Dark Sun: The Scorched World of Athas

Village in the Sand

An Occupied Village
After leaving the Lands Within the Wind, the group found themselves standing beneath an arch of golden sandstone, taking what shelter they could find from the white-hot sky. Below them was the dwarf village of Kled. The blazing heat was comforting to all in the group except for Elleandra, who was unaccustomed to such conditions.

Dwarves of KledThe central plaza of the village, with a jagged edge of curving salients that resembled tongues of flame, could be seen from their vantage point. The circle was paved with cobblestones of crimson sandstone and a small windmill with slowing spinning sails could be seen in the middle of a round plaza. With each rotation, the mill pumped a few gallons of cool, clear water from a deep well and dumped it into a covered cistern.

The residences of the village were arranged in a series of concentric circles enclosed by a single low wall of red brick. The huts themselves were made of rounded red flagstone walls. The buildings stood only about five feet high, and none were covered by any semblance of a roof. Their interiors were visible and stone tables, benches, beds and other furnishings could be seen.

Looking out of place were several huts constructed of wooden and cloth just outside the city. The banners of Urik and House Lubar could be seen fluttering in the afternoon breeze. A large number of soldiers, all wearing the red tunics of Urik were marching in and around the village. Kelvor estimated the there were about 200 soldiers occupying the village of about 400 dwarves.

The group quickly realized that there was virtually no chance of a successful assault on the village and so they decided to ambush a patrol and sneak into the city to attempt to contact, or start, a resistance to the occupation. After moving to a better location to ambush a patrol, they waited patiently under the hot sun until their prey appeared. Although they were hidden well, the patrol was alert and ready for trouble. A brief combat ensued between them and the forces of Urik, lead by a templar and his half-giant guards.

Gwyn dressed herself in the templar’s robes and Morg and Kelvor made makeshift outfits from the half-giant’s tunics. The rest of the group donned the garb of the soldiers and they all headed into the village. Because of Chai-Tak’s size and appearance it was decided that he remain behind. Kelvor was able to lead the party past several Urikite patrols. Morg used his gift with the Way to eavesdrop, attempting to find the dwarves they had freed from the Urikite templar on the way to the Cistern. Eventually they heard that Niva and Marok were being forced to work in the obsidian mines.

The Obsidian Mines
Still disguised as a templar and guards, the group made their way from the city into the foothills of the mountains towards the obsidian mine. They were briefly stopped along the way at a guard station, but Gwyn was able to bluff her way past the guards with very little difficulty. Once the mines were reached, more guards were convinced to fetch Niva and Marok for “interrogation” by the templar.

Taken out of sight, the two dwarves were relieved to see Morg and his companions and told of the occupation of Kled by a powerful psionicist named Maetan Lubar. Although the dwarves did not like the occupation, they were unwilling to cause trouble for the forces of Urik or do anything that would endanger their village. During this exchange an mine Overseer challenged Gwyn for taking away his workers during their shift. She put on her best act and succeeded in turning him away with an arrogant flip of her hair. Confused by this stubborness and illogical attitude the group started to make their own plans for attacking the forces of Urik. The dwarves were adamant that nothing endanger the safety of the village.

Just as the the group was about to leave the mines and head back towards the village to start trouble, the Overseer returned with a number of guards, prepared for combat. It appeared that Gwyn was not as convincing as she thought. Although the skilled forces of Urik fought well, they were little match for the seasoned veterans of the desert and the combat was over quickly. Niva and Marok were in awe of the the groups skill, especially that of Morg who they claimed fought like a warrior of legend.

The dwarves escorted the party out of the mine area and south of the village. Just as the sun was setting, they arrived at a hill of sand partially covering a section of ruins. What they saw at the hill was barely comprehensible – two dwarves wearing full plate armor made of steel and holding steel great axes were standing guard over two enormous bronze doors. With a few words the guards allowed the party to pass through the doors and into a cool tunnel.

The Ruins of Kemalok
The tunnel they moved down was lined with wide strips of animal hide, gray and cracked with age. The lining was supported with wooden beams to keep the sand from cascading in an burying the excavation. The corridor was so low that everyone had to practically crawl through it. Eventually the tunnel opened into a small chamber, where a makeshift camp had been set up.

A venerable dwarf emerged from a tent and greeted Niva and Marok, he was introduced as Lyanius, the village Urhonomus. The previous exploits of Morg and his companions were retold as well as a description of the fight with the mine overseer. Nodding throughout the telling Lyanius welcomed the group to the ancient dwarven city of Kemalok

“I found Kemalok 200 years ago when I happened upon a short section of parapet the wind had uncovered. I knew instantly that I had uncovered a dwarven city form the time of the ancients. The merlons were too short for your people, and the stonecraft was far beyond anything the paltry mason or our age can achieve."

“I spent the next century and a half excavating the ruins, first working alone and eventually coming to be a leader of an entire village focused upon eventual reestablishment of Kemalok.”

“Since the arrival of the Urikites, our work on Kemalok has nearly halted, robbing us of our focus. We cannot let them discover its location and plunder its treasures. The spirits of our ancestors have become restless with the presence of the Urikites, futher hindering our ability to make progress.”

“I believe that you may have the ability to calm these restless spirits and if you can, you will prove that you are truely heroes and we will fight the Urikites along side of you.”

Morg was especially unnerved by his comments, but the group agreed to follow the old dwarf. The tunnel opens up into a small chamber. The path they took lead to a small stone walkway that looked as though it had once been a bridge. Beside the causeway lay more than a dozen weapons of various materials. Several of them looked to be quite ancient, judging by the rot of their wooden handles or the yellowed brittleness of their bone blades. Lyanius commented often as they made their way through the excavation.

“The remains of those who entered here uninvited.”

On the other end of the bridge, there was an arched gateway in a magnificent stone wall. Inscribed into the stone were several strange runes which none could read. A few feet above the gateway hung a portcullis of rusty-red iron. It was supported by thick iron chains that disappeared through a set of openings into the gatehouses that flanked the pathway. The walls of these buildings were constructed of white marble, so finely cut and carefully fit together that even a sliver of torchlight could not have slipped between them. The group was impressed with the craftsmanship from another age.

“Beyond this gate, place your trust in the strength of your friendship, not the temper of your blade. You may go no further unless you leave your blades behind.”

The group deposited their daggers, axes and sword outside the gatehouse, except for Merric who refused to go unarmed. As the group moved through the archway, a chest-high figure steped from around the gatehouse corner. It wore a complete suit of black metal plate mail, trimmed at every joint in silver and gold. In its hand the figure held a battle-axe of polished steel with scintillating lights and its helm was capped by a jewel-studded crown of galeaming white metal. The only thing visible of a face was swaddled in green bandages, and the eyes burned with a glow as yellow as the afternoon sky.

“This is Rkard, the last of the dwarven kings. Show him you bear no weapons and he will let you pass.”

On the other side of the gatehouse, a confusing warren of tunnels branched off in a dozen directions, leading down what had once been the grand avenues and hidden alleys of a sizable metropolis. The greatest part of Kemalok still ay buried under mounds of sand, but enough of it showed to see that most of the buildings were constructed of granite block. The five-foot doors and narrow, chest-high windows left no doubt that this had indeed been a dwarven city.

Eventually they came to another bridge leading to a gate. This bridge was made of wooden planks, half-rotten and patched here and there with the wide, flat ribs of a mekillot. An immense set of iron doors blocked further passage once the bridge had been crossed. Lyanius pushed open easily, as much a testament to his strength as the engineering. A short tunnel lined with chest-high arrow loops leads to a series of vaults, revealing the outer bailey of a once great castle.

