As the group delved deeply into Sklar-Quah territory, it was just a matter of time before they were intercepted by a patrolling war party of six burn riders, Sklar-Quah horsemen who have trained their mounts to no longer fear fire. The burn riders were headstrong and quick to anger, but because the group was in Akram’s company, they stayed their hands and did not attack on sight. Akram greeted the burn riders and explained quickly how the group sought to divest themselves of their tshamek status, a comment that elicited a round of laughter from the burn riders. Yet as soon as Akram mentioned the group had recreated the Legend of Skurak and Cindermaw, they grew serious. The patrol swiftly agreed to escort Akram and the group to Flameford at the very heart of Sklar-Quah lands. The Sklar-Quah did not attempt to disarm the group, though the they were effectively surrounded by hundreds of Shoanti who were ready at an instant to defend their home from the outlanders.
As the group was led through the slash rock into the heart of Flameford, the entire camp, Chieftan and Sun Shaman included, came to see. The group’s burn rider escort led them to the War Council Fire and bid them be seated. The group was a little dismayed to see that Krojun Eats What He Kills was in attendance as well. Akram then entreated the Sun Shaman on the group’s behalf. He formally requested that the Sklar-Quah accept the group as Shoanti with full entitlement to walk the Cinderlands. He first recited the Ritual of Cycles—a long, convoluted story of the never-ending relationship between the sun and the moon. Once tradition had been appeased, Akram boldly announced that he was a Truthspeaker and demanded that any who challenge his standing speak. A lengthy period of uncomfortable silence hung in the air. The silence was eventually followed by a patient nod of approval from the Sun Shaman. Akram then broke into a tale of the group’s recent deeds, tying them to the legend of Skurak. When Akram included a description of a Gurn cutting his way out of the Quah-Kael, Krojun and a few others made guffawing noises in disbelief, but they were silenced by a glare from the Sun Shaman. After Akram’s tale was complete, the Sun Shaman retreated to his tent with Chief Ready-Klar to further discuss the implications of what the group sought. An uncomfortable silence loomed while the crowd waited. Krojun crossed his arms and stared at Gurn. Akram quietly explained to the PCs that if the Sun Shaman rejected his petition and decided the group was still tshamek, they (Akram included) would be disemboweled for trespassing on Sklar-Quah land. An hour later, the shaman and chieftain returned to the fire. He asked each of the PCs to stand before him and spoke their names. The Sun Shaman repeated the names in sequence, and then tersely announced that henceforth the group was to be considered tshamek no more. They were free to come and go among the lands of the Sklar-Quah, as long as they maintained peace and honor and respect Sklar-Quah tradition. Many of the Shoanti, Krojun included, struggled to contain their fury but none openly rejected the Sun Shaman’s proclamation.
Once the group passed the Trial of the Totems, they accomplished their goals—they befriended the Sklar-Quah, and now needed only to wait for the Sun Shaman to finish his communion with his ancestors to learn about the truth of what afflicted Queen Ileosa. Yet one more hurdle lay between the group and this triumph—the Red Mantis. Frustrated that the group found sanctuary among the Sun Clan and sensing that her window of opportunity to eliminate the group was quickly vanishing, Cinnabar, leader of a Red Mantis assassin team, organized her allies in preparation for an all-out assault. With her remaining assassins, her well-paid Ashwing gargoyle allies, a young elf apprentice assassin named Tessara, and the Cinderlander, Cinnabar’s spies and scrying revealed that the Sun Shaman, Chief Ready-Klar, and several burn riders were going to be gone for a day, making this her best opportunity. That evening, as dusk approached, she and her allies stalked toward Flameford with ill intent.
The Red Mantis struck during the night, when most everyone was either asleep or deep in their cups. The group was able to fend off the gargoyles, but were in for a shock when a familiar looking elf who appeared to be with the Red Mantis, suddenly turned on them and began attacking her Red Mantis commander, Cinnabar. After the group defeated the Mantis, it was revealed that this elf was Tessara, sister to the fallen Shara, who had been forced into joining the Red Mantis. Once she heard that her sister had been killed however, Tessara knew she had to break free of the Red Mantis and discover what it was that her sister had thought so important that she would lay down her life. She joined with the group, eager to use her skills.