Themiclés began to agonisingly pull his wounded body across the sands towards the cover of the dunes, a huge spear shaft still piercing his side, Athrialix slithered over to the Templar and with both hands began pulling the injured man towards the dunes, only stopping when it became obvious they were out of firing range.
In the distance Hurgen, Tk’Tak, the Bloodtide and their entourage of half-giants approached the unfolding scene and witness Athrialix pulling the bleeding Templar to cover, not wanting to agitate matters or be associated with the Templar themselves, the group elected to stay back. Themiclés meanwhile, between swallowing mouthfuls of a fruit based healing tonic that Athrialix pressed on him, told the philosopher that the mission was the most important thing, without water everyone in Arrakis would die, it was more important than anything even his own life; looking at the state of the Templar Athrialix suggested that they withdraw to the northern mountains and look for another way into the city, nodding in exhaustion Themiclés allowed himself to be pulled onto the back of Athrialix’ crodlu and the small party moved northwards into the forbidding darkness of the mountains.
At a distance, the Bloodtide turned to Tk’Tak and asked if he knew what Athrialix was doing with the Templar party, the mantis man responded that he wasn’t sure but that their philosopher friend was not being held against his will; at the Bloodtide’s suggestion Tk’Tak transformed into a desert bird and flew over the tower to scope out the defences, he saw a number of dwarves clad in leather armour keeping watch from the roof, each with a number of throwing spears to hand, a female dwarf matched between them, snapping out orders in a commanding, military fashion. Returning to the party, they watched as the doors opened and the dwarves came out to scavenge the fallen remnants of the Templar’s slaughtered crodlu mount that still lay on the sands, Hurgen approached them holding her hands out in friendship, after some initial tension the dwarves welcomed them, recognising that the half-giants were also former slaves of Arrakis like the dwarves own ancestors.
The dwarven commander, a woman by the name of Karam escorted them into the tower of Sandstone, a decaying watchtower being all that remained of a once glorious city, an old dwarf accompanying the group named Makad lamented that they had lost so much of their heritage that they could no longer even read the dwarven legends and stories carved into the walls, “It wasn’t enough for Arrakis to destroy our lives, they has to take our history as well” he mused bitterly, lost in his memories. Karam explained that the lower levels of the dwarven city had long since been blocked and were inaccessible; she was interrupted by Makad who told a long rambling story about a fell creature trapped in the lower levels, although Karam didn’t seem to take his story seriously, discounting them as mere legends. Karam explained that her great-grandfather Drakmar (a famous dwarven gladiator whose fame lived on even now, his exploits had inspired the Bloodtide to break free from his own bondage) had lead a group of escaped slaves north from Arrakis to reclaim their ancient home.
Hurgen asked whether they would allow the half-giants a home in Sandstone, the dwarves seemed amenable (and sympathetic) but explained there meagre resources could barely provide for themselves and the shanty town of tents filling the tower, each tent inhabited by a malnourished dwarven family; with the decrease of regular caravans due to a recent spate of bandit attacks they were barely surviving themselves. Tk’Tak suggested that perhaps, with the help of the half-giants and his friend in Shades they could set up some sort of trade concern themselves, Bloodtide was skeptical saying the Shades was a foul place rules by a man called Aráz, also known as the Slaver Lord and the Bandit King, no doubt they would be trading to the very people who were equipping the bandits.
Makad meanwhile had taken Hurgen aside and continued his rambling tales, explaining that he had been just a boy when Drakkmar bought them here, but he remembers the look of horror on the old chieftains face when he emerged from the depths having encountered the creature of the lower levels, Drakkmar said that the thing must never be allowed free and called for ten stout warriors to join him as eternal guardians; Drakkmar then descended into the depths with ten men, none of them were ever seen again but occasionally people disappeared in the tunnels nearest to the lower levels.
Under cover of darkness Athrialix took a single soldier and hunkered down in the dunes just to the north of the tower, calling upon ancient magics he cast a mantle of invisibility onto the soldier who climbed the tower, murdering the dwarven sentry on duty and dropped a rope down the side of the tower. Athrialix sent the soldier back to rendezvous with the rest of the Templar party, giving him orders to wait three days for him; sneaking into the tower Athrialix stealthily made his way through the filthy domiciles inside the tower until he located a deep well in a disused side tunnel, climbing down it he discovered that the well was blocked by chunks of fallen masonry, the lithe philosopher was forced to discard almost all of his equipment to squeeze past the obstructions and continue his descent.
A few levels up, just as the Bloodtide was worrying about where Athrialix was and what he was doing with the Templars a loud alarm bell began to sounds, the dwarves had discovered the body of the murdered sentry and sounded the alarm; during the distraction Hurgen asked Makad how they could get down to the lower levels, the old dwarf thought for a moment and then told them that there are a few wells leading down there but most are blocked and an old gate obscured by a collapsed tunnel roof. Deciding to try the gate, the half-giant Hurgen and Tk’Tak (who transformed into a mighty ursine creature) cleared the gate quickly, just giving Bloodtide time to poke around some adjoining tunnels, although he found little other than the decaying remnants of some ancient mineworks.
Beyond the gate, Tk’Tak could just make out a dull amber glow and, as the dust cleared they found themselves confronted by a roughly dwarven shape composed entirely of black stone and molten, burning rock, the creature opened it’s mouth and flames flared within the snarling maw.