Passing through this area, the party was able to peer into what had been the shops and homes of the castle’s smiths, tanners, fletchers, armorers and dozens of other craftsmen. Their tools, made mostly from steel and iron, still hung in the racks where they had been neatly stored thousands of years ago. The amount of metal the party saw was staggering and beyond anything they had ever seen, or dreamed.

Moving through another gate and into the inner bailey, they arrived at a courtyard before a square keep of white marble. The keep rose high overhead and the roof was lost in the sand overhead. At each corner of the keep stood a round tower, its arrow loops commanding much of the courtyard below.

“The Tower of Buryen, home to the dwarven kings for 3000 years.”

On each side of the entrance foyer sat a pair of stone benches, one sized for the short legs of the dwarves and one for the longer legs of humans. In the corners stood full suits of dwarven plate mail, the shaft of a double-bladed battle-axe gripped in the armor’s gauntlets. Both the armor and the weapons were made of polished steel, gleaming as brilliantly as the day they had been forged.

Vinara noticed that there was no sign of life in the suits of armor and that they were much too small for a dwarf. Although they were about the right height, they were far from broad enough for the massive shoulders and bulging limbs typical of the dwarven race.

“Our ancestors were not as robust as we are today. They even had some hair.”

The next area they moved through was a huge hallway running the perimeter of the keep. The floor was arranged in a pattern of polished black and white squares. At even spaces along the walls, tall white columns supported the vaulted ceiling above. Between each set of arches was a mural painted directly onto the wall.

The first painting before them portrayed a dwarf dressed in a full suit of golden plate armor, a huge warclub cradled in his arms. From beneath his golden crown cascaded a huge mop of unruly hair that hung well past his shoulders. That was not the “worst” of it, either. His face was lost beneath a thick beard that started just below his eyes and tumbled in a tangled mass clear down to his belly. The party was shocked as such a depiction of a dwarf.

“Come along! I didn’t bring you hear to mock my ancestors.”

Dwarf of the Green AgeThe other murals in the hallway portrayed grossly bearded dwarves as well. The paintings usually depicted dwarves standing in the somber halls of dimly lit keeps or in the dark chambers of some vast cave. The last mural in line depicted the guardian of the city, King Rkard. Like the figure that met them at the city gate, the dwarf in the painting had golden-yellow eyes and wore black plate mail trimmed in silver and gold. His helm was crowned by a jewel-studded crown of strange white metal. In his hands, the picture king even held a battle-axe identical to the one carried by the gate-guardian. Behind Rkard, the ground sloped down a gentle hill blanketed by the green stalks and red blossoms of some broad-leafed plant. At the bottom of the slope, a wide ribbon of blue water meandered through a series of lush meadows. In the fields grew food crops of every imaginable color and shape. In the far background of the painting, the river finally disappeared into a forest of billowing trees ranging in color from amber to russet to maroon. Behind this timberland rose a mountain range, its peaks and high slopes strangely covered with white.

“Dwarven artists painted only what they saw.”

Finally the group reached a pair of massive wooden doors so infested with dry rot that it was surprising they still hung on their hinges. Despite the deterioration of the doors, the strange animals carved into each one remained handsome and distinct. The snarling beasts resembled bears, save that, instead of the articulated shells armoring the creatures, these were covered with nothing more protective than a thick mat of long fur.

“Beyond these doors lie the crypts of Kemalok. Here the spirits of our ancestors are unquiet. Go forth and put their souls at ease. If you convince them, then you shall have earned our help against the forces of Urik, and proven that you are heroes.”

The Garden of Graves

The Double Doors
The enormous set of double doors stood in front of the group as they took a few minutes to recover from their battle. The combat and the subsequent spell from Vinara to bring Merric back from the Gray had exhausted the party and their rest only helped a little.

Gwyn and Elleandra were quite sure that the doors were magically reinforced, making any attempt to physically open them futile. They found nothing but rubble and the remains of their foes in room after a thorough search. Merric braved getting close to the doors to examine the lock, fearful of being shocked as they saw the man depicted in the tapestry. His fears came true as he was hit by a blast of lightning from the doors. Although in pain, he finished his examination of the lock before backing away from the door.

Remembering the poem the group attempted to not follow their “common sense” in different attempts to open the door. Gwyn thought to throw a rock at the door, but was so badly hurt that she wanted someone else to throw it. None of these solutions caused the doors to open and Kelvor was badly injured in the process. Seeing no other option, the group decided to head back to the game room and search the outside for any clues or for the key itself.

Pool Chamber
Outside the main structure, there were many ruined mausoleums and other structures. The group split up and began searching for anything that might help them bypass the doors. An hour of searching revealed no signs of a key or anything else of interest in the graveyard. Only one other building was found to be mostly intact with small amounts of water issuing forth. The group ventured inside, wary of trouble.

The walls within the chamber were covered in the same peculiar runes. A stone-rimmed pool was burbling at one end, with water overflowing. The overflowing water ran down the side and trickled in various rivulets across the floor. Instead of randomly flowing through the rough floor, the water made twisting, snaky patterns that appeared to have the same eldritch designs.

Water Serpent Vinara approached the pool, intending to take a drink (having quite enough of the riddles in this place), but she noticed a pale metal key laying at the base of the pool. It was slightly distorted by ripples in the water. Vinara was able to see past the surface distortions and grab the key. As she did the rippling in the water intensified and a strange watery serpent formed and lashed out at her. She deflected the attack with her spear. Morg rushed in slashing it with his axe and disrupting the serpent. A brief combat ensued with a constantly appearing water serpent. Each successful strike on the entity caused it to disappear. Only Morg was struck by the serpent and when he was, he disappeared from the room.

The party discovered that the water serpents range was limited and when Vinara left the building with the key, the serpent ceased its attack. About the time that the party returned to the main building, Morg rejoined them, drenched. He told the group that he had been transported to a fast moving river and was barely able to stop himself before plummeting over the edge to a 60 foot fall. The group re-entered the structure and quickly went to the double doors. Vinara walked up to the door and tried the key, only to find that it didn’t fit. She quickly backed away as the lightning from the doors blasted at the floor behind her feet.

Frustrated by another set back, the party was unsure of what to do. Elleandra suggested they try putting the key into the tapestry and so the group moved back to the tapestry. With the key in hand, it was obvious that the key depicted in the tapestry was the same one that was in their hand. They also realized that the lock on the door in the tapestry was too large. Although the door and the figures beside it were almost life-sized, the lock was fully life-sized. Vinara inserted the key into the lock on the tapestry and heard an echoing click as the key made contact with the fabric lock.

There was no visible change in the room or in the tapestry, the sound obviously coming from some place else. They returned to find the double doors opened, revealing another hallway. They lit their torches and proceeded down a twisting passageway.

The Fey Engine
The chamber ahead of the group was clearly the heart of some sort of eldritch design. Runes such as those that had been seen elsewhere in the complex spiral along the walls and floor in various intertwining patterns, all finally culminating in the precise center of the room. An intricate contraption of iron rods and wooden shafts, crossing and crisscrossing each other stood at that point. At each intersection, a rune could be seen on wood and metal, and several of the larger joints were adorned with gemstones. At its top, the device came to a pyramidal peak, with prongs holding a gleaming emerald.

Although Gwyn and Vinara had no doubt that the device was the source of the draining energy they had all been feeling and experiencing, neither had any idea how the device functioned. It was magic far beyond their abilities. One thing was certain, the device, although powerful, was likely to be quite fragile. Kelvor stepped forward and swung a mighty blow with his scimitar.

A sudden flash of energy erupted from the emerald, nearly blinding the party with the intensity. The engine began to shatter and collapse in upon itself as the iron bars began to rust and gemstones turned to dust as they fell to the group. From an unimaginable distance, they heard what sounded like a shriek of frustrated rage, cut off in mid breath.

