Dark Sun: Seared to the bone

A Walk in the Warrens, 14-3-13

About an hour later Maropona, Naivara, Sha-karn, Maarkus and Gwen stood irresolutely in Slaughterstone Alley. Their exit from the tunnels had been enlivened somewhat by the appearance of a filthy tentacled creature which had pushed its way out of a refuse pile and attacked the party as they prepared to leave the sewers. They had not bothered to stand and fight the otyugh, and fortunately all of them escaped up the rickety bone ladder to the street above.

“So, what now?” asked Maropona. “We’ve found a few odd shrines, a die, and this dagger.” He held up a kris with an “L” finely etched on the base of the blade, recovered from one of the enraged cave diggers they had fought, and a silver die from the same source. “I’ve seen knives like this before,” Maarkus had said, “this is Lerryn’s work – you know him? Bladesmith in the Devil’s Thumb district.”

“I’ve just remembered something else,” said Maarkus. “The Palace of Fortunity – that casino near here – is owned by House Remari – they’re rivals of my house – Malhaven. Now I’ve heard tell that Remari are linked to the cult of the ‘Secluded One’. “Like those little shrines we found?” asked Naivara. “Just so,” said Maarkus.

“Can we find somewhere to stay?” asked Naivara. “I’m not feeling at all well.” Looking around, she noticed that all her companions would shiver periodically, something which the cold of the night did not adequately explain. “Curse those stinking tunnels!” Sha-karn snapped. “We’ve all caught something from the vapours, no doubt.” “We’ll try the Golden Hearth,” said Maropona. “My old mate Haken lives there – he always said it was a decent place. Should be this way.” So saying, he set off, with the others following in a sad coughing and trembling procession.

After some discussion with the guard outside the door (it was, after all, the small hours of the morning) they were admitted to the Golden Hearth. They were received by a middle-aged woman. “I’m Mhili Horcrest and this is my tavern. You’re welcome here so long as you pay in good coin and don’t cause trouble.”, she said, doing her best to mask any suspicion beneath a polite but firm veneer. The young man by her side gave them a hard stare and muttered a few words to her, but she waved him away and called, “Jon, show them to the washrooms then see what they want to drink.” A vacant-eyed lad appeared and said, “Pleasetocomethiswaygoodladiesandsirs” in a well-rehearsed monotone, then wandered off towards the back of the pub, without looking behind.

They were able to remove the worst of the sewer filth with sand and a little water, and a little later they were in the common room sipping watered berry wine. Maropona stood at the bar chatting with a scarred older man named Haken, who seemed to be a fellow ex-gladiator. Sha-karn, Maarkus and Naivara, sitting nearby, overheard Haken mention he had heard of people disappearing from the streets and fights breaking out between different houses. On one of the posts supporting the ceiling someone had carved the words, “It lurks below the streets”. Apart from Mistress Horcrest and the young man, the only other unfamiliar faces in the room were an elven woman in black robes and a scruffy bearded man in what might have been priests’ robes, were there still gods to worship. Maropona watched the elf with interest. His instincts told him that she was not actually evil but hiding something. He left Haken and walked over to her.

“What’s he saying?” Naivara asked Sha-karn. “He seems to be flirting with her,” the genasi replied, with a rare smile. “Wait – what did he just say? ‘When was the last time you did some defiling?’” “Ooh, she didn’t like that. Look, she’s walked off upstairs. Now Maro’s talking to that odd man.” “And now they’re going upstairs together. What is he up to?”

“Close the door behind you.” Maropona did as he was bid and sat down on the floor. The bearded man, Kelek, had set up a little pot with a fire under it. He reached into a pouch and scooped out a handful of some dark, crumbly substance into the vessel. “The visions are not granted to all. Some simply find their minds are dulled. The fortunate ones find their mind actually clears, and then… then…” Kelek’s face filled with awe. Maropona smelled the fumes from the little censer. “Breathe deeply, and try and clear your mind of other thoughts,” commanded Kelek. Maropona leaned closer and inhaled. The smoke was sweet and did not sting his throat as he had expected. He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again. Instead of the shabby tavern room he was surrounded by clouds of swirling white vapour. In the distance he could see a figure, drifting closer. Its figure was clearly human, but a multitude of tentacles sprouted grotesquely from its body and for some reason he could not make out its face. In the moment before the incense-dream ended he saw a symbol of eight criss-crossed lines.

