Dark Sun: The Scorched World of Athas

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.