Admist the wreckage of the engine, Vinara located several precious gemstones that survived the destruction. In addition, one piece of the engine that was apparently obscured by the wood and iron survived. The piece appeared to be a staff made of twisted strands of smoky black glass, but it was obviously harder than the iron supports. Vinara gave the staff to Gwyn who felt strengthened by the shadowy energy the staff infused her with.

Morg took all of the iron bars that appeared to be mostly intact from the wreckage and the group headed back out of the complex. As they did so, they noted that the structure appeared to be decaying rapidly – the remaining tapestries were fading, the game room was in disarray with the boards and pieces broken and lying on the ground.

A Well-Deserved Rest
The group made camp near the pool and enjoyed an uneventful evening with Morg and Kelvor on watch. The following morning they met Paelias along the trail and exchanged news of their adventures. Paelias confirmed that the destruction of the engine had halted the destruction of the land and appeared to be returning the creatures to their normal temperaments. He invited all of the group to join him in the nearby village of Dempsy before returning them to Athas.

At the village they restocked their supplies of food and water and were able to take some time to pursue some individual activities. Although not all had much that was acceptable currency in Dempsy, they were able to secure enough provisions to make the passage to Kled. Kelvor asked Paelias if he had any advice or knowledge regarding the crown. Unfortunately, the only assistance that Paelias could provide was generalities about the difficulty in destroying powerful magic artifacts. Morg and Merric spent some actual gold coins on buying a metal weapons.

Gwyn and Vinara tended to the recovery of Elleandra, who was still under the effects of the Crone Statue. Paelias provided Gwyn with instruction on a power ritual that could remove her affliction. With Vinara’s assistance, Gwyn was able to complete the ritual and restored Elleandra to her original health, although it took her a bit of time to recover fully from the ordeal. Gwyn’s companions had not realized how powerful she was becoming in her magic studies and were impressed.

The Village of Kled
Eventually the group decided that it was time for them leave the Lands Within the Wind and to return to Athas so they could continue their quest to free the dwarves of Kled. Elleandra decided to join them, feeling that the connection she felt to Vinara, the spear and the seed was no mere coincidence. Paelias, with the assistance of Gwyn and Elleandra was able to send them back to Athas much closer to Kled then they had origianlly thought.

They found themselves on a large hill overlooking the village of Kled. None had been to it before and were shocked to see that the squat buildings had no roofs and that the entire town was arranged in a series of concentric circles. Clearly visible, even from the hill, were the banners of Urik – a golden lion walking like a man on a red background. Also visible were green banners with a red emblem of a two-headed snake. Kelvor recognized those as the crest of House Lubar.

The Garden of Graves

The Path of Broken Stones
After the long fight against the fey creatures, the party decided to take a few hours near the pond to recover their strength. Instead, the found that something was draining their energy while they tried to rest. Gwyn and the others recognized this as a tell-tale sign of defiling magic. Unwilling to wait longer, the group continued on through the thick woods and waving grasses, seemingly without a definite directions.

Finally the trees began to thin somewhat and they spotted an enormous ridge of dark stone looming ahead. The sounds of rushing water could be heard in the distance, but the dense trees prevented them from finding the source. From where they stood, a narrow tunnel could be seen piercing the dark-hued rock. Some writing was chiseled into the stone, a form of Elven that only Elleandra was able to translate.

Like lustful swain or panicked child
Who beg another’s gentle hand,
The fool delves heedless through the wild.
The wise are not so soon beguiled.

Let art and image point the way,
Abandon all you think you know,
For common sense leads fool astray
The key is simply this: Obey.

The wise must ever strategize;
They never play, unless to win.
They see the harm in comfort’s lies,
And seek to open weary eyes.

You’ve fought your way, you’ve risked demise,
To view the ivy heart within.
Now as the soul within you dies,
This knowledge is your only prize:
You’d never have come, were you truly wise.

Although they were unsure of the true meaning of the poem, they saw no other way to get to the Garden of Graves and so entered the tunnel.

The Cave of Entry
The adventurers found themselves in a simple cavern in the rock cliff that looked as though it hadn’t been used in some time. Not all of the stone was natural, however. A trio of statues stood along the far wall, forming a portion of the wall. Each statue depicted a humanoid female clad in rags and tatters with her right hand out, palm up, as though expecting to receive some gift. The figure on the left was a young female, her beauty apparent even given the poor condition of the stone. The center figure was older, her face kind and matronly. The figure on the right was stooped with age, her face a maze of lines and wrinkles.

Three Statues

Gwyn and Elleandra could sense powerful magic within the cavern, coming both from beyond the carved figures, and from the statues themselves. The magic coming from the statues was not the powerful defiling energy they had been feeling, that appeared to be coming from beyond the cave. The group was unsure on how they could get past the statues, knowing that it was some type of puzzle.

They decided and Elleandra placed a small number of gold coins in the palm of the middle statue. They disappeared but the crone statute moved to attack, placing her hand of Elleandra who began to wither and age. The group battled the animated crone statue, attempting to appease it with coins, but not being successful. Kelvor too suffered the touch of the crone statue, but was able to overcome its withering magic.

Once the statue was battered down, it reformed and continued to block their way. Eventually the group decided that the gift should go to the crone statue and when Kelvor placed a few gems into her open palm, they disappeared and the statues moved aside, allowing them access to the the exit from the cave.

Twisting Passages
As they emerged from the passage, they found themselves at a crossroad. A path lead to the left around the base of the cliff and it appeared that their other option was to make a climb up the 60 foot cliff face to reach the top. They could not see the top of the rocky cliff, but felt that the climb might be too dangerous, especially given the condition of Elleandra.

The path lead to a series of old tunnels that cut their way into the living rock of the cliff. These tunnels were obviously quite old, and appeared to be unused. They group explored the tunnels for a few hours, making note of many dead ends and finding no other exit than the entrance they used. Just as they were about to give up and attempt the treacherous ascent, Vinara noticed that one of the dead ends had as small amount of light coming from above and with Merric’s help a secret door was located which lead to a narrow staircase leading upwards.

Game Room
They emerged from a trap door into a room that appeared out of place. The chamber before them was luxurious, sporting a rich carpet, a gleaming chandelier in the cent of the ceiling, and five large tables each with a haphazard collection of dice, cards and gaming pieces. Every surface of the floors, walls and ceilings were covered in carved eldritch runes. There were two sets of massive double doors providing exits from the room.

As the room and tables were explored, each felt a compulsion to sit and play one of the games. Heeding the suggestion of the poem, none resisted this compulsion. Although none had ever played these games before, they knew the rules once they sat at the table and began to play against their unseen opponents. Merric and Chai-Tak had no game to play and each took up a position near one of the doors.

Vinara played a card game whereby the winner is determined by the ranks and combinations of their cards, some of which remain hidden until the end of the game. For her game, Gwyn moved around a game board buying or trading properties, developing them, and collecting rent from their opponents, the ultimate goal being to drive them into bankruptcy. Morg played a comparing card game against a dealer where a specific number was reached but not exceeded. Elleandra played a game on a board depicting a political map of a fictional land where the primary object of the game was to occupy every territory on the board and in so doing, eliminate all other players. In Kelvor’s game, he assumed the role of a settler, attempting to build and develop holdings while trading and acquiring resources.

Each person eventually won their games, however, each player suffered as mistakes were made, the game punishing them. However, as each game was overcome, one of the doors leading out of the room opened slightly. With the last game completed, the door opened all the way, revealing a passageway headed deeper into the building. The other door easily opened to the outside, where the graveyard could be seen.

