Dark Sun: The Scorched World of Athas

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.

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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.

Competitors?
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.

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Beneath the Dust

Eyes in the Dark
Castri’s watch over his friends in the traveler’s camp of the Silver Spring Oasis was interrupted when he felt like someone or something was watching him. Nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary, but, just to be sure, he woke Morg and then slipped into the shadows and tried to determine who might be spying on them. Neither were able to discover who, if anyone, was observing them. The rest of the night passes without incident.

Oasis MarketIn the morning, the others in the group were informed of the night’s events as they prepared to leave the Oasis and travel in search of the Tree of Life. Gwyn finally realized that she had been sensing magic from the oasis market and decided to take a quick trip to see if there was anything of interest. While most of the merchandise was junk, at worst, or poorly crafted, at best, there were two items that caught her attention – a suit of scorpion scale armor and a set of scrolls.

Although she was unable to tell what the scrolls contained, she was able to sense strong magic from them. With the help of Vinara and Castri she was able to purchase the scrolls after some hard bargaining. Upon further study she found that it contained an enchantment that would sharpen the perception and other senses of the one who read the scrolls. Although she offered the scrolls to her friends, they all agreed that it would be more beneficial for her to use their magic.

The suit of armor was not only magical, but possessed power of the Way as well. Although Gwyn was able to bargain with the seller of this item, he would not go as low as they had hoped. Ultimately they pooled the last of their cash and used it, along with two of their kanks, to purchase the armor. Kelvor found that the armor was a perfect fit and that the power imbued into it would help protect him from some attacks against his mind.

A Storm of Revelation
For three days the group traveled south and east out of the Silver Spring Oasis and into the rocky badlands. Kelvor and Merric took the bulk of the supplies that the kanks had been carrying. Morg help clear a path at Vinara’s direction while Castri and Gwyn kept an eye out for any pursuit or trouble. Each had become accustomed to the harsh travel conditions, and they all made their way through without incident.

On the morning of the forth day, while the crimson sun was still low on the horizon, the wind began to steadily increase. Guided by Vinara, they headed towards something flickering on the horizon, what appeared to be towering cyclone of dust, confined to a small area. Moving closer still, two large rocky outcroppings could be glimpsed in the circling dust.

The group was forced to cover their mouths to shield against the choking dust as they moved into the edges of the storm. Sparks of energy were seen flickering throughout the dust, but quickly disappearing. Occasional gaps in the dust allowed them to make out a flat area between the rocks. Suddenly, from the whipping dust, a snarling tembo emerged. It is emaciated, scarred and slightly unsteady on its feet, but its eyes gleamed with ferocity. A second tembo, much healthier looking than the first emerged from behind the party.

Having faced a tembo before, the group knew their nature, but two tembos was something that was extraordinarily rare. The fight was intense and required an unprecedented amount of teamwork, with Morg engaging the wounded tembo and Kelvor keeping the rear tembo occupied. Vinara and Bear help against both tembos, tending to the wounds of their companions. Castri and Merric concentrated their attacks on one tembo at a time. Gwyn used her magic to disguise her allies from the tembo’s senses. The group emerged victorious from the fight, but injured. Unfortunately the howling winds prevented them from taking a moment to rest.

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The Vault of Darom Madar

A Not-So-Peaceful Night
While the group was resting from the long battle and tending to their wounds, they went through the stolen backpack and examined the map. The map appeared to be a mundane map of the tablelands and the backpack contained various supplies and several survival days, and a green crystal. Gwyn could tell that the crystal possessed some form of arcane magic although she wasn’t completely familiar with it.

While the rest of the group decided what to do with the captives from the House Tsalaxa caravan, Gwyn moved off by herself and attempted to discover how to use the crystal. As she concentrated on it, attempting to use its powers, she detected strong divination magic. Shortly thereafter a face appeared in her mind, as though he was recently awoken from sleep.

“What is it? Is everything okay? Who are you?” the man asked, clearly not expecting Gwyn.
Quickly thinking, Gwyn answered, “Everything’s fine, I’m Esmerelda.”
The man grunted, “Tell Haneth that he shouldn’t let his whores go through his belongings, now put that away and stop bothering me.”

Gwyn, recognizing that she had narrowly avoided a potentially awkward situation, decided to put the crystal away and return to the camp. There she found the others in discussion about what to ask their captives. They had also decided that they should return to the House Tsalaxa camp and recover any other supplies. It was agreed that Gwyn, Merric and Kelvor would interrogate their prisoners and that Morg, Castri and Vinara would go raid the camp.

Morg, Castri and Vinara found their way back to the camp without incident and were able to get the three kanks under control. They picked up all the equipment and survival supplies they could, loaded the kanks up and headed back. Along the way, Castri spotted a female elf, perhaps the one that they had captured, in the distance. Acting on instinct he fired a shot and struck her down. When the searched her body, they found some survival supplies and a several gold in ceramic coins. They continued back to their camp, unsure as to what really transpired.

