When the party returns to the city proper, Siduri leaves to make preparations at the temple while the rest of the adventurers meet Akkar in the antechamber to the throne room. They relate their discoveries to Akkar. Krivv gets paid for his services while Acacia asks Akkar to get more information about the weapons they found on the bodies of the temple looters and to inquire about the Dwarven maker’s mark. Gilgamesh orders his men to prepare a trap in the temple in preparation for the next bandit sortie. The party then separates to pursue their own agendas while awaiting Gulkishar’s audience with his brother. Gilgamesh stops in to visit with his family, discovering that his former friend Utuk had dropped by in the morning to speak to him. Krivv goes to the bank to exchange Akkar’s note for real gold while Acacia stops to speak to Taurion who has a job for her (harvesting a rare plant called Kernig Root for some interested buyers).
When Gilgamesh returns to the castle to speak to his brother, he learns that Utuk went on patrol and was captured by Taran’s Red Lions. He wants his brother to take his new companions and leave immediately in attempted rescue. On their way out of the palace, Akkar lets them know that the weapons were of Kimah make and that the Dwarven maker’s mark on the pump machine belonged to a dwarf named Arnan (a member of the Elendu agriculturalist family). Not having time to deal with the leads, the party heads out to rescue Utuk, stopping to requisition some healing potions and wound patches.
Crossing the Tigris the group enters the Kharsannu Forest. Acacia has no problem navigating in the tangled wood, discovering the site of the ambush and following the Red Lion trail. The group comes across the a village of the dispossessed—runaways, peasants, slaves—the outcasts of Urkesh who fled their burdens in the city. The residents run from the party, but Gilgamesh is able to talk to one villager who speaks glowingly of the Red Lions. Gilgamesh is able to persuade him to tell them which way the bandits went. At that moment Dalkon and his Urkeshi patrol arrive, wishing to execute their standard order of returning the dispossessed to the city. Gilgamesh presses them into the service of rescuing Utuk, putting a stay on the removal of the villagers.
Following the trail, they encounter a well-armed group of Red Lions. Gilgamesh tries to negotiate with the bandits, but he is unsuccessful and battle ensues. Although the adventurers take down the bandit leader right away, the other troops rally around and converge on the group. Despite the efforts of the party all the patrolmen are killed and they overwhelm the party. Captured, they are dragged to Red Lion headquarters.
When the party comes to, they find themselves stripped of their equipment and facing the Red Lion leader Taran. Krivv recognizes Taran as a former arena fighter named Alani. Taran opens with a speech: The priest-kings have failed—Zabaia, Warad, Akkad—they have no honour. All they care about is maintaining their control over a shrinking territory amidst the desert. The people suffer and receive no relief. The temple, the bureaucrats, the merchants—all of them are corrupt, blindly supporting the establishment. But what of the Urkeshi? What about the people who make the city live and breath? They are made to suffer, with no hope in a world filled with darkness. Change must come—total change. The system must be swept away and a leader installed who has the people’s needs at heart. A strong man who can reorder the city and then stretch out his hand to rebuild what was. Urkesh needs an heir to the legacy of Ashurbanipal—a Red Lion. I am that man, I am that heir. I will bring the changes to the city, by force if need be.
The speech is followed by diplomacy, as Gilgamesh trades himself as a hostage with the understanding that all the others will be freed to collect the ransom. The party is given back their armour but not their weapons, although Zariastra talks to Taran in private and receives some extras.
The Red Lions accompany to party back to the original ambush site, helping Acacia collect the Kernig root along the way. After the Red Lions leave them, Krivv, Zariastra and Acacia accompany Utuk and two of his guards back to the palace. Utuk is incensed at his capture and talks about leading an assault on the Red Lion compound. Perhaps fearing Gilgamesh’s death in such an attack, or merely irritated at Utuk’s rudeness, the party attacks him. Krivv tries to sneak up on Utuk to give him a well placed blow to the head, but isn’t stealthy enough. Utuk and his men try to flee, but Zariastra unleashes very powerful magic that is not quite enough to knock him down. Acacia has no problem keeping up with the fleeing prince, but his guards run separate ways at his command while Utuk becomes the party’s prisoner. Krivv tries to follow one of the men into the woods, but immediately becomes lost. Although Acacia finds him easily, the time delay means no possibility of controlling the message to king Gulkishar.
Arriving back at the castle, they find that Utuk’s guards have already reported to the king. Gulkishar refuses to speak to Zariastra or Krivv. Although Acacia explains the situation, there will be consequences. The king is relatively sympathetic, given the situation, but suggests Acacia and her two companions will need to go into hiding for awhile before returning with new identities. The party leaves the palace to get a few things done while Akkar arranges for Gilgamesh’s ransom. Acacia delivers the root to Taurion with instructions to send payment to her mother since she may be unavailable for the next few weeks. Krivv visits some of his arena buddies to have them compile information about Utuk. Zariastra visits Lavant Diaga, head ofthe Arcanists, who is sympathetic to her plight and concoct a story involving chaos magic and madness that should resolve her of any responsibility for the attack on Utuk.
When the convoy is prepared, Akkar and the party begin traveling to the Red Lion camp. They are accompanied by 40 porters who are helping to move the weapons and supplies that will be the ransom for Gilgamesh. Acacia sits in one of the wagons and works on the map of the area that Gulkishar requested, carefully plotting a path to avoid the village of the dispossessed. The exchange goes well. Gilgamesh has spent the last few days speaking with the Red Lions about their goals. Taran is obviously a fanatic who believes that only he can do a better job running Urkesh than the king. The others seem to agree that something needs to be done about the current establishment (who must be eradicated or submit to him). Gilgamesh is unable to learn anything specific about their plans. Reunited with their weapons, the party returns to the city ahead of the caravan. They walk through the woods and come across a camp. Acacia sneaks forward, but only spots two soldiers. Gilgamesh strides ahead and when the red-headed soldier recognizes him, she attacks. The five attackers are after the ransom on Gilgamesh’s head—members of Hudool’s bandit group, the man known as the Bandit King. The party faces a difficult battle, as Gilgamesh and Krivv suffer mightily, the former nearly dying outright. Zariastra is also knocked down, but Acacia is able to stay up the entire fight by keeping her distance in the trees. The party eventually kills all but one bandit (a dwarf), whom they interrogate and reveals who they are and their purpose. The party has a moment’s respite.
The party reached 2nd level.