“Well? Did you see anything?” Kelek’s hand dug uncomfortably into his shoulder and his eyes were alight with the madness of zealotry. Maropona pushed him off and stood up, swaying. “I saw.. I do not know. Something.. a man.. tentacles.. clouds.. no face.” Kelek stared at him. “Then the gods have blessed you. The Secluded One has granted you a vision of his glory. Go, now, but remember what you have seen, and tell others.”

Later, lying awake in their shared room, Maropona pondered recent events. The Secluded One… he remembered the carven images on the altars of the shrines they had found. Was there some misshapen creature hidden somewhere they had missed, revered as a god? Though the gods had seemingly left Athas, its people still craved the comfort of the divine. Every now and then some cult would spring up in the city and attract a small band of followers; if it attracted enough attention the templars would stamp it out and kill or imprison the blasphemers. Now Kalak was gone, the templars, now the Tythian Guard, had their hands full keeping the city in order, so this new religion might have had time to gain strength. And what of the elf-woman in black, Sheranna? He had noticed an odd green gleam in her eye and had instantly suspected defiling, but her manner had turned to ice at the suggestion. Could she be an assassin? he wondered.

The warden sighed and stared over towards the slit of light coming from beneath the dormitory door. As he watched, it went dark and Maropona realised that something was squeezing its way under the door. In the dim light he saw an insectoid body and emerald multifaceted eyes. He shouted a warning to the others and advanced on the creature, which had pushed its way into the chamber completely now. Another one was following it. The creature reared up like a snake, flapping gauzy wings to support it, and lunged forward, pincer-like jaws closing on Maropona’s leg. He wrenched free and glanced back at his companions. Naivara, Maarkus and Sha-karn were standing, but seemingly rooted to the spot and clutching at their throats, mouths working noiselessly, eyes bulging. Maropona concentrated, shifting himself slightly out of the physical plane, then calling forth a swirling cloud of blood and grit to lacerate his enemies. The insects recoiled as the cloud tore at their carapaces and snapped wildly, unable to see the warden properly. The door flew open and a man entered. He lunged at Maropona with a long dagger.

Naivara had awoken into a nightmare where she was held immobile and unable to breathe, but she held to her mental discipline and forced one creature to attack the man. This seemed to disrupt the effect and she, Sha-karn and Maarkus gratefully sucked in lungfuls of air. A moment later Sha-karn’s bear spirit was in front of the insects, smashing one to the floor with a sweep of its claws, as Maropona killed the other, then hurling itself on the man and tearing out his throat.

Maarkus pushed past Maropona and the fallen corpses into the corridor. An empty box lay on its side, big enough to have held the two insect-things. Maropona bent to search the dead man. He was dressed in tattered rags, but carried a kris similar to the ones they had encountered in the sewers. He held it up but at that moment Maarkus shouted, “Follow me! Trouble downstairs!” and they all piled down the staircase into the common room.

Another one of the insect-monsters was attacking Haken, who was bleeding from at least one wound. With all four of them attacking, they made short work of it, then Sha-karn tended to Haken’s injury. “Look what they did,” the ex-gladiator said, pointing to the wall. A symbol had been drawn there in his blood, of three eyes.

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A Walk in The Warrens - 24 February 2013

The Golden Globe is one of the safer inns of Tyr’s Caravan District. Its patrons are a mixture of merchants, guards and adventurers. People, in other words, who are used to looking out for each other out in the desert and can generally be counted on to form a united front against common enemies like thieves and footpads, should they appear. This morning, one of the tables was occupied by four travellers. At a distance, two of them appeared to be elven women; in fact, they were both eladrin. This was a subject of intense gossip among the inn’s staff, as folk from the Lands Within the Wind were hardly ever seen in the city.