Shortly before…

Gwyn, Kelvor and Merric began by interrogating their human captive. After several threats to him, he revealed his name – Tyron Tsalaxa of House Tsalaxa. He claimed to be heading out of Tyr after closing up their operations before the armies of Urik arrived and heading to Raam. With further pressure applied he claimed to have no direct knowledge of the Vault of Darom Madar or what happened to the House Wavir caravan. Although he did appear to be telling the truth, everyone felt he might be holding back.

They switched to the captive elf, who appeared much more willing to cooperate, as she claimed to be a hired mercenary. She confirmed that they were heading to Raam by way of the Silver Spring Oasis but claimed to be ignorant of anything else regarding House Wavir or the Vault. Kelvor gave her some coins for her trouble as well as some supplies to help her survive the trip to the Oasis and let her go. Her journey was cut short by an arrow from Castri…

When the whole group got back together and the truth about the elf captive was revealed, there was little remorse by anyone other that Gwyn and Kelvor. Castri lead a brutal interrogation of Tyron but not additional information was gained. They all felt he would be too much trouble if he were set free and so bound him to a kank.

The group had a lively discussion on how they should proceed from their current location. Morg pushed for continuing to search for the treasure, but none of them knew where to start looking. Kelvor wanted to head north to Kled to aid the dwarves, repay their debt to the merchant houses of Tyr, and possible disrupt the forces of King Hamanu. Gwyn and Castri were concerned about the activities of Yarnath and his search for the other pieces of the Crown of Dust. Eventually they agreed with Vinara, that finding the Tree of Life would be the best option and that they could regroup at the Silver Springs Oasis.

Silver Springs Oasis
Silver Spring OasisIn the cooler morning air, they headed east towards the Oasis and three days later they arrived at the gates to the Silver Spring Oasis, the looming fortress-like stone walls providing protection against the desert creatures. After paying a large fee for entrance of their caravan, the group was admitted into the interior of the compound. Free to explore around the group split up, each trying to accomplish their objectives while spending as little time in the Silver Hands’ compound.

Vinara made her way to the actual oasis inside the compound and began to commune with her spirit allies, attempting to ascertain the location of the Tree of Life. The abundant life around the Oasis filled her with hope for the future of Athas and allowed her to start searching for the Tree. After many hours she felt a strong primal presence to the southeast and felt the call of a primal spirit in need. Feeling sure that she could guide the party to the location, she felt a renewed sense of purpose.

Gwyn wandered about and, after seeing tents clearly intended for use by defilers, she made her way into the Tent of Delights to listen to general gossip. She discovered that the Silver Hand elves’ chief, Toramund, was actively recruiting defilers to help defend the compound. What she found more disturbing was that most of the people there were more concerned with the fact that none of their own had the power he wanted and that he was looking outside of the tribe. The Oasis had been attacked in the past by their main rivals, the Sun Runners, and Toramund wanted to be able to defend the Oasis better than they had in the past.

Castri and Morg attempted to ransom Tyron to Toramund, hoping the elf chief would be interested and find him to be a valuable captive. Merric stayed behind to guard Tyron until the deal could be struck. After bribing their way past his guards, the pair were admitted to see Toramund. With some negotiations, they agreed on a reasonable price for Tyron and the deal was struck and Tyron was released into the elf’s custody. Tyron was silent throughout this entire ordeal.

Kelvor wandered around the traveler’s camp and a few other areas attempting to make contact with mercenaries and learn anything he could. A lot of the discussion was on the war between Urik and Tyr and the increased danger creating good opportunities for guard duty. He attempted to sell the kanks, but was unable to arrive at a price that was satisfactory.

When they met back up at their tents, they shared their activities and the coins from Toramund. Gwyn and Kelvor found their purses to be lighter than they expected, undoubtedly the victim of their hosts light fingers. They all slept well that night, getting a much needed rest, except for Castri who stood watch the entire night.

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The Vault of Darom Madar
Return to the Great Road

Evening Preparations
The rest of the evening was mostly uneventful for the group, as they prepared for the journey the following morning. Gwyn opened the tattoo shop and had some customers; gladiators who were inspired to join the army and wanted a tattoo for their regiment. She carefully used her magic to aid her work. After the shop had been closed, Morg asked Gwyn about the possibility of repairing his magical axe, having broken it during his fight with Quick Wenzer. Gwyn, becoming more experienced in her magical abilities, knew that it could be repaired and arranged for it to be worked on while they were away.

Merric set about gathering information on House Tsalaxa in the hope of finding out something useful before they started to follow them. He was only able to uncover rumors of the house’s involvement in espionage, assassination and blackmailing schemes. They also had a reputation for dealing in “recovered” cargo, furthering their suspicions that they were responsible for the attack on the House Wavir caravan and Kelvor. During this time Castri went to the Artisan District to check on the statue that he had commissioned. With the war effort going on, he found it would be at least a few weeks before it was finished.

