir quickly shushed Raziel, saying the bandits were too dangerous, and too generous, to speak ill of. Blind Mussa bleakly warned that “women will give birth to monsters.” This was ominous, but also not helpful.
Mahmud headed to the Traveler’s Inn and conversed with the innkeeper, Tahir al-Farouk. Tahir mentioned his suspicions of Buzurg the Whiner, whom he had often seen loitering near the lizardmen caves near dawn. Tahir also spoke of a missing niece, Dalefa, with “breasts like swinging pendulums,” whom he feared had run off in a shameful illicit marriage. Mahmud pledged to discretely notify Tahir if he caught any news of the missing girl.
The next day, 24th Innelen, Raziel hunted down Buzurg the Whiner near the old Zaharan ruins. He made the wheezing beggar quite nervous by inviting him for coffee after morning prayer and asking him leading questions about the cult of Zargon. Buzurg strangely blabbered about the Carnelian Idol and its former owner Nudurapur the Sorcerer.
While Buzurg was distracted, Senef approached Bechir the Lame with an offer to have his body restored and disease cured, if he would share what he knew about the bandits. Bechir – who had two lame legs, six missing fingers, seven missing toes, one missing ear, six missing teeth, and gruesome scarring, agreed with little hesitation. Dao the Wide was worried he would not be able to restore Bechir, but Fate smiled on the old leper, and he was healed. In light of this miracle, Bechir gladly shared what he knew: Abu the Horse Trader was the brigand’s fence and spy. Buzurg was not the spy, and wasn’t even involved with the bandits, as far as he knew. Bechir did confirm that Buzurg had often visited the lizardman caves, and that he’d seen others – masked men – visiting those caves as well.
At this point, the adventurers had come to a fateful moment. Knowing Abu was the spy, they thought it might be possible to interrogate him to learn the location of the bandit’s base, or perhaps follow him to his next meeting with the bandits. Being men of boldness and action, they resolved against this cautious plan in favor of a more audacious stratagem: They would leak word of their departure to Abu, whilst secretly escorting the next caravan out of town. In this manner, they hoped to be present the next time the raiders struck, so they could deliver a telling blow and cover themselves with glory.
Mahmud and Ethlyn called upon Farouk al-Fareed, a caravaneer due to depart the next morning. Farouk was strongly against their plan. The bandits, he said, had been attacking with close to 100 men. The last time they were sighted, they had held off only because the caravan guards were at double strength. Any caravan with fewer than 80 guards was better off just bribing the bandits, he explained. Mahmud and Ethlyn were not deterred. Mahmud swore by Imran that he would protect the caravan; they had dealt with 70 gnolls – they could deal with 100 thugs! Farouk al-Fareed was swayed by the adventurers’ charisma, and agreed to the plan.
The adventurers planned out a wide circuitous path that would carry them east, then double back to link up with Fareed’s caravan when it departed. Before they left, they visited their friend the Barber, purchasing the alleged map to the Carnelian Idol, and telling him they were off to hunt the cultists of Zargon.
By the 27th of Innelen, the adventurers had re-grouped with Fareed’s caravan and were entering the sandy dunes where the bandits had most often attacked. On schedule, the brigands arrived, only they numbered 140 or more, with several sorcerers. The bandit leader, Yasir al-Achmed, demanding tribute for passing through “his trail”. Flustered at their vast numbers, Fareed begged Mahmud to pay the tribute. “We have only 25 guards and yourself. We cannot fight 140!” But Mahmud was resolute. “Come and fight us, coward!” he shouted.
After these bold words, Mahmud and Raziel drank potions of invisibility and began to prowl forward, intent on slaying the bandit’s leadership. A vast volley of arrows peppered downward behind them, skewering Farouk al-Fareed. Sharik cast a spell that incapacitated a half-dozen bandits; the enemy sorcerer riposted with a fireball that engulfed Sharik, Senef, Ethlyn, Avda, Barnabas, and Sayyid. Avda, Barnabas, and Sayyid died instantly. Sharik dove into cover headfirst, landing on his teeth and knocking six of them loose. Ethlyn turned away in time to avoid death, but had her ear burned off.
Raziel and Mahmud reached the enemy sorcerer, but he leaped away with a magical stride before they could kill him. A few moments later, the party had surrendered. Yasir al-Achmed was not as ruthless as he might have been, for the adventurer’s boldness had impressed him greatly. He spared their lives, taking only their treasure maps, their horses, their carried treasure, and their magical items. After Mahmud showed great spirit, he tossed one magical blade back to the young paladin with a roar of laughter, telling him “come find me when you’re ready to actually use this.”
Relieved to have escaped without further loss of life, it was nevertheless a downtrodden and shamed party that trekked back to Kirkuk on the 28th of Innelen. Their woes were compounded when they were confronted by the Merchant’s Guild, which was unhappy to have lost an entire caravan under their “protection”. Since the entirety of the party’s remaining treasure was kept with the Merchant’s Guild, they had little choice but to reimburse the Guild for its losses, leaving their coffers yet further depleted.
At the Mosque of Abundant Dreams, they were able to restore Lady Avda to life, but she brought back with her some terrible evil jinn. Haunted and disturbed, she retired from adventuring for a life of contemplation and sorrow. Meanwhile, the party’s reception by Sheik Ramman was not nearly as warm as their last visit; their frolicking with the bandits had worsened his situation, not improved it. They re-gained a margin of their pride when they hand-delivered the spy, Abu, to Ramman’s keeping, but only a margin.