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Naivara's Tale of woe

Extract from “The Complete Alumni Almanac”, located in The Walker of the Exalted Path Monastery, 300 years from now :

“Naivara J’ayan was one of the most promising students of Psionics of her generation, excelling in all her subjects at this illustrious institution. Sadly, she failed to fulfil her potential, and left the Monastery in mysterious circumstances. Her father, Hadarai J’ayan, later claimed that she had gone in search of the Lands Within the Wind, though his testimony has been considered unreliable and motivated by a desire to preserve his business reputation. Other reports suggested an illicit romance, with a human or eladrin lover. More fanciful rumours hinted that she fell in with a band of outlaws, and lived a life of crime and violence till the end of her days. Suffice to say that this Monastery never saw her again, and her sad story is a lesson to all current and future students that continuing one’s studies is of paramount importance.”

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The Blood Jewel

A few minutes later, Maro edged cautiously down the staircase that descended from the laboratory. In one hand he held the green globe that Aramil had wielded against them. The stairs opened on to a room about twice as long as it was wide, with a circle of runes inscribed on the floor similar to the one they had seen before. There were three doors in the wall on his right, two smaller ones flanking a double set in the middle. A peculiar clicking sound came from behind the doors which Maro recognised as thri-kreen speech. Taking care to avoid the circle, he approached the middle door and peered through the keyhole. Three kreen were visible, and Maro guessed there were more out of his arc of vision. Behind them he could make out a pedestal surmounted by a crystal dome. A scarlet object glowed beneath.

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The Lich's Laboratory

Mik, dangling from a rope, peered around him, trying to make out shapes in the candlelit chamber below the pit. His years in the Athasian wilderness had inured him to sights that might turn the stomachs of most folk, but there was an unwholesomeness about the space into which he was descending that unnerved him. He smelled the same putrid odour that had pervaded the area above, where they had defeated the zombies and belgoi. Gradually his eyes became more accustomed to the poor light and he made out two of the same crossbow-armed statues that had guarded the tower roof positioned each side of the shaft. There was a long table close by, set with peculiar vials, bottles and instruments. Further back in the shadows he made out chairs fitted with straps and shackles in which sprawled several corpses. In a better-lit area near the middle Mik saw a circle inscribed on the floor. A figure, plainly dead, with melted face and leprous skin stood in the centre, holding an orb. A second figure stood nearby, this one clad in scale armour, bearing a heavy shield and a longsword.

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The Ritual Tower

“Then it’s settled. I shall meet you outside Tyr.” Kivrin rose and left the tavern. “What have we got ourselves into?” asked Maro. “A long trek through the desert with the constant threat of violent death or sunsickness and the vague promise of a reward at the end. Just another ordinary day for people like us,” answered Gwen, breezily.

They travelled day and night, as Kivrin was in a hurry; this time sunsickness took its toll on Gwen and Naivara. Oddly, Sha-karn seemed indifferent to the heat and occasionally spread his arms, as if embracing the crimson sun’s rays. Despite their normal caution the group were ambushed by a band of the undead creatures that frequent the wastes, backed up by a gaj – a giant insect with psychic powers – but fortunately there were no losses.