House Tsalaxa
House TsalaxaIn the early morning the group gathered their belongings and headed out of the city, while Castri waited near the House Tsalaxa warehouses. Shortly a group emerged from the warehouses and headed out of the city. The group consisted of three kanks, a pair of half-giants and a half-dozen men. Castri joined up with his companions and they followed about a mile behind them.

For three days they trailed the House Tsalaxa group, making sure that they appeared to be nothing more than a small group that happened to be travelling in the same direction. While they did encounter other travelers on their journey, most were hurrying on their way and did not stop to talk. After the third day the group turned east, following the road leading to the Silver Spring Oasis.

One caravan that was encountered during the fourth day was a House M’ke caravan headed west towards Tyr with a load of nuts and spices. They stopped to talk for a few moments when Gwyn hailed them as they passed. They had nothing of value to say about the group from House Tsalaxa nor did they have any knowledge of any recently uncovered ruins. They did mention that their caravans were having a number of run-ins with raiders bearing a snake skull mark, but they mysteriously stopped recently.

Night Terrors
On their fifth night, they group decided to investigate the Tsalaxa camp and try and learn more. Gwyn and Castri crept up to their camp and saw two of the men discussing a map while the others were either resting or taking turns watching with the half-giants. After observing them for a while, they overheard them mentioning it was a week further until they reached the “fort”. Shortly after they put the map away into a large pack and settled in for the night.

Castri started to head back to his camp, but Gwyn, in an impulsive moment used her magic to turn herself invisible and moved into the Tsalaxa camp. She reached the large pack without being noticed and rather than try to search for the map case, she grabbed the entire pack and started to run. One of the goliath’s noticed the missing pack and just caught sight of Gwyn as her magic faded. Rousing the camp, they all chased after Gwyn into the night.

Gwyn’s long elven strides allowed her to slowly gain ground on her pursuers, but several of the guards were able to keep pace long enough to fire arrows, several of which wounded her. Before too long she caught up with Castri, who had turned around when he heard the commotion and realized that Gwyn had stayed behind. The two continued to run, hoping to rejoin their group before having to face the wrath of House Tsalaxa.

Vinara, Morg and Kelvor had heard the sounds of trouble and, fearing that Castri and Gwyn had gotten into trouble, began to run to help them. They met up with each other near some low rocks and quickly took cover and the House Tsalaxa forces descended upon them. Kelvor lured a robed human into a poor position and he was quickly cut down. The half-giants and the other human proved much harder to take down and the party suffered many serious wounds. Vinara and Morg were both briefly knocked out during the fight and everyone, except for Castri were badly wounded before the fight ended.

Things took a turn for the worse when the archers arrived and began pelting the group with arrows. The party was not able to concentrate on any one particular target effectively, causing the fight to last a long time. Eventually they wore down their opponents and the House Tsalaxa forces began to fall one by one, with Merric dealing most of the final blows. Exhausted and bloody, the group subdued the human instead of killing him, hopeful that he would rather answer questions then be put to death.

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The Road to Urik
Rallying the Troops

Blood Lust
Morg, Castri, Vinara and Kelvor journeyed to meet up with the gladiators and try and convince them to wait to march until the rest of the army was ready. They found the gladiators assembled near the arena being addressed by the veteran gladiator Quick Wenzer. He was talking to the gladiators and encouraging them to leave Tyr early and march out against the army from Urik. Tired of waiting on the “fat nobles” and eager for action, the gladiators were clearly in agreement.

Quick WenzerWhen Morg and his allies attempts to sway the gladiators opinion met with mixed success. While the crowd acknowledged Morg’s skill during the Festival of the Cooling Sun tournament and their fame at killing a tembo swayed some, most were not convinced that such a young gladiator knew more than the veteran.

Muscling his way onto the stage where Wenzer was speaking, Morg challenged him to a duel, to prove who was the superior warrior. A long and bloody battle ensued, with both combatants having their share of successes and failures. Morg’s rage kept able to fight, despite Wenzer’s more mobile style and precise strikes with his swords. Several times Morg fell as his legs were targetted, but each time he managed to get up and keep fighting. When both combatants were nearly exhausted, Morg dealt a powerful blow, shattering his axe and knocking Wenzer down. Mercifully, Morg allowed Wenzer to live, and the gladiators were convinced that the best course of action was to wait and fight with the rest of the army from Tyr.

Divulgence
While the others were off trying to keep the gladiators under control, Gwyn met with some of her contacts in the Veiled Alliance to discuss the matter of their divulgence. The hotly debated topic had been debated since the fall of Kalak but no agreement was reached. Many feared that openly announcing their magical ways would invite violence again them by the citizens. Others countered that in a free society they wouldn’t need to fear such reprisals and could do more good then they could as a secret society.

