Dark Sun: Call of the Desert

Chapter 4: As Above, So Below

… Wherein the heroes open the Dritan Games, and Khadija takes a sand nap

9th Day, Month of Haze, Season of Sun Ascending
It’s a few days after the githball game, which took place on the 6th. The companions have enjoyed some notoriety as a result of their recent big win in the arena. They notice that the popular talk amongst Balic’s arena enthusiasts has shortened their team name to “the Foamy Kanks” from the “Foamy Kank Killers.” A few fans who remember Sihaya’s kills in the arena have given her gifts of kank honey and kank bacon.

On the night of the 9th, a mangy boy messenger finds Khadija and Khayal in the Black Jug. He tells Khadija that Akbar has a broken leg and needs to see her urgently. Having taken little time to give his message, he spends much more working a tip, with eventual success.

When Khadija and Khayal arrive at Akbar’s hovel, he isn’t alone. An eladrin with silver hair and purple eyes stands in the corner (there being few places to sit). Although Akbar is sitting with his splinted leg propped up, he greets Khadija in his usual way: with a booming voice and an exchange of friendly punches. He tells her, “Not everything has been shiny for Akbar of late,” but doesn’t elaborate on the broken leg or any other conceivable low fortunes. “But,” he says, “the good news! The big Dritan Games are opening tomorrow night!”

Well-known to all gladiators and arena fans, the Dritan Games are elaborate arena stagings, with terrain hauled in to create various desert scenes. The terrain set up in the arena for the games is a secret until the opening game. Due to their expense, the Dritan Games are played as a series, usually with a noble or big mercantile sponsor.

Akbar reveals that he had scored a spot on the team scheduled to fight in the opening game, but with the broken leg, his team had decided to cancel. So there is an opening for a team of five for the first Dritan match. “Very big exposure for you!” Akbar beams. Besides the opportunity to play in a high-profile game, the game offers 150 gp to its winners. Akbar adds in his customary joyous voice that while there is technically a “losers” prize of 100 gp for fighting, the game is still “win or death.”

Akbar says he can get Khadija’s team a booking for the high-profile match due to their recent popularity, provided they include the eladrin as their fifth member. He introduces her as “Val, who has a name with too many syllables for Akbar to remember!” Khadija gives in to Akbar’s high-beam enthusiasm and accepts the new eladrin as a teammate. Akbar agrees to make the booking arrangement for the team.

Val, Khadija and Khayal return to the Black Jug, where they find Markos and Sihaya. Markos is working the bartender’s nerve by drunkenly singing and dancing on the bar. The burly mul bartender—the same one the party encountered when Khadija broke a bar stool—is still uninclined to take shit from customers, and shouts Markos off the bartop.

Khadija talks the rest of the group into entering the arena fight with Val as their new fifth, since Fenwryk is off doing a thief-catching job for the templar Roz (AKA away from the game for work). As the guest star replacing Fenwryk, Val seems a suitable “stunt eladrin.” Even Khayal, who had sworn never again to fight in the arena, is eventually persuaded to fight. “Let’s fight in the arena,” insists Khadija. “It’ll be fun!” Meanwhile, Sihaya admires Val’s red leather outfit.

Khayal and Khadija take advantage of Markos’s vanishing sobriety to have a little fun. They hire a bald, snaggle-toothed elf with no shirt and a concave chest to be Markos’s night companion. Snaggle-tooth is happy to oblige, and strides up to Markos. “What can I call you?” he asks suggestively. “A cab,” slurs Markos.

Markos rolls to see if he is sober enough to read the elf’s gender. Although I mean to give him a bonus since the elf is shirtless, I drop it when Markos rolls a spectacular 1. Fail! Markos decides to leave with the elf, and wakes in the morning in a shanty that makes Akbar’s place look like a palace. He escapes as quickly as he can, and cleanses vigorously in sand.

10th Day, Month of Haze, Season of Sun Ascending
The next day, Val takes Sihaya to the spike-decorated tent in the Agora marketplace where she had her leather custom-made. They are greeted by a portly, capable merchant who seems immensely charmed with the idea of custom-fitting a leather-armor domsuit to a half-giant (cue the Wade and Herren references). The merchant promises a custom-fitted suit for 25 gp down payment and 30 gp on completion. Sihaya agrees to return when she has the down payment money.

Meanwhile, Khayal tries to illicitly bet on her own game with Mendacious, their Siltfoot tribe contact from the githball game. But Mendacious is having wagering problems because of the last-minute team change, is unable to offer the service.

At sundown the team meets at the arena for their match. As is tradition, the opening match of the Dritan Games is a night-time torchlight game. For this series, the arena floor has been heaped high with soft, treacherous sand dunes. The fight begins with the lighting of torches all around the ring to illuminate the night fight. The gladiators can hear the crowd, but can’t see at all into the shouting blackness beyond the tall torches.

Disturbing or using the torches in the fight is forbidden. As before, the companions are to fight the games in their own gear, and no potion-fruits allowed.

Mahamud, the famous psionically projected herald, announces the team and explains the goal of the match: the team must get the capsules that are tied to the legs of each of eight kestrekels (an Athas version of buzzards), and turn them into the gamekeepers unopened.

When the game starts, the kestrekels are flying in two groups of four in different corners of the arena. Psionic handlers prevent the buzzards from flying away. The high constructed dunes of soft, deep sand slow movement by half, and obstruct long-range vision to a degree. The game begins well enough, with the team advancing forward and Valeriana knocking a kestrekel from the air at long range with her crossbow. As the team draws closer, Markos is able to burn down a whole group of the birds with the flameburst sling he acquired from the raiding Sun Runner elves during the kank-ranch job.

However, two anakores lurk unseen under the sands.

Fortune favors the team: it’s their two meat shields who attract the anakores. With a queasy feeling, Sihaya and Khadija each realize that the sand underneath is shifting violently, and enormous gray claws emerge from the soft powder to slash and take hold in surprise attacks. Sihaya fares well in her fight, but Khadija is grabbed, injured to -1, and dragged under the sands to suffocate and die. She makes her saves and in a couple rounds is rescued by Markos, who uses a psionic power to teleport the anakore (with grabbed and dying victim) above the sands. Markos is then able to stabilize Khadija with a heal check, saving her life. The team is successful (though their reward to reduced to 125 gp for the post-game arena healer’s work on Khadija).

Inside the capsules are rolled strips of vellum, with writing. No one in the team can read, but the herald Mahamud puts the written messages together and reads to the crowd:

“By the venerable charity of Ozymandias the Sun King will bread and water be served free in the arena square at midnight! Welcome to the Dritan Games!”

Whereupon the arena crowd goes, “Yay, free munchies,” and rushes for the stand exits—maybe resulting in a few fights, but what are a few arena brawls to the Sun King?

So concludes another victorious match in the arena.

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Goldie

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