As he walked down the corridors of the Academy Philosophica, morning light streaming in through the windows, Athrialix’ attention was drawn to a circle of his peers eagerly discussing matters of import; an elderly scholar was addressing them, a man that Athrialix recognised as Coptarix, a particularly learned (if somewhat eccentric) gentleman. Coptarix was telling his younger colleagues about the ‘Trial of the Magi’, a great tournament that was reputed to be both a test of intelligence and wisdom, it happened only rarely (indeed Coptarix had only known it occur once before in his lifetime) and was the only way to become a magus legally within Arrakis, those who took on the challenge either came back mystically stronger and with the support of the Sorceror King or they did not return at all. Those who took the test were sworn to secrecy and thus no-one knew exactly what they involved although, if rumours were to be believed, the test was different for each person; those who succeeded would appear again (after a suitable period of training) wearing the deep azure robes of a sorcerous apprentice.
Meanwhile, having heard a man in the local cantina discussing that Pharnish agents were behind the recent sabotage on the city’s ancient waterworks, Bloodtide, Hurgen and Tk’Tak made their way to the college, built in a fairly normal quarter of the city, Tk’Tak transformed into a desert firebird on the way, thinking it less suspicious than a Thri-Kreen trying to gain access to the college. Arriving at the gate the Bloodtide explained to the guard on duty that they were here with a special delivery for Athrialix and, after a few moments, the guard sent a porter to fetch Athrialix. Arriving at the gate the scholar accepted the delivery of the firebird and ushered his friends inside to his own quarters, attempting to fetch them some water from the nearb pump, however the barest trickle emerged; Bloodtide showed the locket to Athrialix and explained about the Pharnish sabotage and the green slime that somehow had been used to effect it. Hurgen had notice some of the slime adhering to her boot still and went to scrape it off, she was surprised to find that it had dried out and had a spongey consistency, ash she touched it though the slime appeared to absorb the moisture from her hand, causing her skin to wrinkle and dry, wiping it off she quickly washed her hand under the trickle from the pump and appeared to suffer no further ill-effects.
There was a loud cry from the corridor as one of the academic collapsed, he appeared to be having some sort of seizure, green splotches had broken out on his skin; before Athrialix could get a better look the college apothecaries whisked the spasming man away on a makeshift stretcher, although just to be on the safe side Athrialix advised his colleagues not to drink the water.
Moving to the library (despite some initial problems with the portly librarians ‘no animals’ policy) Athrialix turned to Bloodtide asking “So are we resolved that we’re going to try and solve this water problem then?”
“Yes, otherwise everyone will die” replied the Bloodtide in his usually matter-of-fact way.
Throwing himself into the research Athrialix discovered a reference in an old, badly translated tome pre-dateing the apocalyptic transformation of Athas into the desert world that it is now to something called the Creeping Death, a plant-like organism that devours water wherever it comes into contact with it, using the moisture to reproduce itself and repeat the cycle; Athrialix suggested that the best way to proceed might be to force Pharn itself into providing an antidote whilst the Bloodtide wondered with the Templars did not seem to be doing anything about the current situation. Athrialix took the sample of the slime that Hurgen had scraped from her boot and passed it to one of his colleagues for examination.
In response to Hurgen’s queries about the fate of her people (now that slaves to power the waterworks were no longer needed) Tk’Tak, still in his firebird form, soared high above the city; to the north, outside the wall, a makeshift shanty town of tents had been erected and, under the watchful eyes of the Kings Templar, chain gangs of half-giants were digging huge trenches. As they walked through the streets heading for the northern gates, Bloodtide heard a familiar voice from a couple of streets away, one of his old opponents from the arena the Sultan of Death was addressing a small group of chained half-giants.
Resplendent in his green and yellow robes (strictly this were the colours of Pharn but then the Sultan did play the villain in the arena), the Sultan stroked his enormous waxed moustache and offered the half-giants a place of glory fighting in the arena, saying that instead of remaining as slaves and digging fruitless wells for water that doesn’t exist they could spill blood on the sands and bathe in the glory and accolades of the cheering crowd. Bloodtide had to admit that the Sultan make it all sound pretty good, but he knew the truth behind the gilded lies, kicking a crate out of his way the Bloodtide hurled his sword at the Sultan striking him a glancing blow to the shoulder; in the chaos Hurgen snapped the chains of the half-giant prisoners, who immediately began to attack their jail guards with all their formidable might.
Striding forwards Bloodtide called out the Sultan, challenging him to single combat, the moustached villain responding by striking out with his mace, Bloodtide felt the blow crash upon him and tasted copper in his mouth, spitting out blood onto the sand he grinned and said “Is that all you’ve got?”