At her cell’s meeting Gwyn met with Jarvix, Kivrin and others to discuss their plan for going forward, hoping that if they could reach a decision, it might inspire the other cells to follow their lead. Gwyn argued that they should not be forced to simply survive as outlaws but that they deserved to thrive and work to change the opinions of common people. She felt that with the gladiators of Tyr as their allies (not knowing that Morg would be successful in his quest), they would have less to fear. She also suggested that if they publicly defended Tyr against the invading Urik army, that they would do well to show their good intentions.

Easily swaying her associates to her way of thinking, the group decided to go public and lend their support to the war effort. They meeting broke up and the members went to meet their other cells and spread word. Hopeful that the decision was correct, Gwyn left and went to meet up with her friends back at Free City Tattoo.

Voice of the People
On their way back to Free City Tattoo, the encountered a mob a people near their shop. The mob was listening to a human speak and as the group moved closer, they could hear his words…

People of Tyr, hear me! You are being deceived! In your blindness for freedom you have only traded one tyrant for an-other. Gone is Kalak the Murderous; here is Tithian and his lying council. Even now they lie and plot against you.

“Were you not told that an army marched upon Tyr, intent on destroying you all? That if you did not rise up and take arms the evil King Hamanu of Urik would slaughter your men, torture your women, and enslave your children? Was this not the truth, you say? I tell you these were lies! Who among you has spoken to King Hamanu of Urik? Who among you has asked him why he comes to the aid of riot-torn Tyr? Only those, your councilors, who claim he is an enemy —only those whose wealth and power is threatened!

“King Hamanu comes not to enslave but to free you from your slave-lords. Even as far as distant Urik, he has heard the cries of the oppressed and injured and those cries moved him. Who among you feels safe at night from the gangs and thugs of our ‘elected’ councilors? Who among you will speak out against this tyranny and stand against this unjust war? Resist injustice! Fight the true enemy!”

Castri, having no patience for such speeches, loosed an arrow from his bow and struck the speaker dead. Stunned and enraged, the crowd turned towards the ranger with malice in their eyes and moved to attack him and his friends. Soothing magic from Gwyn stalled the crowd long enough for Morg, Castri and Kelvor to stop the crowd from assaulting them. However, it was only when the clothing of the man, named Puram, was found to be matching the robes of the Templar of Urik that Morg carried, was the crowd finally convinced that they were deceived by his speeches.

Although some were embarrassed by such deception most turned their anger towards Urik and many left the gathering to enlist in the army. Able to finally return to their home, the friends took a much needed rest, although morning would come far too soon for most.

Supply and Demand
The following morning the group traveled to the merchant district to try and solve the dispute between the craftsmen and the merchant houses. The Caravan District was in total chaos as tensions between the craftsmen and the merchant houses had reached new peak. The craftsmen, convinced that the merchant houses were gouging the prices because of the war, had blocked the doors to the merchant emporiums, trapping the merchant house representative Sintha in his offices, with only a handful of guards keeping him safe. Out from the storefront, the craftsmen representative, Turloff, could be seen standing on a wagon, haranguing the crowd.

Accurately gauging the mood of the crowd and the mercenaries (who were wearing the markings of the Red Cord), the party moved quickly to try and diffuse the situation. First going to Turloff, they listen to his accusations of the merchant house’s price gouging and the hardships that the craftsmen are having to endure. He reluctantly agrees to another meeting with Sintha, with the party as moderators.

It took more effort to get to Sintha, as the Red Cord guards were unwilling to let them pass into the emporium. Eventually the party bribed them to let them pass, appealing to their mercenary nature. Sintha was quite displeased at the intrusion and refuted all of Turloff’s claims, stating that is was an unfortunate reality of the impending war. With some convincing, he was convinced to meet with Turloff.

Their meeting was hot-tempered and filled with a great many accusations of corruption and unfair business practices. Eventually the party was able to find a compromise to the situation: Obsidian. One of the steepest cost increases was on the supply of obsidian, as Urik had stopped shipments and now occupied the dwarven village of Kled. Sintha’s merchant houses were forced to raise all their prices to compensate for the extreme losses they were having to take. The party agreed that they would work to secure obsidian shipments from Kled if Sintha would lower the prices somewhat.

Lost Treasure
While the rest of the group rested, Merric uncovered an interesting piece of news – the local House Tsalaxa representative recently received a message and shortly afterwards, started to make preparation to leave the city. Most thought that he was heading out to avoid trouble with Urik, but Merric wondered if they might be heading out to help deal with the treasure recovered from the Vault of Darom Madar.

Having no other leads on how to find the caravan after so much time, the group decided that they would follow the House Tsalaxa expedition and hope that it will lead them to their objective.

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The Lost Cistern of Aravek
The Lost Cistern

Gith Cave
Even cautious of others attempting to locate this cistern, Castri set out on patrol while his companions decided on a course of action. Morg moved through the thick plant life towards the mouth of the cave. There he could hear the whistling shriek of wind echoing through the cavern. Sunlight lanced down from a hole in the ceiling, painting a bright circle of yellow light over a similar hollow shaft in the cavern floor. The walls glistened with moisture and softly glowing runes around the ceiling opening pulsed in time to the intake of air. Clumps of luminescent fungi could be seen growing from the moist ground, adding an eerie green glow to the shadows beyond the bright circle of light. Morg could make out tall, emaciated humanoids, gith, lounging about the cavern, drinking water from large gourds. Their weapons were close at hand, but they were hardly prepared for battle.

