When they finally reach the city it is nearing nightfall. The main features of the cityscape are dimly lit by the waning sun: a large pyramidal temple, nested among an outcropping of strange domed buildings, a ramshackle necropolis and colosseum; lying carved into a mountainside overhang, tenements, bustling markets, a surprising amount of life for such an arid wasteland. The Mihreen worm-man, leaves the group at the edge of the hardpack, near the busy city sandport. All manner of folk are trafficking throughout, many on smaller worms, beetles and insectoid. Monitoring the influx and outflux is a small group of town guards, who are guided by a robed figure of apparent authority, who pays the adventurers no particular mind. The group make their way, at the Mihreen’s suggestion, to the inn of Ajior in the center of town.
As they move into town, the bazaar is still bustling, but some are beginning to close up shop for the evening; a variety of silks, foods, jars of knickknacks. Outside the bazaar are guilds of your typical craftsmen, apothecaries, metalworkers. There are many very young children, and mainly old or waifish folk, not unhealthy per se, but no one particularly post-adolescent and able outside of the guard, and many of the children are of a ragamuffin demeanor. The main part of town is cut through by a crystal clear, slow-flowing river, with all manner of fish seen swimming about. Scattered throughout are small temples to various deities, some recognizable, others not, some a kind of partially familiar hybrid.
Smack in the heart of town is Ajior’s inn, which from the outside looks like a very modest inn. Ajior, they find, is a friendly tiger-striped elder male catfolk, who has been eagerly awaiting their arrival. He spends a few moments answering the gang’s inquiries about: past adventurers who he has hosted here, “Many have come through here. They end up either dead, exiled or coerced into the guard”; about the Mihreen, “he has a business relationship to host their invitees, doesn’t know much else”; about the guard, “Those are Chalaaq’s men. There was an invasion from the inside mountain about 20 years ago, at which time Chalaaq came to power and began commissioning youth into his guard”; and his feelings on the invasion, “it’s been peaceful since. They don’t bother me much and I have a good business to keep my fed.” He explains that his instructions are to arrange a meeting with a Mihreen, Pella, once they have had a chance to settle in. Meanwhile, Korak and Hesper each notice two small children picking their pockets; Hesper steps in before Korak can physically reprimand her catch, who is maybe only 8 years old. Ajior scolds the kids, apologizing for the behavior of Sooz (age 8), his catfolk son, and Megna (age 13) his adopted daughter. He explains they’ve been playing with several of the thieving children and have adopted some bad habits. He suggests they visit his wife’s tavern next door, and says “tonight’s drinks will be on me.” Siegfried asks where he can get some good worm-sickness pills; Ajior responds, “All around town. Oh, and don’t eat the blue ones… or the green ones.”
Ajior’s lobby boy takes the group to their rooms, and they make their way down a flight of stairs into a much grander hallway than is expected from the modest inn exterior. There are two rooms with enough individual beds so that only two of them have to share. The jungle dwarves, Korak & Zhego who suffered the most nausea from the worm travel drag themselves into the first room and arrange for cold cloths and buckets. The rest of the crew make their way toward the tavern next door, The Tangled Yarn.
The tavern owner and Ajior’s wife, Hatha, greets them warmly. They all partake in some of her delightful home-brew refreshments of agave-infused ale and various local delicacies, all she is happy to boast, is on Ajior’s tab. Hatha is a bit of a gossip, and is also quick to let Siegfried know where to get the best wormsickness pills; “the blue ones are best.” They take in music from the night’s entertainment, while Caraway tells fortunes. After the night grows thick, they trundle back to the inn for rest. A deeply inebriated Siegfried attempts to snuggle in with Anethir, who instead grumbles himself asleep in a nearby chair.