Chamber of Tapestries
The group followed the interior hallway, which was also covered with the same strange runes. They found themselves in a chamber adorned with about a dozen tapestries. One had an image of fey dancing in a ring of toadstools as thunderclouds gather overhead and another showed a young man weeping over the corpse of a murdered maiden in a glade.

One tapestry against the western wall shows an almost life-sized double door, bounded in iron and silver and covered in arcane runes. A figure clad in black is being hurled back from the door by a bolt of lightning, with obvious lock picks flying from his fingers. His companion, who is dressed in chainmail, is leaning forward as though to stop him. The second figure is holding a key in his open hand. It’s the only tapestry that shows an indoor scene.

The room had no obvious exit, but behind one of the tapestries was a hidden door. The door opened easily enough and the group proceeded on. The power of the magic growing steadily stronger as they moved through the rune-etched hallway.

Wild at Heart
A much larger chamber opened before the group when they exited the hallway. A raised dais on one side had a large pile of stones resting atop it. It looked to be a cairn, but if so, it was the resting place of something truly enormous. Three smaller cairns lay clustered on the floor on the far side of the room. Like the other rooms in this structure, the walls and floors of the chamber were covered in runes. Vines and other plants could be seen growing throughout this room as many cracks and holes in the walls and ceiling allowed ample sunlight through.

Vinara and the others began to examine the contents of this room. It was clear that the cairn stones didn’t belong here, as they appeared to have once lain outside. On the opposite side of the room from where they entered, a large set of double doors, similar to the ones depicted in the tapestry, were closed. These enormous double doors were covered in runes and bound in iron and silver.

During their examination of the room, one of the stone coffins was opened, causing a great disturbance. From the raised dais, the large pile of cairn stones began to move and a leathery shell of a giant emerged from beneath them. The smaller piles also shifted, revealing three humanoid figures dressed in rags and decaying armor. From all around, the vines began to shift and twist on their own as a massive plant emerged from the rubble.

Surrounded and already weakened by their encounter with the crone and the combat was brutal. Both Gwyn and Vinara were knocked unconscious at the same time and only the quick actions of Elleandra allowed them to survive. Morg and Kelvor both suffered as the giant drained their vitality to feed its own. Merric was slain by a combination of the plants poisonous vines and the zombie knights attacks. Eventually the giant was over powered and the other opponents finished off.

The group took a brief rest and Vinara used her magic to bring Merric back from death, although the ritual sapped some of the last reserves from her companions…

The Garden of Graves

Journey to Kled
After recovering from their ordeal in Slither, the group headed away from the wreckage, careful to avoid any remnants of Yarnath’s forces. The terrain they took was very treacherous, but the group was accustomed to such difficulties and had little trouble. Gwyn and Kelvor were able to locate water but discovered too late that it was unfit for drinking. Morg’s endurance and Vinara’s skill at avoiding the natural predators allowed them to press on without further difficulty.

During the first night on their journey to resupply at the Silver Spring Oasis the party was awoken to sounds of a struggle and found Merric and Chai-Tak facing off against each other. If that wasn’t bad enough, Kelvor was missing with no signs indicating where he went. The rest of the group was paralyzed with indecision and did nothing until Merric lunged at Chai-Tak who fired his bow. The arrow went wild and Merric struck true with his sword. Gwyn and Morg stepped in to end the scuffle. Chai-Tak accused Merric of attempting to steal the Seed and Merric accused Chai-Tak of attempting to poison him.

The two were separated and Vinara took the Seed herself. The group waited several hours for Kelvor who suddenly appeared, unnoticed by the others. He claimed to have been transported to the Lands Within the Wind where he traveled through a forest, across a river and battle a nightmare creature with a beautiful woman and a noble elf. Dismissing his tale as a dream brought on by the tainted water, the group finally resumed their journey to the Oasis.

Another day of hot and dusty travel brought them out of the wastes and to the gates of the Silver Spring Oasis. It had only been a week since they left it felt like it had been much longer. At the gate the hailed the guards and asked for entrance. After a long pause the guard dismissed them, saying they were not welcome at the Oasis. After a few arguments two things became clear: they were not going to be allowed entrance into the compound and that their actions with their House Tsalaxa captive had come back to haunt them.

Ashamed and dangerously low on supplies, they continued on the road towards Tyr.

Fey Crossing
The first night away from the Oasis the party fell asleep, despite their intention to keep a watch. They all awoke with a sudden feeling that they were falling. The feeling lasted only a moment and then they found themselves standing on a narrow trail running through thick grass. The air was heavy with the scent of greenery and there were large trees looming over the group. Vines and heavy foliage was strung between them and the air was cool and damp. Everything seemed abnormally clear: Colors were brighter, sounds were sharper, and objects – for lack of any better way of thinking about it – were more real.

The consensus was that they were within the Land Within the Wind, but how they got there was unknown to any of them. Kelvor was relieved that he was not going mad; that it appeared far more likely that his dream had been real. Gwyn was overwhelmed with the raw magic of the place.

As they were still getting adjusted to their new surroundings, they noticed two figures walking down the road towards them. The group prepared for trouble, but Kelvor recognized them as the individuals he had previously met here – Paelias and Elleandra. When the two were close, Paelias greeted Kelvor and told him of the continued growing evil in these lands. He had hoped that the malignant power was isolated to the dream portal, but it now appeared to only be a symptom of a larger issue. He and Elleandra had tracked down a possible source of the corruption to an ancient site known as the Garden of Graves.

Paelias explained that he believed that if the corruption of this realm were not stopped it might have drastic consequences for Athas. The group, especially Morg, was less than enthusiastic about dealing with another set of problems. Somewhat taken aback, Paelias offered Morg a small purse filled with coins as a reward for his assistance. Morg, and the othera accepted. Paelias was needed elsewhere and did not accompany them, but the group was joined by Elleandra who knew the way to the Garden.

Woodland Woes
With Elleandra guiding them, the party made good time towards the Garden. After several hours the trail they were following came upon a clearing with a crystal clear pond of water. Around the pond was a small group of humans a couple men and a woman and two small children. With them was a large white beast with a single horn and some type of hairy tail – nothing the adventurers had every heard of before. Although suspicious, there was no immediate danger so the group approached the pond and was greeted warmly by the woman.

The woman told her tale of woe: her group were refugees from a nearby village that had been attacked by creatures she called goblins. Although the descriptions were strange to everyone be Elleandra, the scenario was all too familiar – a marauding band of raiders. As the conversation was made and the cool water was had by all, Merric began to become uneasy with the situation, sensing something wasn’t right. Gwyn detected some type of magic at work, but it was Elleandra (who was far more familiar with this world) who was able to break the illusion.
Bog Hag
The two children shrank and turned into small furry creatures with antlers on their heads. The two men grew into monstrous green brutes with clubs and leathery skin. The animal remained much the same, but the pure white coloration turned to dark ebony and the horn turned a sinister red. The woman became wrinkled and purplish in color with with wild hair and tattered clothes. Without another word, the transformed creatures rushed to attack.

The unusual nature of the creatures proved to be quite a challenge to the group during the combat. When the creatures were thought to be killed, the reanimated and continued to attack for a brief period of time. This was likely another side effect of the corruption in the area. The brutes took a liking to Gwyn and knocked her out twice during the combat. They appeared to possess an ability to regenerate naturally and only Kelvor’s torch put them down for good. The small furred creatures proved exceptionally difficult to defeat and they had vicious teeth that tore into Kelvor’s neck. The horned creature’s mere presence aided its allies and it healed the woman when she was near death.

Although the group didn’t work together exceptionally well, they were able to defeat the strange creatures. Elleandra’s magic was able to distract and incapacitate many of the foes. Gwyn’s magic was a combination of misdirection with her Veiled Alliance training and powerful sorcery. Vinara was able to keep the party alive and she and bear focued on the woman and the horned animal. Kelvor moved all over the fight attempting to keep control. Morg engaged the woman and attempted to keep the small animals in check. In the end they all collapsed near the pond, in much need of a rest.

