The party consists of three clansmen who wear the pelts of the great grizzly they slew together in their youth, and one foreigner. The clansmen are Ike the Bloodhorn (ranger 4) who carries the bow Farslayer, Gibs-Golax (fighter 3) who swears allegiance to no man but himself, and Ildrev (druid 4) an uncanny acolyte of the All-Mother who speaks the tongues of beasts. The foreigner is Itash (Illusionist 3) who knows many ancient secrets and can bend the minds of men.
The next morning, the party is awoken far too early by an apprentice Tempter from the Merchant's Guild. They have been invited to lunch with Guildmaster Horvo in the cloistered pagodas of the secretive hall. Curiosity piqued, they make their way wincing and cursing up the stairs to the hilltop at the center of Wolsdag. They enter the lacquered chambers of the hall, passing the massive carved doors of the temple to Nepthlye and are escorted up the stairs and out onto the pagoda, with its hanging vines, dappled light, and lily ponds. They are led to the corner where Guildmaster Horvo is ensconced.
During a fine repast with freely flowing golden liquor that almost makes up for their miserable condition, Horvo makes his proposition. Not far to the West of Wolsdag begins the lands of the picture men, the joyless, tattooed reavers that have terrorized the seaside towns and unjustly blocked all trade along the western coast. The free mariners have recently crushed their assembled fleet. Now guild ships travel freely up and down the coast. However, about two months ago a heavily laden vessel disappeared three weeks of fair sailing up the coast from Wolsdag. It vanished near mysterious mists that obscure a not inconsiderable stretch of sea off the coast at this point. The currents here are dangerous, and all sailors know to avoid entering the misty waters. Fearing that the ship had been lost to a concealed reaver fleet, the guild sent a pair of vessels armed to the teeth to patrol the region. They too vanished without a trace. Inland from the mists rise monstrous red dunes that are sacred to the pictured men. The Guild is hoping that a discrete and well-seasoned force might gather some intelligence about the lost ships and the mists, as well as the nature of the dunes, since the red sands are likely rich in rare ore, and there may be some lucrative and mutually beneficial trade in antiquities in the region if the obstacles are not too great. If they bring reliable and valuable intelligence, the Guild is willing to fund a future expedition to the Shattered Isles, and to offer above market rates for valuables acquired.When asked if the Tempters have been able to acquire information through their holy powers, Horvo hints darkly that the dunes have been shielded from the temple eyes by some retrograde force that opposes trade and open dealing. If they bring reliable and valuable intelligence, the Guild is willing to fund a future expedition to the Shattered Isles, and to offer above market rates for valuables acquired.
The party, intrigued but wishing for more intelligence, turns to their comrades among the free mariners and the enterprising faction. From the mariners they learn that after the naval victory, the society of the picture men has collapsed as a result of the astounding defeat, and the various tribes have descended into a bloody civil war. They learn that there is one picture men town along the coast between here and the dunes, Kom, a fishing village two weeks up the coast. When they speak to the enterprising faction they learn that they are bitter about the new monopoly routes opening up along the coast, since previously there was plenty of lucrative unlicensed trading with pictured reavers. They also learn that no one goes in the strange mists, which have a sweet smell as of persimmons, and obscure waters attended by wild currents, with many uncharted reefs and small islands that spell doom for ships. About the dunes themselves, they learn only that the picture men treat them as a holy site full of demons and spirits, and that they are forbidden to enter them. Since the dunes lie deep in hostile territory, they are unexplored by Wolsdagers. There are, however, some wild tales of travelers emerging laden with ancient treasures.
Liking the sound of all this, the party uses guild funds to procure a huge sea canoe, and a smaller canoe for reconnoitering. They procure provisions for the trip and seek out an old companion (hireling), a sardonic archer but the name of Crow, who was the sole surviving hireling of their descent beneath the waves to explore the Submerged Spire of Sarpedon the Shaper. And so, on one clear morning, their spirits high, they set off into the ocean in a giant sea canoe, towing a smaller vessel behind them.