“There are two types of adventurer who find themselves in the Sands where they are assuredly bound to find death, or life before departing it. One outthinks their fear and retaliates swiftly against their foe, beast or demon, or scorching tempest , rushes into battle and thinks of the consequence thereafter. The other knows fear, and has survived it’s grip before. He welcomes it, and moves thinking to the primal part of his brain. A [man] capable of deciding on a course of action and then taking it swiftly, knowing that death or life will be decided by chance whether he fears or not. Only the latter survives the Sands. And only when chance dictates it is so.”
Mustakrakish, General of the Cillandrial War Council
They waited for the dawn. It came and went. Night in the Sands only felt cooler, but wasn’t. It was said that this however was a product of the Celn imagination, for it took one living in a place where night was cooler to imagine it so here. For the Madin, night was simply darker, but still hellish and brutally hot. When the light rose, and the shadows faded away, there was still no sign of the Captain nor the officers. This in and of itself was a betrayal worthy of a mutiny. For in fact, the ship each morning needed to leave just at dawn. The Seas were not a place to be hunkered down during the day. All travelers knew there was a simple philosophy in the Seas. In the light of day, movement was life. To stop, to wait in the heat, to burn, was their death.
As the sun fully expunged itself over the glimmering sand dunes to the east, Theros and the others knew the other men would realize what was going on. So, they waited. And on cue, the madness that follows such a betrayal ensued forthright.
One man was stabbed in the chaos, slashed to pieces by a bastard sword from a dwarf who had his entire fortune in the cargo hold of the ship. A few of the less heartier merchants, simply sat and stared off, unable to come to terms with the condition they now found themselves in.
Once reality had set in though, Gerrell laid his plan to find the officers to the others, and surprisingly many listened for they had nothing better to do. He knew they must work together, to find the officers, the captain the canister, and he told them so. Unless the others agreed to help, their destiny was now to wait until they ran out of water, or were taken into the sands by the denizens that would surely find them. And now there was no structure to the crew, or passengers alike, they needed all on board so to speak. At least until they could find enough of the Captain to collect the canister and put themselves back on a path to Almagesh. And in that moment, the gnome, the inquisitioner turned adventurer, and the dragon born sorcerer became leaders of the wayward caravan. The idea of it surprised the trio as much as the others.
Ares, who had the most knowledge of the sands, having lived along it’s border much of his life was the one with the idea that eventually found what happened. He reasoned that they would not have gone far, and so, persuaded the remaining passengers and crew to drag the ship through the dunes in a circle less than a mile in radius. Only two hours into the search, they found them. Or at least one of them.
“Hold!” yelled Theros from the prow, which was capped with a multi-headed carved figure, the Ti’ah as it was known in Madenese. “There!” He pointed off just a ways from the ship. Securing the masts and the ship itself, nearly all disembarked, wanting to see for themselves what was found. It was now a band of communal travelers, but most had little else in common. None trusted the other, only ideas that would get them to Almagesh, with the fortunes intact.
There was a body, lying half buried in the sand, as though it were stuck in something below the surface. It smoked as though it had been baked, or cooked. But when they ran to inspect it, their feet falling knee deep in the sands, they realized it had been sprayed with something that ate away it’s flesh.
“Acid,” said Ares.
“Henright,” said Theros, “One of the officers from Outpost 34. I recognized his brand.” He pointed to what was left of the man’s upper right shoulder, which was barely peaking through the sand, and was one of the few areas of his skin not blackened, or simply gone.
“Hemshi! Hemshi!” called one of the elder veterans, and several of the crew ran with shovels. Carefully, they scooped the sand away from the body, being careful not to touch it. After a half an hour or so, they found the body of Henrik stuck head first, into some type of stone entryway. His skin was gray where the acid had not affected him and even though they could not see his face completely the look of anguish upon it was clear even from the side. He had died a horrid death. Runes and carvings appeared all along the periphery and edges of the structure. Something was under the sand!
One of the younger yet more outspoken men stood leaning against his shovel. He swished his waterskin and after a brief thought decided to use some of it to wahs the grimy sweat from his face. His nose, forehead and shoulders were blistered heavily, and he looked sickly, red. Distraught was etched in wavy lines across his brow and chin. It was the fear of worry stretched beyond what a Celn, already superstitious by nature, could handle. Now, out here, beyond the borders of the “lighted realm”, he like so many of the others was at his breaking point. “The others are buried now! No amount of work will extract them below this endless light-forsaken sea! We are stranded here! Blast the devil. Blast the captain!”
