The five adventurers, now accompanied by the rescued shifter warrior Jherakasa:ke Sukwaho, proceeded north towards the desert. The farmlands around them seemed to grow weaker and more withered as they traveled, until eventually they stopped altogether, and the true desert began. The arid ground, dry scrub, and blazing sun were the only sights.
About two miles from the edge of the farmlands, Yurgrim spotted humanoid figures in the distance, as well as a tall box. Winter decided to sneak closer for a better look and confirmed the sighting: there was a small group of humans digging in the ground, with a 2'x2'x8' box beside them. One of the humans, a mage, seemed to be ordering the others around. Winter returned to the party and reported what she had seen, and the others quickly devised a plan. The two shifters and Addy agreed to stay in hiding (the shifters taking the chance to enjoy some low-key games), while Dela, Alfred, and Yurgrim marched toward the group of humans to confront them.
When the mage saw them, he called out to his men, who hurriedly climbed out of the hole and stood, tensely watching the party. "Hail!" called Yurgrim. "Who are you?" came the mage's gruff reply. Yurgrim crafted a story, claiming to be an adventurer exploring the lands of Arena. "There's nothing to see here but desert. Be on your way!" the mage yelled. With no apparent progress being made, Yurgrim and the others backed off, returning to the other half of the party, while the humans continued digging.
The party then decided to simply wait for the humans to leave and then dig up the box that they were presumably burying. Winter circled around stealthily to watch the humans, while the rest of the party sat out in their tent to avoid the hot sun. Near evening, the humans left, and the party returned to the dig site. All except Dela improvised some sort of digging tool, using weapons, rocks, and shields to scrape away the dirt.
As the top of the box was revealed, a quiet, constant sound began to fill the air around them, carrying on for about ten seconds, stopping for one second, and repeating. It grew louder as they uncovered the entire top of the box, finding a hinge on one side and a lock on the other. Dela tried again and again to detect magic, but found none. Yurgrim, on the other hand, detected a powerful evil emanating from the box, suggesting that it had been somehow infused with the power of an evil god. Winter, with the help and advice of the others, set to work with her thieves' tools on the lock. Touching the lock filled her with a sense of dread, but after much poking and prodding, the lock came undone and the top of the box loosened.
Immediately the air was filled with the sound of a raw shriek, pausing only for the occasional breath before continuing. The party quickly attached a rope to the top of the box (to avoid touching it) and opened it completely, revealing a male shifter chained to the walls of the box, screaming in pain. The party worked quickly to break the chains holding him to the box and pull him out. Once the shifter was free, his screams ended abruptly, and the evil power emanating from the box disappeared.
Attempts to communicate with the shifter were unsuccessful. He would not make eye contact, stand up, or take food easily. Jherakasa:ke quietly suggested that a mercy killing was in order, as most desert shifters would agree. But the party wished to avoid such unpleasantness, so Alfred hoisted the shifter over his shoulder and carried him as they traveled north to Jherakasa:ke's village.
When they arrived, a group of shifter warriors and an old shifter wise woman approached. The wise woman, identified as Doriik:se by Jherakasa:ke, demanded that Jherakasa:ke come with her. Meanwhile, the warriors gathered around the party and asked them to follow. Jherakasa:ke was as confused by the warrior's pitying looks as the wise woman's demands, but affirmed that these were family and friends, and went with Doriik:se. The party, with their traumatized shifter friend in tow, followed.
They were led to a tent with thick hide walls and, in the middle, a fire with three jars nearby. The warriors shoved them inside and told them to "pray", while warning them not to leave on pain of death. The flap to the tent was shut and weighed down from the outside, creating the closest thing to a cage that the shifters seemed to have.
The party waited, wandered, and prayed to their gods for a moment, but soon someone looked into one of the jars, and chaos broke loose. Each of the jars shattered, revealing massive vipers inside. They attacked with sharp fangs and injections of poison, but the party kept their wits about them, and soon the snakes were hacked to pieces, riddled with arrows, and thrown onto the fire.
The party stood victorious, and began to plan their next move...
Next Session: SHIFTING FORTUNE