Nightmares Unleashed

Elleandra and Paelias had been travelling together near the villages of Dempsy for some time searching for clues as to the nature of the recent changes that had been occurring in the Lands Within the Wind. In hopes of finding answers, they had visited a mage Bartleby who had sometimes instructed Elleandra in the arcane arts. Although Bartleby had no immediate answers, he asked for the pair’s help in locating an apprentice of his and promised to help research their concerns. The two agreed and went in search of Redra who Bartleby thought might be heading to an old graveyard near the towns…

Kelvor awoke to find himself in a strange and terrifying land. The familiar desert had been replace with tall trees and the hot wind that normally accompanied the morning was replaced with a cooling breeze of evening. He had heard of the forests and even witnessed some from afar. The shock of finding himself in one was an experience he was all together unprepared for. Unsure if the hyper-realistic land he appeared to be in was a dream or real, he pinched himself until it hurt. He decided that it was real, but how he was transported here remained a mystery.

Far off in the distance a flashing of blue light caught his attention. Having no other course of action he hugged his clothes tight for warmth, and journeyed down a small path towards the lights. Along the way he encountered two strangely dressed individuals – a unearthly beautiful woman and a short elf. Both were adorned with items of metal, the likes of which Kelvor had only heard of. The two found him equally strange with his carapace shield and armor and bone weapons.

His fears calmed by the beautiful woman and charismatic man, the three quickly realized that Kelvor had somehow traveled from Athas to the Lands Within the Wind. Although none of them could explain how he got there, they though that Bartleby might be able to help, once Redra was found. The three headed out…

Skitters in the Dark
The trio came to a bank of a gully with a wide river at its bottom. The sides of the gully were steep and thickly overgrown with thorny brush. They exact depth of the gully was difficult to tell in the darkness. A single log bridge provided the only obvious method to reach the other side, but it was far more treacherous than it originally appeared. Paelias was able to cross by using the Way and Elleandra was able to navigate the log with carefully placed footing. Kelvor, who had never encountered such a natural obstacle, fell, and only barely managed to prevent himself from being injured.

With the party split, a half-dozen of large spiders and several swarms of small spiders emerged from the brush below the bank with loud clicking and chittering. Paelias suffered the worst of the spiders attacks, as their bites carried a poison he appeared to be especially susceptible to. His mastery of the Way allowed him to remain fighting and bolstered his new allies. Elleandra used her magic to great effect to stun and push the spiders while also effectively dealing with the small swarms. Kelvor was able to maneuver across the log and join his new allies, making several deadly strikes against the largest of the spiders.

The Crazed Woman and the Dream Portal
After tending to their wounds, the group moved on and the forest opened up to reveal a small graveyard. Around three dozen grave markers of stone and wood dotted the clearing. The scene was lit by the ghostly blue glow Kelvor had seen earlier. The light came from a blue miasma of magical energy swirling above one of the wooden markers. A hazy alien landscape could be dimly seen within the pulsing glow. A young, human woman lay on the the ground near the swirling light, covered in blood. As the group approached, her head tilted toward them, her eyes open wide. Cackling loudly, she spoke with labored breath “Not…dead”.

Paelias moved to aid the woman and tend to her wounds. His healing skill was enough to slow the flow of blood, but it took his skill in the Way to allow the wounds to begin to close. Kelvor examined the scene in the portal, hopeful that it might be his homeland, but it was a nightmarish gray land. Elleandra could not close the portal with her arcane skill, but she did determine that something had recently entered these land through it but had moved on.

The trio began to try and calm the woman, Redra, who was clearly traumatized by her wounds and whatever events had befallen her. Although they were able to calm her suspicions she still babbled answers to their questions and it took some time to deduce what had happened in the graveyard.

Mother’s dead. I saw. Now it’s mine. All mine!

Sleep, die, sleep, die, sleep, die, sleep, die! Two thousand and five hundred nights! Don’t let me die again!

The nightmare is real! It was never only a dream!

The nightmare is here! Red eyes and red death! Red eyes and red blade!

Not alone, Death is not alone! It has friends. Not friends… fiends! They killed mother!

The group pieced together that some nightmare creature had been released by Redra and was now likely moving towards the towns. Hoping that Redra would be safe and nothing else would come through the portal, the group moved on towards the nearest group of homes, hoping they weren’t too late to stop the nightmare creature.

Redra’s Nightmare
Redra's NightmareThey arrived at a small village consisting of small two-story wooden homes. Two fenced areas, one a garden, the other likely a corral, stood next to small, sparsely-decorated houses. What might have been an otherwise idyllic hometown was marred by blood-curdling screams of fear as several villagers fled the scene. Ahead, of the group a pair of humanoids bearing daggers and other weapons were moving through the town, apparently unaware of the trio’s arrival.

A great bellow came from the far side of one of the houses. A deep voice echoed “Flee, little ones, or be the next morsel on my table.” The trio rushed into the middle of the houses, hoping to draw the attention of the attackers. They were successful and Redra’s Nightmare charged into their midst, while the other two creatures moved forward cutting down a villager along the way.

Paelias used his skill in the Way to daze the Nightmare and Elleandra used her magic to immobilize the other creatures. Kelvor attempted to draw the attention of the Nightmare and have it focus on him. The creature kept attacking Kelvor and Paelias, who suffered the worst of his wrath. The group was able to defeat the Nightmare and its allies and prevent more death in the villages.

Paelias, Elleandra and Kelvor backtracked to find Redra still in the graveyard and still alive. They escorted her back to Bartleby and as she became less panicked, they learned more of what had transpired before. Redra’s mother had a nightmare every night for many years and eventually she had succumb to the nightmare and withered away from the fear and paranoia. One night Redra’s mother sprang from her bed and rand screaming into the night. When Redra found her she was being torn to pieces by large spiders, just as her dream her had prophesied.

That same night Redra had her mother’s dream, down to every exact detail. Hoping to avoid her mother’s fate, she sought out Bartleby and learned of magic over the next seven years. Redra discovered a ritual in Bartleby’s library and she decided to end her nightmare. She traveled to her mother’s grave and cast the ritual opening a portal to the dream world and call forth the nightmare and destroy it. Sadly she was not powerful enough and was overwhelmed.

Paelias and Elleandra were determined to investigate this and other strange occurrences in their land, fearful that it is a sign of something larger happening. Bridging the gap between Athas and the Lands Within the Winds was not difficult for Bartleby and after a strange, but good, meal, Kelvor was returned.

Revenge of the Marauders

The Laboratory
A few moments earlier…

Morg landed hard on the floor beneath the shaft. The room he was now in was covered in the remains of prisoners dropped from above and left for dead. Although most had decayed to bones and powdered carcasses, some relatively intact corpses remained. On either side of the shaft’s detritus stood two statues of elf raiders holding crossbows, similar to those encountered at the top of this tower. The central chamber held all manner of strange equipment scattered on tables and shelves, including several chairs with restraints; tow of them holding corpses that remain upright because of the chair’s numerous straps. In the center of the chamber, a circle of sigils on the floor casts a green radiance.

Morg got to his feet, careful to avoid several pressure plates that were likely linked to the elf statues. As he did so, a half-dozen zombies rose from the ground and moved towards him. Accustomed to fighting against mobs from his days in the arena of Gulg, Morg moved quickly cutting down the zombies quickly. So hungry were the zombies that they attempted one last desperate bite even as they were hacked apart.

