It had been a long journey from the rogue camp through to Lut Gholein.  Theirs was the first caravan through to the desert city since Andariel had closed the gates in the monastery, and it was very large and traveled very slowly.  The adventurers alternated between riding in the wagon, bored to tears watching the world roll by, and walking along side as it gradually progressed down the disused road.  The most excitement they encountered was occasionally clearing away monsters and demons that had ranged far and wide from the centers of evil where they had spawned.

But, they were finally here.  The caravan was ushered into the safety of the city's walls, and they unloaded in the town square.  The prince of the city, a tall, Arabic-looking man named Jerhyn, welcomed Cain as he stepped off his wagon.  Cain then introduced Jerhyn to his young heroes.  The prince immediately set them up in a good hotel room—unfortunately just one, much to their chagrin, as there was nothing else to be had in town with the country folk from the surrounding area seeking the security of the guarded city.

They settled in, dressed for the evening, and went downstairs and out down the street to the tavern for dinner.  They were barely seated when the tavern's owner pushed her waiter aside and introduced herself to them.  Atma, her name was, and she immediately laid her problem out to them.

She asked them to go into the sewers to kill a beast named Radament and avenge the deaths of her husband and son.  They reassured the woman, agreeing to look into her problem first thing in the morning, then they gave her their orders for their first real meals after a fortnight of travel rations.

"No rest for the righteous."  Martenus grumbled.  "She could have at least plied us with a nice dinner first.  A little bribery can go a long way."

Annor playfully punched him in the shoulder.  "Be nice.  She must have been desperate to have asked us on the spot like that."

"But we've only been in town an hour!  I just want to sit down in a real chair, eat a hot meal, and drink my fill of good ale.  I don't want to worry about monsters already."

"How about you drink, and I'll worry about the monsters for you."  She soothed him.

And they happily chatted about anything but their duties until their food arrived.  Real meat was such a treat after the dried jerky and stringy rabbit stew they'd lived off of on the caravan, and they savored every bite of the succulent roast.

They settled their bill then decided on an evening stroll through the town.  Arm in arm, the two couples strolled along the streets.  The city was quiet, for a port town.  Even the nighttime trade workers were restrained, as if they were trying to keep a low profile while still trying to lure customers.  It was an odd feeling.

The four adventurers stopped when they reached the docks and just stood there and watched the ships lazily bob on the dark water.  Thane put his arms around Meize and pulled her close when she shivered with the chill coming off the water.  He nibbled her ear, sending tingles down to her toes.  She didn't need to look to know Martenus and Annor were also thusly occupied with one another in the soft torchlight.

A woman's scream shattered the quiet.

Startled, the four ran towards the commotion further up one of the side streets.  The sight there brought them to a halt.  Annor buried her face in Martenus shoulder, and Meize clutched tightly to Thane, horrified.  A man and woman lay dead in the road, an axe still embedded in the woman's skull, the man's intestines dragged out across the cobblestones.

Jerhyn and a few of his guards came racing over from the direction of the palace.  Another, large man came racing in from a different direction with other guards behind him.

"I'll look after this, your highness."  The second man growled.  "Go back to your palace."

"Do not try me, Griez.  You and your mercenaries may be in charge of policing the city, but you still answer to me in the end."

Jerhyn directed his focus to Thane and Martenus.  "You see now what we face.  Death stalks us at every turn, both without and within our walls.  Radament's monsters coming up from the sewers, no doubt, did this."

Weeping townsfolk, at Jerhyn's approval, gathered up the bodies to take to the cathedral to prepare them for interment.

"If you can kill that mummy below and then find the dark wanderer and rid our lands of this evil, our gratitude would be immeasurable."  And he turned to return to the palace.

The four silently retreated to their hotel room and retired for the night.  The next day would require an early start, as they would begin their hunt through the sewers for Radament.

And thus was their welcome to Lut Gholein.

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"Oh, that is so gross."  Annor shuddered as something big and dead floated past in the water.  "I'm never going to get the stench of this place out of my skin."

The sewers were as bad as the monastery had been for randomness.  Tunnels just went off in each and every direction, turning back on themselves and coming to dead ends.  But the thing that they "enjoyed" most about the sewers were the legions of zombies that spewed toxic clouds when they died.  That was a great twist to an old classic.

They were finally now on the third level.  They were tired, hungry, slimy, and smelly; and they couldn't work their way to Radament fast enough.

At last they found him.  Thane expertly exploded or resurrected the corpses of Radament's minions as fast as the others could kill them, shortly leaving the mummy with no guard to defend himself.  They made quick work of him, collected the items from his corpse and the treasure chest in the corner, then used a town portal to return to the surface.

As they were going through the items with Cain, including three moldy tomes and an ancient scroll, Atma came running up to them.

"Thank you for avenging my family.  This is a debt I can never repay.  Please be my guest at my tavern during your stay in our city.  I would be happy to cover the costs of all your meals.  I know it's not much, but it's all I can afford to give you in token of my gratitude."

Martenus put his hand comfortingly on the woman's shoulder.  "We thank you for your generosity.  It is a great relief to us to know we will always have food in our stomachs while we are here."

"I will keep that table reserved for you at all times."  And she turned and hurried back to her tavern.  Her sobs echoed back to the others.

"Poor woman.  I hope she can finally find peace now."  Meize quietly said, and Thane put his arm around her comfortingly.

