As the group crested the sand dune, creeping slowly to the top they witnessed a scene of utter devastation, the camp beyond the dunes had been smashed until it was almost unrecognisable, one of the archaeologists lay on the floor, blood staining the sand from a deep wound in his side whilst the Templar was engaged in a pitched battle with a long sinuous creature combining the worst aspects of a centipede and a crustacean, a small crate attesting to where the beast had burst fourth from beneath the ground and attacked. Raising her shield Hurgen charged down the steep side of the dune into combat, Tk’Tak ran forward to assist but lost his footing and tumbled down the dune, open-mouthed the Bloodtide shook his head, seeing that any chance of strategy had now gone and charged after them. Athrialix meanwhile took full advantage of the distraction that his berserking comrades were providing and silently slipped into the ruined camp.
Moving into one of the surviving tents undetected Athrialix saw a microscope, numerous local specimens of fauna and what appeared to a scale drawing showing the size of the rest of the state (assuming that the body attached to the giant obsidian hand held to normal human proportions), he could barely stifle a gasp, the thing was huger than anything that he had ever beheld, a veritable collosus. Rifling through the papers he came across what looked like an itinerary and scratched his chin, it seemed that the original purpose of the dig had been to invest some interesting flora called the ‘Dead Man’s Cactus’ and that the party had only chance across the hand by accident after also being set off course by a sandstorm, the Templar had insisted that they prepare a report and charts for the Sorceror King before returning to Arrakis.
Outside the Templar stabbed at the Ankheg screaming “Thus perish all who oppose the Sorceror King!” Seeing that the immediate danger was past Hurgen offered her hand to the Templar, but the armoured warrior just sneered at the prospect of shaking hands with a slave, before he could utter a biting retort the Bloodtide (having suffered the tender mercies of the Templars before stabbed his punch dagger into the man’s neck killing him. Tk’Tak was examining the tunnel left by the Ankheg whilst Athrialix bought out the information that he had found, musing about an old legend concerning a Giants Graveyard far to the north of the continent and that perhaps it was connected with the great hand, perhaps these ruins were even the remnants of Hazak Simm, the lost city of the giants – who knows?
The sands around the group suddenly burst into life as a dozen or so insectile figures that bore a startling resemblance to Tk’Tak rose from the sands, one of the Thri-Kreen who had irredescent insect wings and referred to himself as ‘the Caller’ stepped forward to speak with Tk’Tak and explained that they were the guardians of the ‘Father of Giants’ set here to prevent him from rising again; he asked them to leave explaining that it was not safe for them here, he pointed at Athrialix and continued “especially not for one such as him.”
Eager not to have to kill the remaining scholars from the dig, Hurgen ordered them to not to go home (since no doubt the Sorceror King’s agents would get the location of the ruins from them), providing them with rations and suggesting that they make for the City of Shades to the east; as they walked off into the distance over the dune, Bloodtide turned to the Caller and said “You do realise that they will tell the Sorceror King and the Templars will be here in weeks?”
Nodding the Thri-Kreen Caller gestured to two of his clutch mates and pointed eastwards after the scholars saying simply, “Kill them.”
Reacting violently to the proposed callous murder of two fellow scholars, Athrialix reached out his hand summoned fourth a wave of magical energy that blasted out towards the Caller, the matis-man leapt nimbly to one sided, raising his own twin sets of arms in return; a huge sharp fragment of rock raised itself from the ground and flung itself towards Athrialix, striking him through the shoulder and causing him to grimace as blood stained his academics robes. Stepping between Athrialix and the Caller, the Bloodtide managed to smooth over the situation by explaining that the man were like the Caller’s clutch brothers, this seemed to smooth things over and the Caller shook hands with the Bloodtide; meanwhile Tk’Tak had transformed into a silt serpent and quickly dragged the injured Athrialix below the sands, emerging behind one the ruined tents, away from the other mantis-men.
Rubbing some healing herbs into his injuries, Athrialix gestured to Hurgen and the two of them headed for the Mekillots, riding northwards away from the ruins, the Bloodtide shook hands with the Caller once more and both himself and Tk’Tak followed after their companions whilst the mantis-men returned to their vigil.
Days later they arrived in Arrakis, the whole city seemed to be in an uproar as they rode through the gates, there was talk that the ancient waterworks below the city had somehow been damaged, Tk’Tak spoke to some passersby who blame everything from ancient curses to the work of Pharnish spies for the destruction of the only stable water supply in the region. The crack of a whip and shout alerted the group to the presence of a templar and five soldiers leading a chained gang of half-giants down the street towards the gare from the city; although she glared at the Templar and worried for the fate of her people if the news of the sabotaged waterworks was true, Hurgen chose not to make a scene, the Bloodtide, having once been a slave himself, was sympathetic to the plight of the half-giants.
Athrialix travelled to see his uncle Kallisto in the merchants district of Arrakis and rote a letter about the mantis-men tribe sacrificing people, the rough location of the ruins and a mention of the obsidian hand, he was interrupted when a half-giant escaped from a chain gang burst in shouting “Help, they’ll kill us all given the chance!” As Templars began to burst into his uncle’s shop, Athrialix decided that discretion was the better part of valour and slipped out of a side door, making his way towards the academy and his dorm as quickly as possible.
Hurgen meanwhile had given Tk’Tak directions to the abandoned tunnels that she had originally used to escape from her slavery in the waterworks below Arrakis; transforming into a small domestic lizard and snuck into the waterworks, however, the normally clanking ancient machinery was silent, there were signs of explosive sabotage and a bloody struggle. Seeing few guards (perhaps because the damage had been done) Tk’Tak returned to where he had left the others and lead them back to the underground caverns full of ancient stone pillars and ruined pieces of the pre-cataclysm mechanisms that had once provided water for the entire city. Heading down to what had once been the underground reservoir they were horrified to find that the water appeared to have been replaced by a sticky green slime, a rough notice was pinned to the water of the tunnel:
“Stay Out, by Order of the King’s Templar”
His eyes drawn to something glinting in the slime, the Bloodtide spotting a body slowly slipping below the muck, grabbing his war spade he sunk it into the corpse and pulled it to shore, as he did so a wonderous sight met his eyes, a silver locket (“metal, real metal!”) tumbled from the Pharnish uniform that the corpse wore, a red ruby was studded into the lid of the locket and inside were traces of a greenish powder. The dead body also had six Pharnish coins showing the image of Jom’Ul Sorceror King of Pharn on them, the Bloodtide sneered, throwing them back into the slim before pocketing the locket.
“We need to see what Athrialix makes of this.”