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Slither

“You want us… to steal… the Blood Crystal… from Slither? We are talking about the same Slither here, aren’t we? ‘Cause the one I mean is a walking fortress of bone owned by an undying defiler mage.” Maro folded his arms and looked across the table. They were in Tyr again, having passed via Altaruk. Soon after their arrival a representative of House Shom had sought a meeting at a local inn and it was this person who sat opposite. Kivrin was an elf of indeterminate age but whose garb identified him as a regular desert traveller. Undeterred by Maro’s comment, he answered calmly, “The very same. You may know that it is part of the Crown of Dust, the ancient artifact once held by Yar-” here he lowered his voice and glanced around the tavern,

“Yarnath. And yes, I want you to steal it. Not just because it would be a great prize, but because I believe Yarnath uses it to control the city and to defile the land further to advance his power. This cannot continue. Now, you’ve sought a fragment of the Crown for us before, without success”, (he glanced at Althaea, but her face was expressionless) “I’m sure you are capable of such a dangerous undertaking. I would of course accompany you, but I have my own objectives within Slither. Once inside, you must seek the Crystal on your own.” “What do you know of the defences?” asked Maro. Kivrin produced a scrap of parchment on which a rough diagram had been sketched. “The top of Slither is made up of a series of towers. We’ll need to find a way up to them and then you’ll have to climb to the top of this one and work your way down to the chamber where the crystal lies. I expect you know the place is garrisoned – humans, elves and tareks – but I’ve heard talk of a tame, or enslaved, tembo somewhere.” There was a collective intake of breath. “We shall need a minute or two to discuss this,” said Althaea. “Of course,” said Kivrin, rising and heading for the door.

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Old Foes and New Sorrow

The party broke camp and headed south towards Altaruk. About half-way there Ku-ki’cha noted the remains of a wrecked sand skiff. Nearby, sharp-eyed Gwen, spotted some little lizard-like humanoids who immediately disappeared into the dunes. “What are those?” “Silt runners”, the thri-kreen replied. “Back to others, quickly!”

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The Devastation of a Dragon

Just a bare-bones writeup this time, haven’t had time to do anything else.

It’s the 29th of the month. Mik, Naivara and Ku-ki’cha lose track of the others. After wandering through the desert they retrace their steps and pick up the trail which leads to a rocky outcropping where Althaea and Maro are resting. As they do so they notice a lone female figure running towards their hiding place. This is Gwen – a human girl, 5’ tall, carrying a raven on her arm. She is being pursued by a small tembo which catches up with her in the rocks. The party engage it and it is killed. Gwen’s character is rather impudent – offers to polish Mik’s head and addresses K as ‘grasshopper’.

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Evading Slither

The hidden door ground open, yielding to the combined shoving of Mikar and Maro. It was Maro who had spotted it first, trailing his fingers idly along the wall and noticing a channel that ran floor to ceiling. The party had rested in the chamber of the wyrm; Graven had pronounced with satisfaction that the defiling magic pervading the placed seemed to have gone once the beast was slain. They were on their way back to the stairs leading back to the caves when the secret door was discovered. Going further, an unlit corridor ended in another door, which opened on to a room floored with sand. A long table, upon which bowls of various sizes had been placed, stood in the middle. At each end of the table was placed a statue of a seated person; curiously, there was a large hole in the top of each statue’s head. Naivara, ever inquisitive, drew nearer to the table and noticed runes carved into the surface. “More riddles!” she declared. “Let’s see… Fill my body with the essence of my power to show you follow my path …what could that mean?” The others stepped warily into the chamber, looking around. “Well, those holes in the statues must be for something – but there’s nothing to put in them but sand,” said Mikar, grasping a handful and letting it run through his fingers. “Perhaps… perhaps that’s it,” said Naivara, picking up a bowl and using it to scoop up some sand off the floor.” As she did so, the sand covering the chamber swirled and resolved itself into five man-sized dust storms. One rushed over to Naivara and dashed the bowl from her hands, scattering its contents. Ku-ki’cha swept a bowl up from the table and filled it hastily, then sprang towards one statue. Before he could empty it into the head, two converged on him and engulfed him in a choking blizzard. The bowl was torn from his claws and he staggered about blindly. Naivara transported herself across the room but misjudged the distance and her bowl broke against one wall. After a mad minute or so dodging the dust devils, Mikar emptied a bowlful into a statue’s head. Instantly, the dust devils sank back into the ground, and two doors ground open, revealing steps leading up.

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