Vinara was the first to descend into the chamber from above, quickly followed by the rest of her allies. No sooner had they all arrived then three figures appeared from thin air on the far side of the room. Two large, armored skeletons flanked a tall bearded Half-Elf… none other than Castri. Before anyone in the party could react the skeletons took up a defensive position and, with a hateful glint in his eye, Castri drew arrows and started firing on the party.

Vinara and Gwyn acted quickly to close the distance and attack the skeletons inflicting many wounds, but unable to take down them down. Vinara used her primal magic to bolster Gwyn’s health during the battle, as the previous fights had exhausted the Elf. Castri’s arrows struck true on Morg and the mul was taken down twice during the fight but not before he was able to separate Castri from his skeleton guards. Merric was able to move around the guards and struck a serious wound on Castri.

His advantage of range taken away, Castri was quickly overcome by the party and eventually knocked out by Vinara. The group decided that they couldn’t just kill Castri and they wanted to know more about what was going on. They removed his gear and weapons, including an odd looking short sword which they gave to Merric, and restrained him in one of the chairs.

A quick search of the room revealed many strange devices, several vats filled with foul chemicals and a number of books that appeared to be books on magic theory, specifically that related to necromancy. Gwyn burned the books to prevent their dangerous pages from ever being read again, while the others interrogated Castri.

Castri appeared to have been won over by the promises of power from Yarnath regarding the return of Ul-Athra. He relished the thought of the great worm’s return, the destruction of the dragon and the power over the city-states he would have. Although his friends didn’t want to believe that Castri had those beliefs, they could not deny what he had become. None could bring themselves to harm him further, and so the knocked him out and left him strapped to the chair.

The Vault
A treacherous spiral staircase led further down into the tower. The chamber they came to was bare of any decoration except a magical circle in the floor. Three sets of doors provided entry further into the tower; two single doors and a double door.

Morg and Kelvor moved quickly through the double doors, not wanting to delay any longer inside the tower. It appeared as if all the doors opened into a larger chamber. The room was painted with a single bizarre scene: the body of a massive snake depicted on the wall, completely surrounding the room. On the snakes head, which was more human than ophidian, rested a glowing crown. The snake’s tailed coiled inward along the floor from the wall and rose like a stinger in the center of the chamber. The stinger formed a stone pedestal topped with a crystal dome. Several stone chests were arrayed along the far wall.

As they moved into the chamber, out of the shadows three figures emerged. The smell of roasted meat was overpowering and the zombies gave off a dull red light as bits of ash and charred flesh. Morg and Kelvor moved to engage them quickly. Morg landed a massive blow with his axe, nearly decapitating the zombie, but the creature was imbued with such power that it continued to attack the group. Although they were not powerful, the party discovered that upon their death, they exploded into a dangerous cloud of hot acidic gas.

Severely burned by their encounter with the zombies, the party took a moment to rest and treat their wounds. Merric and Gwyn were able to deactivate a trap they detected and examined the contents of the chests. Inside they found several pieces of magical gear and a dozen gemstones. As they began to look around the tower for another exit, a flash of light alerted them to arrival of several creatures in the magical circle.

Yarnath the Skull
Yarnath In the center of the circle, flanked by two more of the guardian skeletons, was a creature that appeared to be a mul in life. Upon his head was a golden crown set with a red gem His appearance left no doubt as to his nature as an undead creature or his name… Yarnath the Skull. With a wave of his hands several corpses emerged from the floor forming a line between him and the party.

Gwyn worked her magic to distract their foes and Morg and Vinara seized the initiative moving up and cutting down several of the zombies. To their horror, the creatures hands continued to move and try to grapple them despite the destruction of their body. The majority of the zombies were destroyed when Yarnath unleashed a powerful blast of necrotic energy, injuring most of the party and destroying Bear and Vinara’s spirit ally.

A vicious battle ensued with the party forced to work together like never before in order to survive the onslaught of Yarnath’s attacks. Gwyn narrowly avoided death several times aided by Vinara’s healing and her emerging draconic nature. Vinara revived her allies and was able to land a blow with her Heartwood Spear severely injuring Yarnath and weakening him. Kelvor kept the fight focused on him which allowed the others to move into good positions and wear Yarnath down. Merric’s new sword prevented Yarnath from healing for the majority of the fight while Chai-Tak’s bow, recovered from Castri, was able to consistently strike his foe.

They were finally able to defeat Yarnath, but the fight left Gwyn on the floor with mortal injuries. They were able to stabilize her and recover the crown. The mobile fortress lurched to a halt when Yarnath was slain and sounds of his raiders panicking and fleeing could be heard. Kelvor recovered the Crown and they left using the commotion as cover. They headed into the desert, pleased to be alive and in possession of the Crown.

After a long rest in a small oasis, the group headed out to the north, hoping to make it to Kled as quickly as possible.

Revenge of the Marauders

Entering Slither
As the group rested after their long fight with the forces of Yarnath, they each noticed something unsettling: they appeared to cast darker shadows than normal, their torches appeared to burn less brightly, fleeting shadows could be seen in their peripheral vision and images of flowing darkness and anguished souls filled their dreams. They did not speak of their observations.

Morg and Gwyn found the wounds they had suffered from the mummy’s attack were particularly painful, but otherwise there didn’t appear to be any lasting ill effects. Morg and Vinara felt particularly refreshed after resting near the seed of the Tree of Life. After their rest, the companions headed out to find Castri and the recover another piece of the Crown of Dust.

They were able to pick up the trail of slither and although it had several hours head start, they pushed hard and were able to catch up to it in the night, making their approach safer. As they approached, they were awed by its massive size. Turrets and sharp spires rising crookedly from the mekillot shell structure. Several shapes could be seen moving on top of most of the towers. Gwyn couldn’t remember many of the details of her conversation with her associate Kivrin of the Veiled Alliance, but she remembered that approaching from the front would be suicide.

The group decided to approach from the side and scale the monstrosity and enter from the roof of one of the read towers. The approach was not easy and Kelvor and Merric quickly fell behind Gwyn, Chai-Tak and Morg, who easily reached the top of the tower, with Vinara not far behind.

Gold Tower Top
Dray DefilerA top the tower, Gwyn, Morg and Chai-Tak came face to face with a small contingent of Dray who were startled to see the adventurers hop over the edge of tower. The commander and the troops rushed forward to engage once the initial surprise wore off. One held back and began using arcane magic to attack.

A fierce but brief battle was had atop the tower. Most of the group took some injuries but the dray were defeated. With the top secured, the group propped up their defeated enemies and took a short rest, which was interrupted by another dray defiler who emerged through a trap door in the floor of the tower top. Vinara’s Heartwood Spear proved to be very capable of defeating defilers and with each death, the spear appeared to grow and strengthen.

The remainder of their rest was undisturbed, and Gwyn was able to better sense a strong aura of magic coming from the central tower of Slither. They also could not see any paths along the back of Slither leading into the tower. They couldn’t see anything on the roof of the tower, some 15 feet away, and decided to explore it rather than continue down into the gold tower. Chai-Tak and Morg made the leap with relative ease, carrying a rope across the gap.

Ritual Tower Top
The crenelated tower top was strewn with humanoid bones, some still fresh with gnawed meat. Among the older bones, thick spider webs could be seen. In the deck at the center of tower is an opening onto a set of spiral stairs. Four statues of elf raiders with crossbows stand at silent attention surrounding the stairs.

As Chai-Tak was beginning to tie off the rope, a gravelly voice spoke, “The master will not be pleased at this disturbance.” Appearing out of thin air, a tembo appeared and raked Morg with its claws. At the same time the four statues turned and let loose crossbow bolts at the mul and Thri-Kreen, with some of the bolts striking true. To make matters worse, large, fist-sized hairy spiders appeared out of every nook and cranny, making the roof treacherous.

