Pik awoke the next morning to find that all his hair had fallen out, his eyes had stopped blinking and that he could taste smells with his tongue. Lorath pointed out that perhaps this was more evidence that the party should be rushing to destroy the crystal skull, but the druid was not put off by this development. Besides the skull's whispers inside his head, he was most impressed by Vara Kesh's ability to create an oasis, and was considering staying to study her techniques.
As an employee of House Wavir, caravan master Zilae sent word on ahead to Altaruk to send on some men to help staff the now-abandoned rest-stop. It was only two days away as the mekillot shambles, so some crodlu riders should get there and back fairly quickly.
Why was the rest-stop abandoned? Even having taken some of its agressive staff prisoner last session, the party discovered that they were still dead, killed by the zombie seeds that Vara had fed them to maintain their loyalty. It seemed that the bushes, together with the blood trees, were the pool's own guardians.
The party spent much of the day moving bits of ruined stone around while the mekillot crew watered the lizards; if some desert raiders decided to attack this new resource, they'd want some defence.
There was plenty of spirited debate between Pik and Lorath about whether to continue the journey to Balic or stay and space out with the hippies druids, but the bear stepped between them, insisting they wait until the morning (with the re-watered caravan due to depart) to decide.
Of course, come the morning something went wrong. The five party members and Vara - who'd been nothing but quiet and repentant ever since the psurlonic nature of her muse had been revealed to her - woke to find a loud voice demanding to know who'd stolen its lake, while five figures glided toward them over the water's surface.
With loud arrogance, the leader of the quintet introduced himself as King Quirinileth of the eladrin city of Harosheth. When the party expressed ignorance of the place, they were directed back up the hill, where they could see that the ruins had been replaced by a gleaming mirage-city.
Vara was all for owning up to having 'stolen' the eladrin lake, but enough members of the party argued back and forth disputing the justice of this action and trying to explain that a psurlon was behind everything that the king lost his temper and had dozens of guards march them all away at spearpoint to sort the matter out.
As they were led through the city streets, the party found that they could not really make out anything beyond the city limits, just a heat haze. It was quite possible that the lake was the only water source for these eladrin.
They were imprisoned in the finest luxury, their every whim catered to by servants, for the eladrin thought it impolite to send them to their deaths without giving them first a little hospitality. These servants - as well as Lorath, formerly an eladrin himself - were quizzed thoroughly. The eladrin didn't use gladiatorial games for entertainment like the 'savages' of the Tyr region, but to determine justice. The 'doomed ones' (as the party were referred to) would be pitted against the champion, and whoever won would be determined to be in the right.
A special loathing was referred to Lorath, whose return from exile was generally being looked upon rather unfavourably.
A surprise visitor, a bald eladrin from the original group of five, entered to talk with the doomed ones. He introduced himself as Lapidoth, chief psion of Harosheth. He explained the inevitable confusion of the Lands Within the Wind, where the city was located away from prying mortal eyes, and wished to talk more of the psurlon. Something was causing disruption between the world of Athas and the Grey land of the dead, and places pocketed away between those realms - like Harosheth - were being caught as collateral damage by the inexpert attempts at connection. The otherworldly psurlon would be the result of one of these disruptions, but hardly the root cause. Lapidoth feared that someone on Athas itself was behind these problems, and would like to have the party deal with them if it wasn't too much trouble.
Of course, first they'd have to survive the arena. It was certainly more glamorous than those seen before, with the very tiling of the floor beneath their feet expertly carved. The crowd was quiet and polite however, not baying for blood or excitement. Well, all save for one rowdy satyr that was causing some disturbance up in the stands.
There was remarkably little ceremony,the king's champion Querelian leaping down to stand atop a raised dais on the arena floor while four lesser eladrin warriors rushed out onto the ground.
This was the time for Lorath to reveal that Querelian was actually his half-brother, and the stinging words of the veteran gladiator prompted the assassin to teleport up to the dais himself and engage in a duel at dazzling speed, blades and words slashing back and forth between the two.
The rest of the party was beset by not only the four warriors, but an archer and a psion who had concealed themselves behind decorative carvings. Our heroes were battered backwards, and when Ilmani resorted to sorcery, things only got worse: with screams of "Defiler!", four eladrin composed of sand rose from the arena floor to attack, each exploding across the halfling's comrades just as happily when slain.
While theoretically in her element here, Raina was easily dazzled by the mind-mage, until Pik's druidic powers (and newly-discovered snake-shifting) flushed her into the open, and a face full of hammer.
Vara managed to take out the archer, while Ungarth climbed the dais to aid Lorath when he fell before his half-brother's onslaught.
The defeat of the champion brought a roar of denial from the king, insisting that the heroes had cheated. But they appealed to the crowd, showing the king for the mad hypocrite that he was. Lapidoth even tried to argue our heroes case to his lord. Incensed, Quirinileth kicked the psion down into the arena anddrew his own blade to fight...
Laurence J Sinclair