As he rushed forward, brandishing his weapon, Bloodtide’s instincts saved him as the Templar rushed in from the side and hurled a bolt of sorcerous energy at the one-time gladiator; hurling himself to one side, Bloodtide impacted heavily with the wall, the eldritch bolt missing him by mere inches. Looking up, he could see that in the chaos the Sultan of Death had made good his escape, howling his frustration the Bloodtide barely registered Hurgan’s voice in the distance shouting “Fight your oppressors!” as she lead the half-giants in a bloody rampage towards the city gates.
Bloodtide took a savage blow from the Templar on his wrist armour, quickly tying his wrist wrappings around the Templar’s arm he pulled his enemy in close, driving his punch dagger into the unarmoured neck of the Templar, the Templar spasmed, gurgled and then dropped to the floor. Seeing that the half-giants were already some distance away and that the Bloodtide (formidable though he was) wouldn’t be able to catch them on foot, Tk’Tak transformed into a Kank, the Bloodtide swung onto it’s back and they raced through the city streets in pursuit of the berserking half-giant mob.
In the chaos Athrialix took the opportunity to follow the directions to the abandoned tunnels that Tk’Tak had given him and soon found himself standing beside an algal green expanse of slime that used to be a reservoir, it seemed as though the slime was spreading, looking around he saw the remains of Bloodtide’s war spade still sticking from the slime and (carefully) grabbing the handle he was able to pull the, now slime-covered, body of the Pharnish saboteur from the muck. Leaning down next to the body Athrialix called on his mystical powers and spoke to the spirit of the deceased, learning that the man had indeed bought the Creeping Death here (contained in a silver locket) to poison the water supply; as the spirit began to fade, Athrialix called on the power of things living nearby, using defiling magic to hold the shade in place longer, discovering that a traitor lurking within the city had provided the saboteur with access to the waterworks.
As he let the spirit depart Athrialix looked around him, a circle of the plant growth had been reduced to ash and destroyed, could defiling magic somehow be part of the solution to this problem?
The rampaging half-giants smashed through the northwest gate of the city, battering aside the guards that stood in their way, outside were more chained half-giants digging what looked like wells under the watchful eyes of city guard and two Templars, one of the free half-giants was hacked down by a Templar as the Bloodtide charged through the ruins of the city gate, leaping from the back of his mount and barreling into the murderous Templar. As the sorcerous soldier attempted bring his eldritch powers to bare against the gladiator, Hurgen chopped the other in half, sending his blood pluming into the air whilst the Bloodtide head-butted his opponent, forced him to the ground and stabbed him with a punch dagger. Looking around they could see that the half-giants had freed their kinsmen and, with reinforcements now fighting with them, had quickly finished off the guardsmen; a young half-giant warrior called Ruusal seemed particularly impressed with the Bloodtide and asked to follow him as an aide, seeing something of his own eagerness for battle in the half-giant’s eyes the Bloodtide accepted.
The half-giants quickly discussed what to do next, the majority of them wanted to make for a dwarven city that was rumoured to be in the mountains far to the north, perhaps they would find some allies or at least respite from persecution there; Tk’Tak agreed to sneak back into the city and buy provisions for themselves and the 20 half-giants that survived so that they could make the perilous trip through the desert to the north.
Meanwhile Athrialix had been attempting to create a ritual for solving the city’s water problem and believed that he could do so but that it would take him several days, he would also require a sample of pure water and help from someone who understood the natural flows of energy; he was relieved when Tk’Tak arrived (thinking that the Thri-Kreen druid could help in the ritual), but was less relieved when Tk’Tak told him about the half-giant breakout and their plans to head north towards a dwarven city. Athrialix agreed to prevail on his uncle Kallisto to get them a good deal on the supplies in return for Tk’Tak’s help getting a sample of clean water from outside the city and his aid in casting the ritual; the mantis-man agreed and, after some haggling with Kallisto (who was not happy that they had still not supplied him with the Rampager body parts as originally agreed) they got most of the provisions necessary for the northwards trip.
Meeting up with the rest of the group they distributed the supplies and began moving northwards, planning to stop off at an oasis that Hurgen knew of nearby (she had rested there after her initial escape from slavery) before continuing, Tk’Tak would take a sample of water from their to Athrialix for use in the ritual and would meet up with the ground afterwards.
The last words that Athrialix had said to Tk’Tak before they parted ways still rang in the mantis-man’s ears, “I have to undertake the test of the magi.”