The rest of the party hurried over quickly to help the pair against the vile creature. Only Merric had difficulty in making the crossing, nearly falling in the process. Gwyn’s fire magic was effective against the swarm of spiders, but it drew the attention of the tembo, who savagely bit into her, draining some of her life energy in the process. The tembo proved a challenging foe, but the groups experience fighting such creatures aided them and they were eventually able to defeat it, drive off the spiders and break the statues which continued to fire the crossbows at the party during the fight.

Fortune smiled on the group and they were able to tend to their wounds without interruption. From the floor below they could hear some scuffling sounds but see very little. Gwyn was certain that a source of the magic she detected was coming from below them in the tower, but she couldn’t be certain of its exact location or precise nature.

Test Subjects
Kelvor was the first to head down to the next level. The spiral staircase ended in a chamber, descending no further. He could see a dank, gloomy chamber layered in shadows, dimly illuminated by flickering candles. One section of the room appeared to be closed off behind bars. Opposite the barred cell was a room without a door. On the forward side of the tower a magic circle appeared to be inscribed on the floor, and opposite that a shaft leading down. The floor of the entire level was littered with corpses in various states of decay.

All appeared clear, and Kelvor yelled up for his companions to come down. Just then a pair of zombies rose from the floor and charged Kelvor, darkness engulfed his, blinding him as the zombies began to bite at him. Gwyn headed down the stair to a grisly sight, a dozen or so zombies had stood up and were beginning to move towards where Kelvor had disappeared into darkness.

Gwyn, followed closely by Morg and Chai-Tak, were able to cut down a number of zombies, but Kelvor fell to the hordes. From the shadows emerged another dray who conjured up a blast of burning salt. He charged at Morg, pushing him back towards the shaft. Although he was wounded, the dray was able to force Morg over the edge, who fell down the shaft. Gwyn used her magic and the dray was knocked into the shaft as well. He was able to hold onto the edge, but a quick shot by Chai-Tak’s bow sent his body into the depths.

Vinara’s magic was able to get Kelvor onto his feet, just as the last of the zombies was finished off. The party approached the shaft that Morg had fallen into…

Beneath the Dust

More Hard Choices
The group could hear the shuffling of Yarnath’s forces outside the door, but there were no other sounds or indications of what might be going on. Deciding that, while they could try to find the other exit from the cave system, they couldn’t in good conscience leave Castri to a horrible fate, assuming that he was still out there.

Vinara used her primal magic to bolster Gwyn’s health, having been severely wounded during the previous fights while searching for the Tree of Life. Kevlor focused on his body and spirit, channeling the Way and preparing for a deadly fight. When they were as prepared as possible, Morg and Kelvor opened the door and rushed out into the dazzling sunlight.

Defiler of YarnathThe forces of Yarnath were prepared for an attack, but their spokesman addressed the charging mul and human. “Yarnath has read the prophetic signs. We know that you retrieved a seed from a primordial tree of life in these ruins. Hand it over or die.” Not wanting to have such a powerful object in the hands of the defiler as well as not trusting his forces to let them live, they pressed the attack.

The forces of Yarnath set up an effective line with the zombies and mummies screening the two defilers and a legion of skeletons. Morg, Merric and Kelvor attempted to break through the line with Vinara, Chai-Tak and Gwyn provided support. Their previous combats had left them all exhausted and they quickly were worn down in the prolonged fight.

The Soul Collector
All around the party was the fury and chaos of battle. Blood from numerous cuts was streaming down their armor. Suddenly, all sound stopped. Everything that had been a blur of motion moments ago, including the party, was locked in place. Somehow they were still aware of their surroundings and the passage of time.

An unearthly, metallic message echoed in each of their minds;

“Your flesh unwinds. Soon, your projection will pass across the barrier to this side. You will not be able to protect the life seed. Your quest need not end this way. I offer my protection to you, if you desire it. There is a price. Do you accept it?”

Kelvor wondered what the price would be. In response to his thought, the voice spoke to each of them again;

“My covenant with you would be this: My shadow will reside near your flesh. When projections are unbound from the flesh, I will be there to collect them. In return, I will confound your enemies so that you might go away from this place. This covenant will bind you for three cycles.”

Morg was concerned about what harm might befall those that accepted, as this situation was similar to the one described in Avor Firesworn’s writings. Once again the voice spoke to each of them;

“No direct harm will accrue to you from my shadow’s presence. Indeed, when it rides upon you, you will have less reason to fear the son of air, but more fear for air’s daughters.”

Unsure as to the exact meaning of the voice’s words, there was some hesitancy, but knowing the dire situation, all of the party felt they had little choice but to hope for the best and accept the entities offer. Once they made up their minds, it spoke once again;

“The covenant is bound, the the ether resumes its flow.”

Time began to flow normally once again, but many of the heroes foes remained frozen, including the two spell casters and the large salt golem. The heroes felt the intensity of the sun lessen slightly, no doubt a result of the “shadow” they had associated themselves with. Despite a number of their foes being incapacitated, the rest of the fight was fought tooth and nail. Their resources exhausted, Merric was knock unconscious, Vinara and Kelvor were barely able to stand and Morg was knocked down and began to be eaten by one of the zombies.

Eventually the group was able to defeat the last of their foes, but only with moments to spare. Vinara was to stabilize Merric and they searched the bodies of their foes. Gwyn claimed the spellbook and staff from the defiler but there was little else besides a few days worth of supplies. Within the nearby rocks, they found the bodies of the three missing thri-kreen, all having signs of being beaten and burned.

Vinara located some tracks which appeared to be several humanoids, some wearing boots and others apparently barefoot. She spotted on the northern horizon a few figures just disappearing over a sand dune. Beyond that she saw some movement, perhaps the citadel of Yarnath.

They retreated back into the caverns for a much needed rest before heading out after Castri. They all agreed that rescuing him and preventing Yarnath from having both pieces of the Crown, was of the utmost importance. Vinara was able to summon enough strength, aided by Gwyn and Kelvor, to revive Morg, although he spoke cryptically of a gray land where he felt as if he was beginning to dissolve.

Beneath the Dust

Cycles of Life
During their short rest, the heroes learned a bit more of about their Thri-Kreen competitors and their journey to look for the seed. Before venturing further into the caverns, Chao-ka (the thri-kreen’s leader) insisted that they leave behind guards as “we have felt the footsteps of others who seek this place”. Castri volunteered to remain behind with three of the thri-kreen, while Chao-ka and Chai-Tak made the descent with the rest of the group.

The spiral stairs opened into a cool, fresh cavern that was blanketed with growing plants. Grass covered the floor, and vines clung to the walls and dangled from the ceiling. Water poured from two small fountains carved in the shape of a lion’s head. A beautiful and ancient conifer tree stood at the far end of the room, and a faint green radiance seemed to emanate from it.

In contrast to that idyllic scene, several skeletons stood at attention. Their empty, malevolent eye sockets were turned directly toward the heroes. Other forms that seemed to be composed of little more than the desiccated remains of dismembered and mummified arms, legs, and hands began to drag themselves across the room.

Avor FireswornHovering in front of the tree was a humanoid figure. What remained of its flesh and its ancient armor were blackened and charred. Fire crackled from its burnt fingers, and its voice echoed telepathically. “Doth House Lubar still desire to torment us after so long an age? We welcome you, and we shall render unto you the wages of hate that we have nursed these many long years.”

A deadly battle ensued between the guardians of the tree and the heroes. The swarms of arms and hangs proved exceptionally resilient to the attacks of Kelvor and Morg. Avor targeted the two warriors with fiery attacks knocking Morg unconscious several times. Gwyn, who’s magic was more effective against the creatures fell under the relentless attacks of claws and hands. Only a supreme act of willpower allowed her to regain consciousness.