Motioning for the others to join him, the rest of the group moved quietly up to the mouth of the cave as well. Unfortunately, Kelvor was not accustomed to the dangers of plant life and tripped over some fallen branches, making enough of a disturbance that the gith detected it, even over the sound of the wind. Within moments they were armed and ready for battle.

The gith leader and his savages charged into melee with the heroes, inflicting serious wounds on Morg and Kelvor. The drones attempted to use the Way to push the heroes into the pit. Although Morg initially resisted their pull, he eventually succumbed and nearly fell in, barely saving himself at the last moment. The gith hobblers lobbed one javelin after another at the melee, striking their targets many times, but never completely pinning them down.

Locked in melee with the creatures, Morg and Kelvor attempted to keep their allies from harm, and were mostly successful. However each suffered numerous injuries and if not for the healing powers of Vinara, they surely would have perished. She and her companions held their own in melee and were quick to finish off the wounded gith. Gwyn used her magic to take down their enemies as quickly as she could, while also keeping herself shielded from attacks. Although the battle was fierce and the situation desperate at times, she resisted the urge to defile in the lush vegetation.

In the end, two of the gith ended up being pushed into the hole in the floor, while the rest will killed. When the combat was finished, the group too a quick rest to tend to their wounds and search the cave. Although none of the food the gith had was edible, there was plenty of fresh water. The gith leader carried a small quartz lens that Gwyn identified as magical, although its properties were still a mystery, as were the precise workings of the magic runes in the cavern.

The Cistern
The Cistern After recovering from the fight with the gith, Morg descended down the hollow shaft into the cistern below. The bright light and howling winds above gave way to the cool darkness of the cistern. The only light below was a wan, green glow produced by clumps of fungi that did little to dispel the gloom of the cramped space.

Although the cistern was obviously not full, Morg had never imagined that so much water could exist in one place. As Morg finished his descent, he landed in a wide, irregularly shaped pool that divided the cistern in half. The waters were still, clear and came up to his knees. The ceiling of the cistern was only about 6 feet above the ground causing him to stoop over awkwardly.

Seeing no immediate danger and no sign of the two gith that were tossed into the cistern, the rest of the group lit their torches and followed Morg down. They spread out and began to search the cave. Vinara and the rest of the group uncovered signs of a struggle and a the remains of the gith, which appeared to have been badly mauled and partially eaten. Morg, off on his own, found nothing, unfortunately, something found him.

A horrific beast, roughly the size of an erdlu, appeared out of the darkness. It was a quadruped and covered in a rock-like hide with jutting spikes of stone and crystal. Its cat-like head had large ears, reddish eyes and a wide jaw filled with dagger-like fangs. The malign intelligence behind its glowing eyes was the most horrific aspect. This creature could only be a tembo.

The tembo tore into Morg with its claws and fangs and draining him of the will to fight. It only switched to attack Kelvor when he used the Way to get the beasts attention. The beasts mere presence was draining the life from the heroes as the fought it. Its great speed and ferocity left none safe. The heroes were unable to consistently inflict damage, as the beasts hide was tough and its magical nature made is resistant to Gwyn’s spells.

The group had to use every trick they could think of to keep the creature for killing them all outright. Morg’s training in the arena and Kelvor’s use of the Way allowed them some degree of control over the creature, but it was far stronger than the realized. Vinara kept them both alive while she and her companions attempted to help take down the monster. Gwyn, although her spells were often resisted, was able to severely wound the tembo. Morg eventually fell to it and was knocked unconscious, only kept alive by his hardy mul heritage. Eventually Vinara was able to revive Morg and the beast finally fell to her staff and Gwyn’s fire.

More exhausted than ever before the group collapsed in the cistern and rested until their strength returned. During their rest, they searched the cistern but found nothing of value, other than the water itself. Morg hauled the carcass of the tembo up into the main cave in order to bring it back to Tyr as a trophy. During their rest Vinara sense that they were further from the Tree of Life then they were in Tyr.

Return to Tyr
Outside of the cave they reunited with Castri and made an uneventful journey back to Tyr. Outside of the city they stopped by the House Asticles estates to confer with Agis. They informed him of the location of the Cistern and the senator immediately dispatched his remaining personal guards to secure the precious water supply. The heroes were invited to spend a few days resting at the estates.

While at the estates Agis offered to train them, so that they would have stronger defenses against users of the Way. Those who fought the tembo found themselves strangely strengthened by the experience. Agis was able to arrange for the hide of the tembo to be turned into a suit of armor for Morg.