"Here is what the scroll says," Cain excitedly interrupted.  "There is a an ancient weapon known as the Horadric Staff.  It was created by the ancient Horadric mages who bound Baal within Tal Rasha, then sealed off his burial chamber from the mortal world.  After the staff was nearly lost to an evil sorcerer, it was split into two pieces.  The shaft and the headpiece were hidden out in the desert, separately.  There is a magic item known as the Horadric Cube that can reunite the pieces.  When assembled, the staff can then open the tomb where Tal Rasha, and thus Baal, has been sealed."  He looked up from the scroll.  "Time is of the essence.  You must get there and ensure Baal is not released by the Dark Wanderer."

"Where is the tomb?"  Martenus asked, peering over Cain's shoulder at the scroll and making no sense of the ancient script.

"I am uncertain yet where it is, but first you must go out into the desert and find the pieces of the staff and the Horadric Cube."

"And just where in the desert do we find those?"  Thane sighed.

"According to the scroll, they will reveal themselves to you.  You are worthy of this quest, and they will call you to them.  In the meantime, I will continue to work on the rest of the translations and see if I can find the location of the tomb."

"What about the books?"  Martenus picked up one of the moldy tomes.

"These appear to be spell books.  There is one for a sorceress, a necromancer, and a paladin."  He handed them the appropriate books.  "I think if you take a moment to study them, you'll find them quite useful."

Martenus pulled Cain aside while the others admired the volumes.  "Nothing for Annor?"  He quietly asked, hoping his lady's feelings weren't hurt.

"I am sorry my friend.  The rogues have some basic magic, but nothing that can rival their Amazon sisters.  Annor will always be strong with her bow, her fire arrow, and her inner sight, but she cannot develop any more magical ability than that.  Just make sure she always has the best weapon she can handle, and she'll be content as a contributing member of the team.  Her marksmanship is just as important as your magic."

"Thank you."  Martenus returned, thumping Cain solidly on the back.

Cain smiled, then began to shoo them away.  "Now I can't stand the smell of the lot of you.  Take a cue and go bathe."

After they had all washed and dressed, they went back to Atma's for dinner.  She served them a generous feast of roast pork, lamb stew, spicy potatoes, wilted greens, buns, cheeses, and fresh fruit.  And she topped it all off with a never-ending supply of her best ale.  Thane and Martenus managed to put away an impressive amount of food and alcohol before they finally had to surrender and push their plates away from themselves, nursing one last pint.  Annor was ready to start dancing on the table after her first tankard, but of course she didn't stop there, and Meize had her head resting against Thane's shoulder by the end of her second.

"We should really," Martenus paused to let out a mighty, drunken belch, rousing Meize from her slumber, "plan ssomething for tomorrow."  He stopped, thinking hard about where his wagon of thought was going.  Wagons are funny.  "Asss leader of thiss group…"

"Heyyy…"  Thane interjected, then slurred, "who ssaysss you're the leader."

Annor started into a fit of giggling, supposedly at the two men though it could have been at anything in the room, followed shortly by a round of hiccoughs.

"I'm the pallladin," he began to waver dangerously in his seat, "I'm sse leader."

"What?"  Thane complained.  "I'm sse leader, not'ou."

Annor, still consumed by giggles and hiccoughs, crawled under the table.

"Pallladin iss alwayss 'e leader."  And Martenus' head hit the table with a crash.

"Hah.  We ssettle thiss tomorrow when yer ssober."  Thane looked around at his comatose companions.  "Oh crap.  Gonna have… rough day… tomorrow."  And his head fell back and he began to snore very loudly.

They awoke in a tangled pile in the middle of their hotel room floor.  Meize was the first one to open her eyes, and as soon as she moved, she disturbed the others.  They all slowly started sitting up, and promptly turned green.  Martenus made a run for the men's privy, Annor for the lady's privy, and Thane for the potted plant.

Meize surprisingly felt okay.  She had a touch of a headache, nothing more.  She stretched out her sore muscles from sleeping in a cramped position on the floor, then began to wash herself off from the basin in their room.

The others eventually returned, very careful not to make any excessive noise or movement.  Annor went straight to her bed, crawled in, and pulled the blankets over her head.  Martenus dropped to the mattress, threw his arm over the lump that was Annor, and promptly started snoring.  Thane walked over to Meize, took the wet cloth from her hand, and began to wash the back of her neck.

"How are you feeling, my love?"  She quietly asked him.

"Like I've been hit with a hay cart."  He sighed.  "How about you?"

"I'm fine, actually.  Drinking always puts me to sleep fast, so I'm usually never hung over."

"Count your blessings."  He began to wash off his own face.  "We've got to get up and going, unfortunately.  We have to get those pieces of the staff."

"What about those two?"  She jerked her chin towards the slumbering paladin and rogue.

"This isn't going to be pretty."  Thane jerked open the curtains, crying out in agony himself, then prodded at Martenus and Annor until he could finally drag them out of bed.

They all slowly donned their armor, then stumbled out of the hotel into the early morning sunshine.

They stopped by to see Cain one last time for any further information before they left the city.  The mage was quite disgusted with his young heroes, telling them they were bigger idiots than the town drunk, Geglash.  He sent them to Lysander, the potion master, for a restorative tonic.

Lysander charged them an arm and a leg in gold for his tonic, but at least it worked.  Within ten minutes they were cheerfully stepping through the city gates.