The wasteland around the party is completely defiled as they jog deeper into the desert. Yvonne halts only to help the group protect themselves against the unnatural effects of the lifeless landscape, sharing some small measure of her power to ward off the worst of it’s maddening nothingness. Then, she urges the group to greater speed than before and, upon determined questioning, she reveals that soon the group will pass through the epicenter of the defiled zone.
Her words show true when the ruins of a small village crest the horizon. Yvonne is visibly anxious as she leads them past the crumbling walls to a sturdy stone well that seems to be the only thing still standing in this decimated town. Agitated, the party members are bothered by Yvonne’s reluctance to explain more about the defiled area, look around warily for danger and are hesitant to approach the well themselves.
Krask is vigilant for signs of warped monsters or tormented creatures, and knowing that this village lay at the center of such a vast defiled zone he summons his will and calls out to the spirits so that they might help him. The first words barely leave his mouth when Yvonne turns, alarmed, and shouts “No! Stop! Don’t—”
But her objections are too late. Krask staggers as not one, but hundreds of spirits answer his call. Before the party can move, the empty ruins around them are suddenly populated with scores of translucent thri-kreen. Their manifestations appear withered, tormented, and grief-stricken. One steps forward, obviously the leader, and demands to know why Yvonne has brought these trespassers here. At her awkward excuses and the group’s questioning, the ghostly thri-kreen reveals what Yvonne has not: that they may not pass through this village, nor use its well, without first paying a price. The group much choose: pay the price or fight their way through.
For several anxious minutes the adventurers debate their options hotly. They demand details from Yvonne and V’rak Chee – the spectral thri-kreen leader – and consider which outcome might be the least costly. Yvonne admits she had hoped to sneak the party past the ghosts but that she herself has already faced V’rak Chee’s toll and survived. V’rak Chee advises them that the price is not negotiable, it cannot be paid for more or less than what it is.
Lavitz volunteers first, followed by Shaqtir. Setalle coaxes Deovan forwards, then Zamru, Krask, and Setalle all step forward. As each approach, the thri-kreen specter places his insubstantial claws on their shoulders and one by one the adventurers are convulsed with pain as they fall unconscious to the ground. As each one falls, Krask attends to them until his turn comes and he too is stricken.
Although the vision lasts only moments, it is vivid in the passage of time. Days creep by without change in the silt, sand, and sun, and a lone thri-kreen trudges through the desert, pausing occasionally to lean against his staff. At last, V’rak Chee stumbles to his knees by a tiny pool – an oasis brackened by silt. Burying his claws into the mud, he prays to the elemental spirits. With great endurance he waits, time passes before the mud bubbles, silt swirls as it flees the wet ground and the moisture becomes a tiny swirling eddy of purest blue water. An amorphous shape rises and looks up at the insect. Exhausted but exultant, the thri-kreen nomad earnestly tenders his offer. The burbling elemental agrees, and before the young warrior can express his gratitude, the elemental bursts and dissolves back into the sand.
V’rak Chee stands, and around him the aspect of time flits and flutters. More thri-kreen arrive, buildings rise from the sands; stone and stucco are raised by their many strong clawed arms. The mud at V’rak’s feet sinks down, down into a dark hole and then is encircled lovingly in a protective stone shell. Beautiful, life-giving water is drawn from the well’s depth and the thriving thri-kreen village celebrates the wisdom of their founder and the anniversary of their village and give humble thanks to the elemental spirit that sustains them.
Too soon a shadow falls across the tiny village. The creature is dark and terrible, a massive beast of scales and leathery wings. His weight cracks the cobblestones and his claws rend the earth beneath them.
“SUCH BUSY LITTLE INSECTS YOU HAVE BEEN… AND YET I DON’T RECALL GRANTING BUGS PERMISSION TO BUILD A NEW TOWN WITHIN OUR DOMAIN…” the Dragon of Tyr’s eyes roll indulgently as he rumbles his ultimatum. “STILL, I AM IN A FORGIVING MOOD. PRESENT TO US A SUFFICIENT OFFERING AND YOUR SHABBY HOVELS MAY CONTINUE TO EXIST.”
V’rak Chee stands at the fore-front, amid a vanguard of his best warriors. Raising his gythka defiantly, the thri-kreen shouts his challenge.
“You hold no domain here! Ash’rak is free from your fear and tyranny and we will not tolerate demands from defilers. We will give you nothing!”
The saurian beast rolls his eyes again and a terrible sound rises from his massive chest. Without words, without incantations or gestures, the draconic jaws part and the blackened maw crackles with energy. The first screams fill the air as the defiling begins. Life is ripped from the living, it exhumes itself from existance. Wretchedly, the thri-kreen wither and fall in ever expanding waves. The warriors shriek they clatter into dust, the breeders and the young scream only briefly before they too shrivel into piles of black cinders. The blackness spreads, and spreads, ever outwards until the dragon’s maws gently close.
“THAT WAS A FOOLISH CHOICE…” the winged horror advises the emptiness. Creaking membranes stir up cyclones of black silt and the Dragon of Tyr wings away from the empty village, uncaring of the massacre he has wrought.
When the adventurers rouse themselves, staggering back to their feet aching and exhausted, the thri-kreen warriors withdraw. All keep their distance except the wretched looking V’rak Chee.
“I am bound forever to this place, but it must never be forgotten what that beast did here. I hope you carry these memories across Athas and warn others of the Dragon of Tyr. For sharing my pain, you may partake of this well. Despite the defiling, the noble elemental upholds his pact: the water here is pure and fresh.”
So the party rests and fills their waterskins. Setalle talks a bit with V’rak, learning that the thri-kreen’s sons were sworn to be elemental priests in his oath to the water elemental, and that this well will always be open to them should they ever return to this place.