They also learned from Agis that the looming war with Urik was beginning to take its toll on the city. The former gladiators were anxious to see combat and unwilling to wait until all of the army was ready to march. He feared that if they weren’t controlled they would march out to certain doom and the safety of Tyr would be in more jeopardy. However, the gladiators were not the only problem – there was growing tension between the craftsmen and the merchant houses with accusations of price-gouging on war supplies and worries of a trade embargo threatened to undermine the war preparations. Morg and Kelvor agreed to investigate the situations.

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The Lost Cistern of Aravek
The Trail of Aravek

An Early Morning
Although their course of action had been decided earlier, Morg made one last-ditch effort to convince the group that they should head directly for the House Tsalaxa caravan. The rest of the heroes were still firmly set on finding the Cistern and the all-important water it might contain. Morg sent Merric out to find information on the Cistern of Aravek while he and the others prepared to venture out into the wilderness. Merric found only a little, stories of dwarf tribes in the desert that use a type of “wind trap” to cool their stone dwellings. He thought that, with a bit of magical aid, the traps could collect water. However Merric doubted that a sufficient amount of water could be collected in a reasonable time.

At the same time, Gwyn, still recovering from her wild evening, found her Veiled Alliance contact Jarvix and inquired about what he might know. Jarvix knew something about Aravek, as he was a preserver and a member of the Veiled Alliance in Tyr many centuries ago. Although he was reclusive, his obsession with creating water was well known. Many suspected he was successful, as Kalak, ordered his tower in the Ringing Mountains destroyed and the preserver killed.

Armed with the information and equipped for a journey into the harsh desert, the group set out attempting to find the Cistern as quickly as possible.

The Trail of Aravek
Ringing MountainsThe sun-scorched hills of the Tyr Region stretched before the group as they exited the gates of Tyr. A shimmering heat mirage painted the false lure of water across the horizon before giving way to the soaring peaks of the Ringing Mountains to the west. Compared to this desolate wasteland, the chaos of the great thronging city-state behind you seemed a virtual paradise.

The group made good time through the rough terrain, however, Gwyn’s exertions the previous night slowed her down considerably and Morg needed to support his elf friend for the first few hours. Every vigilant about the dangers of the desert Vinara and Kelvor kept a close watch on their surroundings. When some signs of possible pursuit were noticed Castri quickly (and quietly) located the pursuing group about an hour behind them. The group, a half-dozen strong, was clearly following them and it was decided to set an ambush, should their tail prove to be hostile or competition.

Templar Trouble
Morg and Kelvor remained on the trail, while the others continued ahead and then circled back to hide in the rocks. They didn’t have to wait too long before a small group of humans and dwarves, all armed, came into view and came to a halt when they saw the pair on the trail ahead of them. The group appeared to be lead by a man in white robes who spoke to Morg. Although his story of being lost from a caravan was plausible, his accent revealed him as an Urikite.

Quickly the conversation turned into combat, however, the heroes were more than prepared and not at all surprised when the robed man shouted “We shall return to Tyr as conquerors! For Hamanu and Urik! Kill them!” Castri moved quickly from the rocks and used the Crown of Dust to knock four of the group to the ground. The robed man, most likely a templar of Hamanu, let forth a blast of lightning striking Morg and Kelvor, the ground at his feet turning black with his defiling magic. Morg rushed forward, past the prone guards, and landed a might blow on the templar.

Vinara and Bear closed in as well, finishing off one of the raiders and bolstering Morg’s stamina for the retaliation he was sure to face. The two dwarves were reluctant, but under threats from the templar, they charged Castri and Morg, each inflicting serious wounds. The female, who appeared to be a gladiator, hopped to her feet while smashing Morgs legs, causing him to buckle and fall to the ground. Gwyn continued the assault on the templar, blinding him to her with one of her spells. Kelvor moved in drawing the attention of most of their foes in melee.

In short order the group finishing off their attackers, except for the dwarves, who surrendered as soon as the templar was killed. They explained that the army from Urik had seized control of their village, Kled, and that they had joined the templars group under threats of harm to their families. They confirmed that the templar, Anukim, had been following the heroes in an attempt to ambush them after they located the Cistern. The dwarves were set free with most of the food carried by the Urikite’s.

The Lost Cistern of Aravek
After their brief rest and meal with the dwarves, the heroes continued in their search for the Cistern. Although they were still cautions for signs of pursuit or other dangers, they made good time. Skillfully guided by Vinara’s nature sense and Gwyn’s sense of growing magic, they found that the endless barren landscape suddenly gave way to a lush patch of vegetation near a large hill. Although they could see no water source, there was thriving plant life. A tall rocky spire jutted from the hillside and a cave entrance was visible, yawning open, below it. The entire valley was filled with a strange noise: a thick whistling that sounded much like the world’s largest pair of lungs sucking in a single, great, continuous breath.

It was immediately apparent to the group that they had found their destination and that there was a striking resemblance to the Face in the Stone.