Chao-ka was not as lucky and was consumed by the crawling masses. Although Vinara could have used her magic to restore him to life, she chose to save her powers for her close friends. Merric was slowly moving around the edges of the cavern in an attempt to get into good position against Avor and joined with Morg and Kevlor in taking him down. The swarms of limbs continued to harass the party but were eventually destroyed.

Hard Choices
The battered adventurers tended their wounds, attempting to determine what to do next. There was a great debate between the heroes on the best course of action with their thri-kreen and the seed of life. Eventually they agreed that it would be best to honor their bargain and allow the seed to be taken the the thri-kreen lands, where it would be safe from the sorcerer-kings.

Morg and Merric searched the room and discovered a small chest buried beneath the tree’s roots. Inside Merric discovered a silver headband and a pair of leather boots, both bearing strange markings and designs that appeared to be elven, but were obviously ancient. Morg kept the headband and gave the boots to Merric.

There were also a set of stone tablets with strange writing on them that none could decipher. Chai-Tak gave Gwyn a scroll for the body of Chao-ka, that contained a magical ritual. Gwyn was able to use the ritual to decipher the writing and learn a bit about what befell Avor Firesworn and his followers.

Vinara, Gwyn and Kelvor used their combined talent to attempt to draw forth the Heartwood Spear from the Tree of Life. It took all of their effort, but the tree yielded to them and Vinara withdrew a wooden spear. As she did so, the ancient tree finally yielded to the centuries and died, its wood turning grey and the last leaves falling.

Chai-Tak moved to the tree of life and plucked the seed from its limb. Content to let his new allies discuss and search. He patiently waited to return to his clutch-mates and begin the journey home. Morg and Vinara meditated on the seed as instructed by the tablets and they felt a great sense of responsibility towards the seed. Neither could tell if the emotion was theirs or whether the seed was attempting to communicate with them.

Castri and the other thri-kreen were not to be found in the first cave. Their tracks appear to lead back along the path taken by the heroes. Assuming that they sought to secure the main entrance, the group continued on. Along the way back to the surface, Kelvor kicked one of the skulls in the first passageway. As he did so, something caught his eye, shining in the torchlight. Digging through the rubble and remains, he found two silver pendants each portraying a lion’s head. He quietly picked them up and caught up with the group.

At the entrance to the surface, the group met with an unexpected, and unwelcome surprise. Instead of Castri and the other thri-kreen, they found a literal army. Two humans, each bearing the snake-skull mark of Yarnath the defiler. They were surrounded by a number of skeletal warriors and other humanoids wrapped in rotting rags. In the back a large figure that appeared to be made of salt stood at attention. The group quickly backed into the tunnel and prepared for a siege.

Beneath the Dust

An Entrance Long Awaited
Still battered by the winds, the group was unable to take any time to tend to the injuries they suffered from the fight with the tembos. Vinara used her magic to try and calm the spirits of the land which were causing the cyclone of dust and sand. She appeased the spirits, and when the winds died down a clump of exposed boulders in the ravine could be seen. Among the freshly exposed rocks, they saw a green vine pushing up through a crack between the rocks. Looking closer, the crack that the vine emerged from look like it could be edge of a stone trapdoor.

Castri scouted out now that the blowing sand was not obscuring the visibility. To their relief, there was nothing visible as far as he could see. Morg quickly skinned the hides of the tembos to gather more materials for another suit of hide armor and then helped remove the rubble from on top of the trap door. Cautious, based on their previous experiences in ancient crypts, Merric checked the door for traps, but found nothing. Gwyn was unable to sense magic from the door, but felt a powerful font of arcane energy from deep within the earth. With no immediate danger or winds, they were able to tend to their wounds quickly.

Vinara easily lifted the heavy stone door to reveal a dark sloping passageway which lead underground. As they descended, they saw signs of battle – skeletons littered the floor and rotted weapons of ancient design were scattered among them. So old were the weapons that no metal or anything of value remained. The walls of the chamber were covered in growing vines. As the group lit torches and started to move forward, a faint scratching sounds could be heard coming from ahead of them. Suddenly, a rasping voice called out from the darkness…

“Leafnes, ambitmeges of Lubar. We laestan to Avor Faeroath, voo nerians gafolmanug on his Treow.”

The language was old a difficult to understand, although some of the words were familiar. Castri and Vinara thought the voice was addressing them as members of House Lubar and told them to leave. They recognized Avor Firesworn as a proper name, but the context was unclear to them. Gwyn, having spent more time at study than the others, had a different interpretation..

“Be gone, servants of House Lubar. We harken to Avor Firesworn, who defends still this refuge and its tree.”

Not wanting to waste time or try and negotiate the group moved deeper into the chamber. The scraping sounds increased and flickering shadows at the edge of their torchlight could be seen. When they came to an intersection, the group split up, two going down each of the three passageways. As they rounded the corners, three ghostly figures appeared out of the walls. At the same time, pallid grey zombies emerged from the darkness, crawling on the ceilings and walls, dropping down and moving towards the group.

The fight was nearly too much for the group to handle. Castri was brutally attacked by one of the spirits and although Vinara lifted him to safety with her magic, the spirit continued to pursue him. A few volley’s from his bow took down the majority of the zombies, but eventually he was knocked unconscious by the cold claws of the ghosts. Kelvor and Morg engaged a second ghost and were unable to injure it before it could land several horrible wounds on Kelvor. Eventually they recovered from the numbing cold and were able to defeat their ghost, but Morg’s axe broke in the conflict, forcing him to rely on his handaxe instead.

Gwyn unleashed a fury of burning fire and lightning at the spirits, but they were more resilient to her magic then she expected. She was so focues that her staff and dagger were both consumed in her casting. Merric was able to toss her a dagger to use as a new implement during the fight. Merric’s own combat with the ghosts did not go well either, their claws easily piercing his flesh and chilling his soul. Vinara was able to call upon her primal magic and the spirits of the land to help ease the pain of her companions wounds.

Eventually the group was able to overcome the vengeful ghosts and their zombie minions. Their wounds were severe and Vinara’s companion, Bear, was overcome by one of the ghosts. Vinara was able to call back his spirit and restore him to life before they moved on further into the chamber.

Thri-KreenThe group limped along the central passageway for several hundred feet before it stopped descending and opened into a large natural cavern. A thick carpet of glowing moss covered the walls and floor. The air was cool and sweet with moisture and the smell of flowers. Pools of water could be seen in shallow depressions and the faint trickling of water down the walls could be heard.

The group explored the cavern quickly and found a second passageway out of the caver on the north side. While they explored, a clicking sound could be heard from the northern passageway. Soon, a thri-kreen with mottled brown, yellow and greed carapace emerged from the shadows and faced the party. More thri-kreen began to emerge from the tunnel, five in all. The group of insect-men were armed and outfitted as adventuring types. The one in front spoke in a clicking form of common, saying…

“Our clutch has come for the life-seed. Drop your pointed sticks and depart, or we consume your hind-limb meat.”

Castri reached for his bow, but the others calmed him down and attempted to negotiate. Gwyn addressed the thri-kreen telling them that they had been sent here to protect the tree. Vinara demonstrated that she was adept at nature magic which calmed some of their fears. They appeared to begin to trust the heroes when Gwyn demonstrated her preserving magic and they become much more agitated. The thri-kreen appeared to be on a mission recover a “life seed” and were willing to die to protect it.

Eventually a compromised was reached – the thri-kreen were convinced that Gwyn and the others were meant to help them reach the seed. The thri-kreen were insistent that they would take the seed back to help bring about a new time of growing for their land, called Ka-la-tak. With an uneasy truce made, both groups took a moment to rest before continuing to explore the caverns.