Ares, had placed Gerrell atop his shoulders, for the sand had made his feet singe just as the sun would do to his skin. He moved towards the hole that had been dug the deepest and stood within it. Then, he produced a vial, corked and held it out to the others. “In every catastrophe there are those who accept defeat, and those who do not. You will never be more than you are, man.”
The man blinked, a brief hint of anger spread through his eyes but vanished with awe, as he watched the sorcerer coax out from the vial the minutest of winds. Like a living small thing, somekind of invisible flying bird it fluttered outwards and flew around the sorcerer. It was like a cat, around one’s legs, and then a snake over his shoulders. It grew and grew until it whipped around the entire assemblage of the diggers. Like a corkscrew manipulated by the motions of Ares’ claws outstretched, the wind thing drove itself into the sand where the body of Henrik was still partially buried and in a matter of seconds, blew out tons of material into a sandstorm. The others covered their faces with their garments while Ares called to the wind creature to do his will. None dared look as the sand bit like darts, thrust outward in all directions. In a few minutes, his voice faded and the winds he had conjured dissipated. There, before them all, lay a large platform upon which sat five gigantic stone columns rising some 40 feet above. At the base of one of them, inside a doorway of sorts, was wedged Henrik’s body.
Runes, lines, images were carved everywhere, but the perfect stone craftsmanship was the most astonishing thing of all. There were virtually no lines anywhere. It was as if the entire thing, large as it was, had been constructed out of a single chunk of polished stone. No one spoke, but all clearly were thinking the same thing. How could something so vast, so old, so incredibly made, be simply here under the sands this whole time. A perfect Kasillian structure, lost to the sands. Here, discovered once more.
Ares set Gerrell down, and the little man, hooded and carefully cloaked hobbled forward towards a column set in the middle of the platform where runes lay. He examined them. The others moved near him, including Theros.
“What do they say? Can you read them?” inquired Theros.
“I can,” replied Gerrell, “Although it is strange, for it is written in the slave’s tongue. Which to my people is forbidden upon stone.”
“But what does it say, then?” asked Theros. Slave tongue? Ever since he had found this duo, Freak the Mighty as he called them, or they had found him, the little man had said things he understood but still made no sense to him. Claiming to be from some other land that Theros had never heard of was nothing new, stories of this sort were all too common in the wilds. But proclaiming the before days script as a slave’s language simply showed his ignorance, or lack of knowledge. Although Theros could not read the ancient script himself, he knew it well, and was able to identify it from his guiding text, the book that all of the crimson order kept. At least he did, until recently. This tome, made available only to the few privileged or cursed to read it, was known as The Hammer of Ket. It clearly outlined what the written script he now saw here in ancient stone was, and it was simply that of the Kasillians. He knew them, as all in the Lighted Order did as the before-days civilization. Those blasted peoples who brought the darkness upon mankind. It was certainly no slave tongue.
“It says nothing,” read Gerrell, tracing the runes one at a time, “These are invitations.”
“Invitations?” asked Ares gruffly. “Invitations for what?”
“Invitations,” continued Gerrell, “To take the treasure from this vault. It is an open invitation to plunder the wealth of the lord of this tomb. To,” paused the gnome, staring back up at them, “to bring to the first, the last of his treasure.”
“What in the darkness is that supposed to mean?” said one of the eavesdropping merchants.
“I don’t know,” said Gerrell, “But I know where the captain is now,” and he walked, carefully towards another of the columns, the one in the southeastern corner.
“How do you know he’s here?” asked the same merchant.
“Because it’s the only column that doesn’t have an invitation,” smiled the little gnome. He stepped around the still smoldering body of Henrik, who was now bereft of his wealth thanks to several of the crew and or merchants. “And something tells me whosoever built this tomb may have been a bit sarcastic.”
Unlike most of my posts, or adventures, this and the next several feature our adventures at the table in a part of the campaign inspired by The Treasure Vault of Kasil, which appeared in Dungeon Magazine 13. All credit for the base of the story goes to that incredible adventure, written by Patrick Goshtigian and Nick Kopsinis published by TSR in 1988. This post is a narrative account of our party’s journey into it, loosely based on that original adventure.