I’d like to share a bit I wrote about some heroes travelling from an equatorial grasslands where the Rhinomen live across a great desert to an abandoned Pyramid in the desert. I credit inspiration for the Pyramid to B4: The Lost City, a most excellent D&D module. However, my pyramid does not lead to forgotten peoples in an underground civilization.
The Pyramid in the desert is a practical accomodation to the harshness of desert sandstorms, and used to be an outpost of a long defeated Elvish Empire.
One thing that bothers me is the people whose story I’m telling are of the Cow tribe, but their primary interaction with animals is with Camels. And so I need to weave a sub-story about cows with the main story. Shomari, who operates Camel Lot, is of the Cow Tribe, but camels are his particular love. That is not to say that people of a given tribe have to prefer their totem animal. After all, Cathal of the Pig tribe keeps wolves at his tradepost.
If you are a fan of my work so far, you will pick up that freedom is an underlying theme of this story, among all peoples. And so people of the Pig tribe are free to love wolves, or orangutans, or cats, or whatever else they have affection for. As with the Cow tribe, the Eagle tribe, the Dolphin, or any other tribe. Their cultures are different, but their fundamental assumptions of personal liberty are more or less the same. The manifestation of that liberty is what distinguishes the various tribes.
Please let me share with you how Fabian, Tree, Binti, Samara, and Arachnid leave Camel Lot and travel to the pyramid in the desert….
Exit the Oasis
The party awoke the next morning before the sun to Shomari singing by the pond.
Fate has blessed me with camels
and friends, food and water
if I could relive this life
I would not choose another
The forces of nature at my command
a beautiful woman, and useful work
if having all this isn’t enough
I’d rightly be called a jerk
Strangers come and go
and tales they share with me
If I had to stay the rest of my life
I would do it happily
Shomari continued his song, and the party and the denizens of this oasis awoke and prepared for their work that day. When Shomari’s song was complete, he returned from the pond and ordered some breakfast brought to the party. They ate more cottage cheese, and kefir, bread, dates, and smoked fish.
As they ate together, Binti asked, “Where did you get these fish, Shomari?”
“At great expense, I brought them from the ponds of our own country. Several wagons filled with water and fish, and sadly some fish did not survive the heat. But those that did bred here, and did very well. Now this pond has algae, and plant life, and fish, and crayfish. The water is very deep in the center, where most of the fish hide during the heat of the day.”
This fact piqued Tree’s curiosity, and she asked, “Why doesn’t this pond evaporate?”
Shomari grinned, delighting in Tree’s intellect. “There is an underground reservoir that spans miles. I think the elves tapped it long ago, but since their defeat it remained untapped as far as I know. And so with the help of the good dwarfs over there,” and he pointed to the dwarf camp that was active with bustling little men gathering their tools, “ I blasted the earth here. It was exhausting. They dug as deep as they could before the sand caved in, and I used that which I’m blessed to blast through. First we found mud, then with more work we raised the reservoir to the surface.”
Fabian asked, “And how did you find the underground reservoir?”
Shomari answered, “Where there’s hills, there’s water. We doused.”
The meal went on, and then they began to clean up. Shomari said, “Please, wash in the pond, and get ready for your journey. I’ll have your camels readied.”
So the party each stripped naked, and they were unashamed, and swam in the pond, and washed themselves. Being early in the day, there were still some fish near the surface, and those fish swamp about their ankles, tickling them. All except Samarra, whose skin was so thick she could not feel the fish, but she cherished the soft squishy mud under her toes, and was glad to wash grime from her journey away.
They bought water bags, provisions, ropes and torches from vendors. Arachnid was well behaved, and Binti bought him more dried fruit. The newly acquire camels tanked up on water until they were full, and the preparations for the journey were almost complete.
Shomari came to the party with his lady companion, who bore a gourd filled with fermented sap. “I’d gladly refund your money if you would head home. Can I change your mind?”
Fabian shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. While your place is well defended, “ and he looked to the towers where archers stood watch, “I have to know what the Snake Men are up to. As far as I know, nobody has meddled with the Pyramid in a long time. It’s time to figure out this mystery.”
