Dark Sun - A Veiled Alliance cityscape campaign

Dragon's Alter


VA contact in Nibenay: Marhand Darkin, the Protector – (Male Dwarf Artificer/Blacksmith)
VA scouts report that a large group of individuals is on the move from Ft. Bremil to the south. The group was not seen leaving any of the major city states nor on the road heading to Ft. Bremil. The Fort itself is not large enough to accommodate the residence of such a large quantity of people, making their appearance seem odd and mysterious.
The scouts also report groups of armed men riding on flying cloud rays seemingly herding the group further south, through the salt flats and silt seas to the mountain range directly south of Nibenay. Scouts could not get any closer at time of this report nor have they reported anything new since this report came in yesterday.
In light of recent events, the VA would ask you to investigate as all other agents are currently deployed on other missions.
The Dragon’s Altar is located well within the mountains, in a canyon surrounded on all sides by towering, red-stone peaks. The Dragon’s Altar is actually within the caldera of an extinct volcano which erupted in a time so ancient that there is no record of it, not even in the vast memories of the sorcerer-kings. A narrow, winding path leads through a crevasse in the side of the canyon, granting access from the outside. At the bottom of the canyon is a single, massive block of chiseled obsidian—the Dragon’s Altar itself. Though no one knows who carved this obsidian slab, it has been fortified by some external means— magic, psionics, or something else—to remain pristine despite eons of use as a place of hideous sacrifice. The walls surrounding the Dragon’s Altar, on the other hand, have been carved repeatedly by the wretched beings waiting to be claimed by the Dragon .
The Dragon’s Altar is located in the mountains to the south of Gulg and Nibenay and near the Great Ivory Plain. At the base of those mountains lies an archway of carved stone bearing warnings (in the form of both pictographs and rarely- seen written languages of many of the races of Athas) that the region beyond the arch belongs to the Dragon of Tyr. The archway is not hidden but it is relatively small, so only those who know where it lies (or have a map leading to it) can find it readily. Without such knowledge, one could spend days wandering the foot- hills of the mountains, expending precious food and water while searching for the entrance.
Upon passing through the arch, a path winds for several miles through the mountains, where dozens of caves lead into darkness. Taking you off guard are the whispers of the sacrificed dead who call out from those caves to anyone who passes. Luckily for you, the pictographs warned you that those who were brave enough to follow the whispers have never been seen or heard from again, perhaps ferried directly to the land of the dead.
Tribe called alter saulkers makes its home in the system of ancient lava tubes surrounding the Dragon’s Altar. The “whispers of the dead” that people hear as they march toward the Altar are members of the slave tribe trying to lure potential sacrifices away from the Altar and into the safety of the caves before the Dragon arrives. They can save only a few at a time, both because they fear drawing the attention of the templars and because the tribe lacks the resources to absorb more than a few new members at once.
Other than those being sacrificed, templars are the only people of Athas who can openly claim to have visited the Dragon’s Altar and survived. Even when the Dragon is not there and no sacrifice is waiting, templars (in well-guarded entourages) sometimes visit the Dragon’s Altar on missions for the inscrutable sorcerer-kings. Mercenaries hired to accompany these templars tell stories of the visits, but all are different; sometimes the templars claim to be looking for slaves that escaped the Dragon’s wrath, while other times they offer no explanation but spend hours or days per- forming frightening, arcane experiments on the stone surrounding the Dragon’s Altar. Though explorers, dune traders, and raiders have almost certainly journeyed or wandered up the winding path to the Altar, they were either captured and killed by the Altar Skulkers or are too afraid of the stigma attached with standing so close to the shadow of the Dragon to tell anyone about it.
Streetwise  DC30: The escaped slaves of the Altar Skulkers tribe live in caves surrounding the Dragon’s Altar. The first Altar Skulkers were slaves who chose to risk their lives in the dark caves lining the path to the Dragon’s Altar rather than face the Dragon itself. The caves led them to a network of lava tubes where they could live without fear of discovery. The Altar Skulkers are a paranoid tribe who want their secret protected at all costs. On occasion, they rescue a few sacrificial victims by drawing them off the path to the Altar. When necessary, the Altar Skulkers send representatives to meet with dune traders at neutral locations and bring back supplies for the entire tribe. They use the spoils of attacks against visitors to the Dragon’s Altar to pay for their goods but live a meager existence nonetheless.