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The Road to Urik
The Threat of War

Lost Treasure
Morg spent the next day going around the city, looking for anyone with more knowledge on the failed House Wavir expedition. Much what he heard confirmed the rumors of a failed journey to find the Vault of Darom Madar and the economic hardship that the house was was under. Eventually he was able to locate the only other survivor, a man named Kelvor. Kelvor told Morg the story of the caravan being ambushed by members of House Tsalaxa and the death of all the members except himself and Rhotan Vor.

Kelvor was asked to look out for Morg and his friends in the hope they would take the opportunity to find the caravan and return the treasures to House Wavir. By doing so they would help restore House Wavir and punish House Tsalaxa, who is well known for nefarious deeds. Morg, keenly interested in helping Rhotan and recovering the treasure, agreed and the two started making arrangements.

Morg was still concerned about the difficulties he and his friends had in overcoming the lightning traps in the Face in the Stone. He felt that if they continued to explore the ancient ruins in Athas, they would surely need assistance to deal with other such obstacles. With a little luck, he found a few candidates that appeared to have the talents for such adventures. One in particular, Merric, stood out as competent and possessing the right personality.

As the two agreed upon a fee for his services, Merric proposed an intriguing offer: He had discovered secret entrance to the Ziggurat of Kalak. Merric felt that Morg and his companions were better suited to deal with the dangers that likely lurked within, while he was the most skilled to deal with the traps. They could explore it together and share in whatever treasures were found. Morg, while extremely interested, felt it might be best to wait before embarking on that exploration.

The Veiled Alliance
Gwyn spent most of her time exploring the city and making contact with the other tattoo artists. Her natural charm was more than enough to over come the distrust that any had because of her elven ancestry. She was pleased that, in a small way, she was a part of the resurgence of art in Tyr.

As the evening approached, Gwyn made her way into the Under-Tyr to meet with her Veiled Alliance cell. The focus of the meeting was Divulgence – should the alliance end their secretive ways and go public. Both supporters and opponents of divulgence spoke with great passion but they could not reach an agreement on how to proceed. Gwyn felt that divulgence should happen, but suggested caution to make sure public would not react violently, after years of being told to hate all arcane casters. It was clear that the debate would continue for some time.

After the formal meeting, Gwyn spent time with her main contact, Jarvix whom she told of the adventures at the Face in the Stone (although nothing was mentioned about the Crown of Dust). The appearance of Yarnath was disturbing, as defilers such as he are the primary reason wizards are outlawed and hated. Jarvix introduced Gwyn to another member of the cell, an elf named Kivrin. Kivrin knew something of Yarnath and suspected that he was searching for the Crown of Dust, and may have already obtained one piece of it. Anxious about such a powerful artifact in the hands of the defiler, Kivrin thought that a small group might be able to sneak aboard Slither and steal the artifact. Gwyn said that she would consider such a quest, but needed to confer with her friends.

After several more hour discussing various magical principles and how she might apply them to her tattoo work, Gwyn, Jarvix and Kivrin let the Alliance meeting and went drinking at the Stiff Wench. They drank broy late into the night and the next morning Gwyn awoke with a massive hangover, and a new tattoo.

Communing with Nature
Vinara spent two days in the desert outside of the city-state conversing with the Wastewalker. The enemy turned ally was most interested in her story of the Face in the Stone, uncovering the fragment of the Crown of Dust and the appearance of Yarnath. The Wastewalker knew a little about Ul-Athra and thought that the creature could be a powerful ally against the Dragon, but cautioned that the primordials are creatures of chaos and very unpredictable in the actions.

The pair was joined by a halfling that the Wastewalker introduced as Nok. Nok had traveled far to bring news of a possible ancient Tree of Life that might exist outside of the sorcerer-king’s control. Such a tree could be used for nearly limitless power for a defiler, such as Yarnath, and must be found and protected at all costs. The Tree might also be used to construct a Heartwood Spear that would be a powerful weapon against the sorcerer-kings. Vinara was to be mindful of signs and dreams about this tree and seek it out, before it is discovered by the wrong people.

A Conflict of Interests
Castri stayed behind at Free City Tattoo and studied the fragment of the Crown of Dust. He had hoped to learn more of its secrets but all he received were strong urges to seek out the other fragments and use the Crown to restore Ul-Athra. Feeling that he had learned all that was possible for the time being, he left the parlor and wandered around the street of Tyr heading towards the Artisan District.

Tyr MarketplaceIn the district he used some of the money he received from Karlen to commission some art work for the tattoo shop – a statue of himself. He found a skilled Mul stone cutter named Xalos who was looking for work and the two arranged a fair price. As he was leaving the artists shop he was approached by well-dressed man who greeted him by name. An agent of Murter Dyan, the man, asked if Castri could be of service to House Dyan, an enemy of Castri’s former noble house. The service was to search out a potential water source that had come to the attention of Murter, a place call the Cistern of Aravek, so that the water could help the citizens of Tyr. In exchange for location of the Cistern, House Dyan would furnish Castri and his allies with a precious metal weapon each. Cautious, Castri agreed to look into it.

