It is Highsun, called noon in some languages, and Athas’ fiery red orb bears down mercilessly on the scorched earth surrounding Balic. The city-state’s noble towers and crumbling shanties alike shimmer in the heat, while the streets and markets, bustling earlier in the dawn hours, have nearly emptied as Balic’s denizens cower in the limited relief of shade (show pic, DSCS p146) . Roiling clouds of thin silt wash across the sky above the city, as well as gusting in waves down Balic’s streets and alleys, blowing in from the nearby Estuary of the Forked Tongue, a mighty gouge in the earth branching away from the main body of the Sea of Silt. The city’s harbor sits under the wings of Mount Laeron, where the oversized wheels of silt skimmer ships drift in from the shallows. Deep into the estuary itself, a few of Balic’s mighty Silt Dromonds patrol outward, their psionically powered helms enabling them to navigate silt of any depth.The Criterion, the city’s massive arena, swells with thousands of cheers, applause, and screams of bloodlust, massive sails of red canvas flap along the arena’s edges, their shade providing only minor relief to the patrons of this day’s bloodsport…
The characters wake in a filthy slavepen area, their sword-arms bound in identical bracers. Their minds are blank as to how they arrived, or how long has passed. Balic templars, guards, and half-giants arrive to torment the prisoners, before departing and leaving a handful of guards behind. Quickly recognizing one another, the heroes set about trying to escape, before being interrupted by a robed slave distributing food. The slave turns out to be Kanos, a human sent to aid the heroes in escaping. Unfortunately, the arena is the only way out, and Kanos gives them arcane berries to assist in their flight. The templars returned to bring them to their doom in the arena. The elf-beast, Thorn, attempted to fight his way from their grasp, but a Goliath’s club quickly ended his escapade.
Amidst the roaring crowd, the unarmored, unarmed group quickly acquired discarded weapons in the arena, and they fared well against a trio of large, feral half-giants. Their second bout, against a squad of Gith, saw much bloodshed on both sides. The desperate heroes held their ground boldly, before Thultak, a Dray(dragonborn) desert mutant (Dracotaur/Drakkoth)was loosed into the arena, quickly dispatching the remaining fighters. As they lay bleeding on the hot arena floor, Kanos’ mystic berries slowed their hearts and breathing, so as to appear dead to the cheering, bloodthirsty crowd and templar enforcers.
After horrifying visions of death, serpents, and unseen evil, they again awoke, this time stacked like cordwood in the back of a wagon, pulled by Crodlu and piloted by Kanos, who had rescued their carcasses from beast fodder, posing as a hunter needing their flesh to bait monsters from the wastes. He explained their destination was Altaruk, and that they had been traveling nonstop for nearly two days. Removing their bracers, they were struck to find arcane runes embedded in their flesh:
“You peel back the bracer to reveal a large tattoo on the inside of your right forearm, starting just below the wrist and ending short of your elbow…it seems to glow a dim red light in the shade of your confines, shedding light as a candle would. It is colored in numerous shades of red, a field of swirling arcs, wicked barbs, and coils, almost like a nest of newborn serpents. As you tilt your arm to get a better view in the poor light, the sun catches it and the snake-like patterns almost imperceptibly move, stretch, coil, and uncoil. You have seen many tattoos, they are a common form of decoration among Athasians of all walks, but this seems to be buried deep within the flesh, with the muscle and skin above made transparent by some unknown power. Atop the nest of serpents, five circles line up along its length, each containing a different mark that you do not recognize: Three serpents entwined; A jagged set of four clawmarks; A scarab with a skull on its back; A hexagon with a triangle inside of it; A seemingly arcane scribbling of marks and swirls; and finally, a blank space that holds no symbol.”