The Altar Skulkers are a slave tribe that has lived in the caves surrounding the Dragon’s Altar for decades, if not centuries. They use the area’s reputation to their advantage; since most right-minded people fear visiting a place so tainted by the Dragon, there are few visitors that the Altar Skulkers need to hide from or kill to preserve their secret. In essence, the superstition about the Dragon’s Altar, no matter how valid, serves as the tribe’s greatest defense against discovery.
Despite the rarity with which the Dragon’s Altar gets visitors, the Altar Skulkers have developed a relatively sophisticated system for warning against the approach of visitors. Lookouts wearing animal skins stained with red clay lurk in the peaks surrounding the rim of the caldera. They relay warnings to one another with a series of hand gestures. These scouts have learned to remain so still while on watch duty that (with the help of their cloaks) they appear to
be stones rather than men. When templars or other visitors approach, the tribe moves deeper into the supposedly haunted caves and waits out the visit. If the intruders are few in number, the Altar Skulkers may decide to ambush and slay them, then claim
the travelers’ belongings for their own. In the rare event that the Dragon comes to the Altar, the Skulk- ers have plenty of warning. They can retreat through their caves to a place so deep underground that the Dragon’s defiling does not touch them.
If pcs continue through path: Upon nearing the peak of an interior mountain, you come across an unnatural bridge spanning to another peak where you can see the path starting to make it’s decent to the caldera. The path here is roughly 20ft wide and unusually sturdy. The path is obviously well warn, pointing to often use over decades if not centuries of heavy foot and cart traffic.
A strong odor catches you by surprise as the wind picks up, carrying the stench of sulfur and directing you to the  lower reaches of the scene before you. A field of open earth lies below on the far distant path’s end scattered with bursts of flowing and erupting lava. The smoke plumes can’t quite hide the massive hoard of people gathered at the center of this massive area. It’s impossible to tell from this distance just how many are gathered as the scale of the site reminds you of a colony of ants all descending upon a newly found carcass. Surely, there must be thousands.
Perc: 22: the gathering crowd appear to be attached, perhaps a rope or vine connects one to another
Perc 25:  All around the perimeter and scattered throughout the crowd, men wielding great spears and whips seem to be directing the crowd to stand or gather around a central point, perhaps a rather large stone or dais?
The wind picks back up, bringing in a fresh supply of sulfur cloud to obscure the view below. The decent downward makes for an easier trek than making it up to this point. The spiraling path, while still in good repair, begins to take you through a much more harsh environment. Devoid of any plant life, even the rock down here is stained black by a past eruption.
Far off in the distance, the weak sounds of screams, moaning and cries for help can be made out between the loud noises made by lava flow. Overhead, the air begins to stir, like that of a jet wash, as something has taken flight and has begun fleeing this range.
Around the next corner, you can hear several individuals speak aloud in the common tongue " I don’t know how they would have escaped, but Doolf said they must have and were heading down here. When she heard that, Doolf was sent back on patrol to find better coordinates of where they are now and she told us to start heading up there, it’s to happen soon".
Stealth check: DC15. Pass = surprise round, Fail = spotted and attkd.
In rd 3 of fight, all knocked prone, weakened (save on start of turn ends), lose 1/4 remaining hp and 1 surge. Audible gasps for breath can be heard on a massive scale, followed by a sound that reminds you of what horribly dry bread would make when crushed, sort of a crackling as it fades to dust. A horrific beastly scream ensues followed by the sounds of flapping wings.
Perception / Arcana 15: cause was obviously defilement
Perception / Nature/ Arcana 30: this was a very large scale defilement that came through in a wave, like that of nuke, coming from center of caldera. A great essence of life was just lost from this act.  A great leathery beast has just taken flight from this location.
After defeat, pcs can explore caldera. Find remains of dusted humans, etc. 



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