Dark Sun: Seared to the bone

Seared to the Bone 22nd October 2010
The Lost Caravan

Ku-ki’cha loped over the crest of the sand dune and paused, looking. So that is Altaruk , he thought. It had not been a particularly long or difficult journey, as his usual hunting grounds were in the Great Alluvial Wastes to the north of the town, and he knew the territory well enough to avoid being ambushed by bandits or devoured by silt runners. Still, he had not survived five years under the pitiless sun of Athas without understanding that survival was sometimes as much a matter of luck as of wisdom and experience. Once again he delved in his pack with his middle set of arms and retrieved the small bone and chitin necklace. Rikus had been unlucky, he thought, as he turned it in his claws. Rikus had come from a place like this, a slave fleeing into the desert who might have perished like so many before, had he not met Ku-ki’cha’s clutch. The big, tough mul had proved his worth as a hunter – and friend – several times over before – well, what was past was past. Ku-ki’cha refocused his purplish eyes on the settlement in the distance, and reflected that he knew little of the ways of the folk who lived in such places. Gripping his crescent-bladed gythka, he set off again, noting that there seemed to be others on the road below.

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The Broken Tower

Tracks, some made by sandal or boot, some made by non-human creatures, led north from the wrecked caravan. After following these for a while a tower came in sight. Once arrived at its base, they could see that it was in ruin but there still seemed to be a set of stairs leading down to a sturdy door. Fen wasted no time in hauling it open and stepping inside. He saw a larger room, containing a cistern and some broken sarcophagi, and among these what he guessed to be the survivors of the caravan, bound hand and foot, guarded by five silt runners and a larger lizard-man – a ssurran.

The scene took him slightly aback and two of the little lizard-folk raced up and stabbed him with their vicious spears. How did that happen, he thought, then his legs failed him and he fell.

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A Business Proposition

After staying overnight in the underground room, the caravan survivors and the party gathered together what items of worth they could salvage and set off back to Altaruk. Rhotan Vor was immensely pleased to see them, welcoming the adventurers into his house and plying them with drink. After they had taken their fill of food and drink, he gathered them round and outlined his wish to locate the fabled tomb of House Madar. “All I need is some trustworthy folk who know how to handle themselves in a fight, and if we were successful in finding the tomb, rewards would be considerable.” The party agreed enthusiastically, and plans were made to depart the following day.

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The Road to Silver Springs

Wil pored over the sheet of parchment spread out across a large flat rock, trying to make sense of the lines of stick-figures that covered it. He’d been given the letter in Altaruk to deliver to the elf Toramund, lord of the Silver Springs Oasis, and the fact that it was written in this curious cipher only made him more curious as to its content. Perhaps there was a little paranoia motivating him too, but in Athas suspicion was considered more of a survival trait than a character flaw. Eventually every one of the adventurers hired to guard Rhotan Var had had a look at the letter, even the thri-kreen Ku-ki’cha, who inadvertently poked a hole in the parchment. Slowly, patterns were identified and the document’s overall meaning became clear: Toramund’s son Ravi had been taken by some group called the ‘Toothcutters’ in Tyr and had been killed by them.

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Elven Relations

“The Lord Toramund will see you now”, spoke the elven guard with ill-concealed disdain. The party were shepherded through a maze of passageways until they stood on the threshold of a luxuriously furnished room. A male elf, clad in rich clothes, lounged on a rug. Another spoilt lordling, thought Wil. “You can leave me with them, Theothas, I’m sure I’ll be quite safe”, said the elf, gesturing towards the door. “As my lord commands”, replied the guard, then saluted and left, smirking at the visitors. Is someone going to let us in on the joke? Wil wondered.

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The Canyon of Gothay

Two days later the little wagon train was traversing the Great Alluvial Sand Wastes. Ku-ki’cha was in a good mood; this was his homeland, and he chattered constantly about local landmarks until the party persuaded him to scout ahead. The sun had passed its zenith when the thri-kreen called out in his piping accent, “It is here! Come and look!” The company caught him up and found themselves close to the brink of a cliff. A broad but not overlong cleft ran through the rocky floor of this part of the desert. Towards the top of the cliff, many caves could be seen. This, then, was the Canyon of Gothay. The party pooled their knowledge of such places and formed an educated guess as to which caves might be most likely to hide the treasure vault – and what unpleasant denizens might lurk within them.

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The Vault of Darom Madar

The party rested at length to recover their strength and to prepare for the next push into the caverns. The cave mouth that Ku’ki-cha had run towards opened into a rectangular chamber cut into the rock, with two large recesses cut into the south wall. Naivara peered through into the gloom and her keen eyes made out a pair of what she guessed to be sarcophagi in each alcove. However, the chamber was dominated by a solid carved block of obsidian which stood square in the middle of the rubble-strewn floor.

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The Race to Tyr!

Eyes narrowed in concentration, Naivara manoeuvred the treasure chests one by one up out of the cave, following a few steps behind as they floated along. The sand below each sealed box swirled gently as the edge of her psionic field passed over it. A few caravaneers watched her with interest, until Rhotan Vor snapped at them to stop lounging and see to making the skiffs ready. Up at the top of the canyon, Wil and Ku-ki’cha crouched behind a dune, each scanning the horizon with their sensing eye. The newcomer, Braz, had reported that House Tsalaxa were sending a force in pursuit from Silver Springs and they could be expected within the hour.

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Visions

“Halt, travellers! You are required to pay a tax before entering Tyr – the price is 50 silvers.” Two armed men barred the way, bearing Tyrian insignia. House Wavir’s caravan was approaching the outskirts of Tyr, passing through a crowded ramshackle settlement that sprawled outside the city’s Caravan Gate. Ku-ki’cha stood in front of the two soldiers, glancing back at the skiff bearing Rhotan Vor, wondering if he would pay the tolls. The dwarf seemed to ignore the soldiers and the skiffs rolled by them. Obviously he has some arrangement with them, or his rank exempts him from paying, thought the monk, and fished in his coin-pouch for the five gold, not wanting to infringe the law even before entering Tyr. He did not notice that his companions had chosen to ignore the two soldiers, and trotted up to join them. “Did those men take any money from you?” asked Rhotan. “Yes, they were toll collectors. I paid them five gold.” The dwarf smiled. “I think you’ve been had, friend. Those weren’t city guards, just a couple of scam artists.” Ku-ki’cha turned and ran back, trying to spot the two men, but they had disappeared in the milling crowds. He shrugged and ran back to the others. It’s just money, after all, he thought.

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Storm's Edge

Where the devil ’s horn threads the tunnel in the sky, a stony visage rarely blinks its hollow eye.
The echoes in the deep can be heard
south of my sandy blizzard
Blood flows from the victims in fountains
in this temple within these mountains
My crown rests once again
till enough blood runs from the slain
The dragon’s call shall be heard once more
as I drag it to the underground before my holy war.

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