The freezing Athasian night passes, but luckily, the ex-caravan guard turned holy-man Leth managed to find the group a safe and secure cave to pass the night.
The next morning, as the mighty crimson-sun creeped over the horizon, Leth and the tarek savage Chuul Kwan were able to determine that this day would not be as sweltering as it had been these past few days. With this in mind, you continue to travel north through the stony barrens until you leave that rocky area and come upon an awesome site; a vast sea of dunes…
It had only been a few hours of travel since leaving the safety of the cave, but already the party was feeling the strain from trekking on sand so many miles. After some time, you enter a region of sandy wastes riddled with various patches of strange cacti growing sporadically every hundred or so feet. As you pass through this dusty area, your party is suddenly attacked; from behind a nearby cactus patch, a large sandstone rock is hurled and hits the Elvish rogue Lokti Silverhand square in the chest, knocking the wind out of him!
The party turns to the source of this violence and sees a monstrous site; a massive half-giant! The huge brute is armored in thick mekillot plates, sports a gigantic obsidian blade, and has long, dirty dreadlocks hanging from his head. Across his massive chest, the iron-red insignia of the Merchant House of Vordon is emblazoned on a sash. His face is distorted and grimacing, as if in severe pain, his skin burned dark from the sun, his lips are cracked and bleeding. A wild and feral look is in his eyes. With a great roar, the giant leaps from his hiding place and lands into the midst of the party proper, swing madly with his colossal black-glass sword.
The battle is almost more than the party can handle at first, but they managed to fell the great monster eventually.
After the bloody conflict, Leth examines the half-giant closely. He determines the hulking wretch had been afflicted with “The Madness”, a dark moniker used to describe a poor soul that has been driven mad by thirst and the elements. He appeared to have been one of the guardsman from the Tyrian slave-hulk the party escaped from a few days back. He must have been wandering the wastes like this for days…
You and the party stand over the immense creature and can’t help but wonder if a dire fate like this is waiting for you as well…
The afternoon sun beats down on your backs like a furnace, but you must press on. It had been a few hours since your conflict with the thirst-mad half-giant, and the thought of succumbing to his same fate still lingers in your troubled mind.
The ssurran savage, Vargass, scours the land in search of food as you travel, but yields less than satisfactory results, managing to only scrounge-up a few gallons of stagnant water and a handful of Red Cactus Grubs for a sizable party of seven. The food and water situation is looking very grim at the moment…
Eventually, you reach a great valley riddled with ancient ruins jutting out from the powdery sands. As you travel, Chuul Kwan hears a distant crash, then another, followed by a high-pitched squeal. Cautiously, you proceed, however your hand is on the pommel of your blade… just to be sure…
After a few minutes, you come upon a strange site; a series of ancient stone columns, some toppled, some in rubble, some even intact, all arranged in a circular pattern. Covering most of these ruins are clusters of black, squishy, oval-shaped clumps, each oval about the size of an erdlu egg. The entire area reeks of ammonia, with the constant buzz of countless flies surrounding the strange, stinking clusters.
Not being one to fear anything, the great braxat Terric grabs one of these strange ovals and examines it. It appears to be the spoor of some large creature. The party does not see any beasts in the area, so they decide to proceed north, albeit cautiously.
As they leave the dung-covered area, loud screeches are heard all about them, followed by several of the stone columns crashing to the ground! From out of the dust and debris, a scampering group of Screamer Beetles emerge! The insectoid creatures are as big as a large desert wolf, and resemble giant versions of common scarab beetles, though sporting metallic-blue shells. These shiny insects have the unique ability to release violent sonic attacks on their unfortunate prey, and have a vicious, piercing bite as well.
The giant beetles attack the party en masse, ripping and tearing with their razor-sharp mandibles, as well as blasting the group with horrid sonic screeching, even managing to crumble several surrounding ruins with this attack, causing deadly debris to come crashing down on some of the party members.
After a few tense moments, in which even the mighty Terric was nearly overrun by these snapping beetles, you and your companions manage to slay several of these creatures, driving the remaining beasts fleeing into the dunes beyond.
After the battle, The party finds some suitable shelter in nearby ruins. Wasting no time, the pterran fire priest, Blazing-Sun begins carefully harvesting the beast’s outer-shells, which when properly cured and treated, could be made into a protective suit of battle-worthy scale armor.
That night, you take inventory of your dwindling supplies and see that you have maybe a days’ worth of water left. If something does not change soon, bad times are ahead of you…
For the better part of the morning, you have been traveling north, leaving the valley of the Screamer Beetles hours ago as soon as daybreak struck. You look down at your near-empty waterskins and truly begin to worry of your fate. This scorching-red sun is hot this day, and your chances of finding a suitable water source in this arid wasteland fades further away by the hour. Perhaps salvation lies over the next endless dune?
As the afternoon rolls around, Lokti spots a corpse at the foot of a small dune. The young man is dressed as a noble, and appears to be no more than a day or two dead. A savage wound rests upon his blood-encrusted neck. Examining the body yields a heavy silver signet ring bearing House Vordon’s Diamond Sigil, a bag of coins and gems (which Lokti quickly pockets), a very useful spyglass, as well as three waterskins.
Using the spyglass, Lokti surveys the area and discovers the remnants of a small caravan in the distance. Dozens of corpses lay strewn about the half-dozen burnt wagons. One large, armored wagon still remains mostly intact—it bears the symbol of House Vordon. The wagons and bodies are hacked and slashed, as well as covered in arrows.
Cautiously, the party approach the site of carnage, weapons drawn. Seeing no visible threat, you and your companions begin scavenging what supplies, if any, you could gather at the site of this massacre. Examining one of the obsidian arrows, the tarek, Chuul Kwan determines that this bloodshed was caused by none-other than his people’s hated enemies, the Gith…
As he scavenges through the interior of the armored wagon, Lokti discovers a smuggler’s hold beneath the main cargo space. It is locked, but posses no real challenge to this master thief! As he unlocks and opens the hatch, however, a foul-stench assaults the elf’s nostrils; he now stands face to face with an animated corpse! The creature looks shriveled and reeks heavily of decay and mold. Lokti had often heard stories from his grandfather regarding these types of creatures; Desiccation Zombies! These foul undead are usually the result of unfortunate souls that died or were murdered in the wastes. In an instant, other corpses in the wagon begin to rise, as well as the corpses strewn about outside!
With a gurgling lunge, the beast claws at Lokti, but thankfully misses the young elf as he quickly makes his way out of the wagon. A terrible battle quickly ensues with the undead, but the party narrowly slays them all, sending their bodies back to the dust they came from.
After the battle, Lokti discovers that the smuggler’s hold housed several useful magical items, as well as some enchanted Potion Fruits. Blazing-sun, the fire cleric, also managed to find a small chest containing a few useful goods.
As for the rest of the armored wagon’s cargo, it is all but gone, but you and your companions do manage to find a partially-filled water barrel, some rations, serviceable waterskins, as well as some bedrolls, tents, and other miscellaneous survival gear. You all decide to stay within the safe confines of the armored wagon for the night and get some much deserved rest.