The next day, all those who are not still retching from wormsickness, venture into the town, but not before arranging a midday meeting with the Mihreen. Siegfried meets the nearby apothecary, Champior Electror, who almost like a Red-hair twin, shares a moment of amazement with Siegfried’s explosive talents and offers him use of his laboratory if he will help out a bit. He also seems to have a different take on which wormsickness pills are best. Caraway ventures to the stables to let Bryzina play among the strange livestock that are a mix of odd-looking mammals and insectoids. Hesper wanders the market looking for magic items, finding little of interest. Kothay and Anethir encounter a metalsmith, Brumbek Dorlan, who is quick to voice his distrust and distaste for the current regime; he brandishes several scars from run-ins with the town guard, and doesn’t hesitate to make increasing large offers for the worm amulets around the adventurer’s necks. (Anethir secretly slips Brumbeck a note to help acquaint him with the town’s more subversive elements).
At noon, back at Ajior’s they meet in the lobby and are escorted downstairs to a meeting room, wherein sits a young Mihreen who introduces himself as Pella. He first gives them each 100gp and thanks them for making the journey to Arza. He does not seem to personally know the Mihr, but has overheard stories from the adults of his clan and they claim to be the Mihr’s faithful servants. He instructs them that their most immediate mission is to obtain more of the small egg-shaped stones, the ovastones, in order to aid the Mihr who are somehow trapped by the Veil. He explains that they already have 4, including the one the adventurers captured at Camp Osí, and they are looking for 8 more. He presents Caraway with a stone ocarina that can be used to summon some smaller worms or call out to Mihreen, and that his elders are willing to teach them how to eventually use summoning stones to control the larger worms.
When asked why someone so young was sent, he replies that it is difficult for the dwindling Mihreen tribe to transit through the city without facing Chalaaq and his guard’s wrath. Pella is able to mix in with the children of the Thieves’ Guild and go unnoticed in town. He explains that the worm amulets are made of a mother worm’s afterbirth and only things with worm blood can pass through the Veil. He explains that Chalaaq is able to transfer goods, but not personnel through the Veil and he controls the only active trade port in the South; he would probably make great efforts to obtain the amulets if he knew their power. The group notices that the young Mihreen does not himself wear such an amulet, and he explains they don’t even let him ride a giant worm yet, much less leave the Veil. Finally, Pella warns the group about the Bahrood. He claims that they were behind the ambush at Camp Osí and have been using their powers to influence evil in the mountains to their cause. He wishes them well and adjourns, by moving toward the back of the meeting room, whispering a short incantation and walking through the smooth stone. Kothay notices the door to the room slip shut and he rushes to see Ajior’s boy, Sooz, running down the hall.
As they make their way back into town for the evening, they check in on their wormsick allies, who are still bedridden; the lobby boy looks a bit irritated at having to constantly exchange their buckets and has been providing them with stale bread to quell their stomaches. Just outside the inn, they encounter Megna and Sooz who whisper for them to join them in a nearby alley. They explain that they overheard them talking to the Mihreen boy and that for a small fee, they would take them to a shaman in the mirelands who they’ve seen playing with what they describe as a blue ovastone. After a bit of bartering it is arranged that they will meet and head out in the morning. All of them head to The Tangled Yarn to relax and arrange for tomorrow’s provisions, except Kothay who beforehand wanders among the Temples in the neighborhood, discouraged them all closed for the evening.
The next morning, the group meets up with Megna and Sooz who lead them across the river into the tenements and through a tangled of rooms until they enter a door to a cavernous hallway. Down that path, across a rope bridge over a deep chasm, and finally they emerge into an enormous mountain chamber, so tall the ceiling can barely be made out, the path changes to boardwalks as the ground inside is a swampy mire with a not quite oppressive humid warmth and sounds of cicadas and katydids chirping and echoing. They follow the two children on the boardwalk until they reach a modest sandbar, where the kids stop to wait for everyone to gather, at which point Megna reaches for a hidden lever and they all tumble into a 15 foot deep pit of dried bones. As they all clamber to their feet, Sooz suddenly screams and passes out, while a swarm of small scorpions emerge, only to be followed by a giant female scorpion, assumedly the swarm’s matriarch. From above the pit, some unseen children begin throwing rocks and shouting “INITIATION! INITIATION!”. Megna has the look of someone trying to be proud and brave, but when she sees that Sooz is unconscious she begins to erupt in tears. Luckily, these foolish children are accompanied by adventurers who are able to quickly smash the arachnid swarms and finish off the mother beast before anyone gets too badly hurt.