On his way out of the Artisan District, another familiar face Khalos, an agent of Agis, hailed Castri. The pair made their way outside of the city to the House Asticles estates where he met with Agis himself. Direct and to the point, Agis asked if Castri could help locate the Cistern of Aravek, located in the foothills of the Ringing Mountains. Agis desired to control the renewable water source so that all within the city of Tyr could benefit from it. Agis promised to reward Castri and his allies with favors from his House.

Intrigued by the turn of events, Castri made his way back to the tattoo parlor where he was reunited with his companions. Each explained their day’s activities and discussed how best to proceed with the many options in front of them. After a lengthy discussion, they agreed that searching for the Cistern of Aravek was the best choice, after which they would head to the east in an attempt to find the House Tsalaxa caravan.

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Marauders of the Dune Sea
Return to Tyr

Leaving the Face
The elves appeared shocked to see the party emerge from the Face in the Stone and hailed them. The group claimed to have seen the collapse of the dust storm and went to investigate, looking for ancient treasures, asking the heroes if they had uncovered anything inside the Face. The heroes claimed to have have been simple guards who fled into the Face when the dust storm arose and didn’t venture far into it.

Stating a desire to return to their leader with treasures, the elves proposed that the heroes could search some additional locations that the elves would provide, and all could share in the profit. Vinara sensed that the elves might be stalling, but Morg went over to them to check their map. Without warning Morg was attacked by the elves and the zombies servants, as a group of Tarek raiders appeared over a nearby dune.

Morg fell to the zombies who began to feast on him after the dune striders severely wounded him in the surprise attack. The zombies and the elves suffered under the hail of arrows from Castri, who also unleashed the power of the Crown of Dust to create a whirlwind of sand striking at those nearest to Morg. One of the elves managed to reach Castri who suffered a serious wound before finishing off the elves.

Vinara and Gwyn and bear combined their attacks systematically taking down one Tarek after another. Gwyn conjured blast after blast of fire, slowly cooking them as they pressed their attack. Both of the ladies suffered greatly, but held their ground against the brutes. Vinara was able to work her way towards the dying Morg and eventually used her healing magic to revive him.

Finally on his feet again, he charged the remaining two elves and took them down with a mighty swing of his axe. The elf peddler, Parleth was barely alive and Morg and Castri learned that the group worked for a raider named Yarnath who was rumored to be a powerful defiler. Having learned all they could, the two put the dying elf out of his misery.

The Crawling Citadel
SlitherBefore they could catch their breath, Vinara spotted a colossal object grinding its way across the sandy desert. The animated skeletons of several giant desert creatures have been fused together into a ghastly structure, well over a hundred feet in length. Built within and upon the animate skeletal construct was an articulated citadel of bones and quarried stone. Humanoids could be seen standing on lookout platforms and peering form turrets and spires. It crawled closer to the Face in the Stone, making a sound like distant thunder.

After a bit of debate, Morg convinced Vinara that hiding within the Face would be a poor choice and the group fled, attempting to evade the citadel and make their way back to Tyr. Gwyn used her magic to summon a mirage about the group, in an effort to obscure them from sight. It took all of the groups strength and endurance to move across the desert quickly, but Castri faltered several times, the visions from the Crown he still wore, causing confusion and disorientation.

Still suffering from the earlier fights, the group stumbled into a patrol of seven Tarek raiders, who set upon them, thinking they had found easy prey. Gwyn’s magic bathed them in sheets of fire while Castri launched arrow after arrow into the oncoming group. Morg summoned every ounce of dwarven endurance in his blood and charged in, swinging his axe wildly. Vinara focused her attacks on Bear’s foes, while attempting to aid the group as best she could.

Miraculously the group survived, but their wounds continued to sap their energy and the week long march back to Tyr would have been too much if they had not happened upon a caravan as they approached to main trade roads.

The Caravan Gate
The entrance into Tyr was slowed by long lines at the Caravan Gate. The Half-Giant guards were thoroughly searching everyone entering the city and assessing new taxes. The group managed to get inside without incident, but found trouble within the city walls. The crowded streets were filled with angry merchants and citizens. In their absence the fragile economy of the free city was beginning to falter.

The precious iron mines had not reopened as it was too expensive to operate without the slave labor used in the past. The iron, which all the other city-states depended on, had stopped flowing and rumors flew about an army marching from Urik to seize control of the city and the mines. In addition, House Wavir had abandoned its position in Tyr, after a failed expedition into the desert left them financially devastated. All of the assets, including a large amount of Morg’s money, had been moved out of the city. Few knew the details of the expedition, but only a few people survived and made it back to Tyr alive.

The heroes were relieved to find that Free City Tattoo had survived the recent turmoil within the city and they all got some much needed rest. Castri visited his friend Karlen to deliver the relics he had found at the Face and collect his cut of the pay. Morg went out to try and find more information about the survivors of the House Wavir expedition and to hire a henchmen who could assist the party in future dungeon explorations.

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