Mik’s brow furrowed in thought. “Time, perhaps? Men’s sight grows dim with age, but they may become wiser too, and some buildings crumble with age but others… grow stronger because they are old? Surely not, but we have three guesses. TIME!” he called aloud. Wrong , the whisper came back. Maro muttered to himself. “What makes buildings strong? Bricks, made of sand… but sand can wear away a wall, and it also makes a man blind, as we know all too well, but makes a man see?”
“Well, I know you can make glass with sand,” said Naivara, “and I remember one of Father’s friends had this thing like two tubes with round bits of glass at each end – you could slide them inside each other and they made things seem nearer when you looked through one end. That would ‘make you see’. I wonder if whoever thought of this riddle meant one of those.”
“Let’s try it anyway,” said Maro, “SAND!” At once the blank wall at the corridor’s end rumbled aside, revealing a passage with a great crack running along the middle of its floor. Everyone passed through, skirting the crack. Naivara tossed a pebble down and listened; Althaea looked at her friend in alarm, but there was no indication that the stone had hit bottom. As the last person stepped through the portal rolled closed. Beyond was another set of doors which opened on to a crossroads, with sets of doors ahead and to the left and right. Bones, hejkin remains by the look of them, lay scattered at the junction. The eastern door led to a room with a basin set into the wall, filled with aquamarine liquid; west lay a similar chamber, but the basin in here contained maroon fluid.
– Cult of Dust Area
Maropona examined the northern doors and opened them a crack. Peering in, he saw a large room lit by the light of four enormous braziers. Directly opposite the doors was an altar, seemingly made of bone and carved with runes in some forgotten primordial language. Between the doors and the altar lay the skeleton of some snake or lizard-like creature. Small fires blazed in its eye sockets. The warden stepped in boldly, and all at once the thing on the floor stirred, the long tailbone flicking, and five humanoid forms stepped from the shadows. Their decayed clothing and shrunken skin proclaimed them as undead, and Maro noticed that two skeletal figures were climbing out of the braziers. All seven advanced on him quickly and the mul shut the door and held it fast. “Get ready for a fight,” he called to his companions, “We’ll let them come to us.” So saying, he sprang away from the doors and took position next to Mik in the corridor, his crossbow loaded and aimed. The doors were flung open and the zombies began to advance on them.
– Dark Sun Zombie
Althaea took a sip of the aquamarine liquid – it was fresh and sweet, and seemed to fill her with energy. She hastened over to the other room and drank the maroon fluid, wondering how it might benefit her – and doubled over, racked by stomach cramps. “Poison…” she managed to croak, stumbling out of the chamber and clutching at Naivara for support. “Poison? No, surely not – I drank from that very pool a moment ago – I’m sure it did me some good”, the psion stated confidently. “Shouldn’t… mix… my drinks…” the bard gasped weakly, as her friend helped her to the back of the group.
One of the weaker undead fell to a mind thrust from Naivara and Maro loosed his bolt. The closest zombie tried to grab the mul but he dodged and clove the creature in half. Mik also wriggled out of a zombie’s grasp but was slammed to the ground by a blow from a salt-crusted arm. Behind the group of undead, the two flaming skeletons hurled orbs of fire into the party. Unable to encircle their opponents, the zombies were worn down and defeated. The two skeletons retreated into the altar chamber, one each side of the door. “Haaargh! Let’s get them!” roared Mik, storming forward, Maro at his side. Ku-ki’cha followed eagerly, with Graven and the two eladrins behind. Fighting the skeletons was not easy; they were wreathed in flames which licked at anything within sword-reach, but the two warriors gritted their teeth and pressed their attacks home. As they crossed the threshold of the room the skeleton-snake lashed at them. Maro called upon the earth-power and disappeared from sight, reappearing behind his opponent who was now flanked by Ku-ki’cha. The monk delivered a mighty punch that staggered the skeleton, and it retreated past him, only for him to strike it again. Mik rained sword-blows on his opponent as if trying to hammer it into the ground, and chips of bone flew here and there. In the doorway, Naivara focused her mind, and the heavy altar began to rise into the air, inching towards the skeletal snake. She released it at what she judged the right moment and it crashed to the floor, just missing her target.
– Burning Skeleton
Ku-ki’cha launched into a dazzlingly fast series of claw strikes, somehow managing to hit both skeletons and the snake-thing, and one skeleton collapsed and its flame went out. Just then the snake-tail hit him from behind and he fell unconscious. There was another crash and the altar smashed down once more, this time crushing the dead thing to shards and powder. Naivara focused once more and a surprised Mik saw his enemy suddenly expire before him. The psion smiled in triumph.
The party considered the only other exit from the altar room. This door crackled with electrical energy much as the two obelisks at the cave entrance had done. “No chance of getting through there,” said Althaea, “let’s have a rest and try that other way.” As they settled down, there was movement from one of the braziers. A skeletal foot and leg was emerging from the flames. Ku-ki’cha ran to one of the fonts and filled two skins, then raced back into the altar room. His companions quickly formed a chain, filling skins and dumping them on to the fires. As they did so, a second leg and the bottom of a ribcage appeared.
“More water! Hurry! That thing’s nearly out!” Ku-ki’cha, Maro and Mik frantically emptied skin after skin of water on to the great braziers. One by one the flames went out and the room darkened. The flaming skeleton climbing out of one brazier crumbled and disappeared. The skins were filled one more time – fresh water was precious.
Accordingly they returned to the fork in the passage near the entrance and followed it. They paused, for the sight before them was truly wondrous on the parched world of Athas. A channel of running water tumbled down one wall, feeding a wide pool, and ran out through a cavity in the other wall. Althaea tested it and found it cold and fresh. Ku-ki’cha jumped across the pond, taking a rope. Using this, the party were able to cross fairly easily. The chamber beyond was large and stank of carrion. There was a large hole in the middle of the cavern floor. A large gong, made of chitin, hung from the roof near the entrance, and by it stood a hejkin, whose robes marked him out as some kind of leader. As the travellers entered, more hejkin appeared and the battle began.
Mik and Ku-ki’cha engaged the hejkin by the gong but the creature knocked them prone with some kind of magic that blasted them with electricity and made the ground shake. Hejkin were running up from a passage to the north. Static electricity crackled around two of them. One hejkin staggered from a blow, and Maro profited from this, charging into him and knocking him down the pit.
Naivara, waiting by the pool’s edge, was taken aback to see a serpentine creature rear out of the water – a chuul – and make for her. Mik killed two hejkin single-handed. Maro faced the chuul and one hejkin and summoned the Breath of Chaos, raising his weapon and seeming to fade slightly as a rush of magic swept through his foes. Althaea paused her song to deliver a mocking couplet which carried a pulse of psychic energy, enough to kill the serpent-creature. Maro slew the chief and heard it murmur “Protector save us” in the dwarven tongue as it expired.