Shomari nodded, and scratched the camel behind the ear. And he said to the camel, “farewell friend.” To Fabian, he said, “Very well. I’ve charged you enough. Take this mead my lovely companion has brought. It’ll lift your spirits if you encoutner the evil I’m afraid you’ll find.”
Fabian accepted the gourd, and stowed it in a saddle bag. “I won’t forget you, Shomari. You’ve been a kinder and more generous host than any stranger I’ve ever met.” He shook hands with Shomari, and nodded to his female companion, saying “madam,” and then urged his camel to begin the trot to exit the oasis. His companions made their salutes, and rode on, and Samarra brought up the rear, jogging and clanking in her armor and weapons, leading her pack camel by the reins.
Shomari watched with a heavy heart as they trotted out between the guard towers of the eastern gate. He feared he wouldn’t see his beloved camels again, nor the kind and brave adventurers who graced his little outpost in the desert. A tear dripped from his eye, and his companion saw this and said, “are you alright, Shomari?” Embarassed, he lied, “Just a bit of dust in my eye is all. Let’s get back to business. The dwarves need their milk and kefir!” And the two returned to the fermentation caves.
To the Pyramid
It was not a long march to the pyramid, but it was off the beaten path, so to speak, as much as one could discern a beaten path. The party road eastward for a day, resting at sunset, and then turned souteast for half a day, and they saw the pyramid faintly rising in the distance over the sand dunes. It was extremely hot and dry in the desert sun, and despite plentiful water rations, they were fatigued by the oppressive heat.
Tree observed the pyramid at a distance with her telescope, and said, “Five hours, maybe six. I think there’s vegetation.”
“Nonsense,” said Fabian. “It’s drier than cracked bones out here.”
“I see something not stone, not sand, but vegetation,” replied his wife. “Look!”
Fabian took the strange contraption, squinted, and aimed it along his wife’s pointed finger. Indeed it seemed there were scraggly trees eeking out a meager existence. Where there was vegetation, there was water. Even if death awaited them there, at least they wouldn’t die thirsty.
Samarra wasn’t dismayed, and she spoke of the adventures ahead. “There’s evil to smite, I’ll warrant. Whatever secrets the elves left in the pyramid, they’re best left secret. Wherever the Snake Men go, evil follows.”
They rode on for another five hours, and the pyramid grew ever closer, until it towered in front of them. Smooth cut stone on four sides, save for a cut staircaise, and a rectangular stone door near the top. Around the pyramid there were thin, widly spread conifers, and cacti, and dry grasses.
When they got closer, they found the body of the dead Snake Man the birds spoke of. Eight feet long, this great hybrid snake-human creature lay face down in the sand, an arrow in its back. A scimitar lay just out of reach of it’s outstretched hand. With a gesture, Fabian signaled the party to dismount and take defensive positions while he examined the body. Binti readied her bow, and Tree her automatic crossbow, and Samarra her javelins. Arachnid puttered around on all eight limbs, sniffing the dry air.
Fabian was puzzled to see no signs of decay on the creature’s green, scaly skin. He reached down to pull the head up, only to recoil at the most peculiar at the sensation of touch. The skin was hard, like the chitinous exoskeleton of an ant or a beetle. “Tree,” he said, “You should look at this.” Tree handed her crossbow to Samarra, and came to examine the corpse.
She felt the corpse, and she too recoiled. “How odd, flip him over,” she said. Fabian grit his teeth, and heaved the massive creature out of the sand and flopped it on its back. The hood around his head splayed open. The snake’s eyes were mutlifaceted, like an insect’s compound eye. It lay, mouth agape, fangs exposed, dry, and not decomposed. There was no foul odor, nor bugs, nor maggots. Just a great snake with arms and hands, and a hard, chitinous skin. Tree had never seen such a thing. “What happeend to him?”
Bintri felt impatient, watching the doorway atop the pyramid, some fifty feet up. “What is happening?”
Tree replied, “Keep watch daughter, and I will explain after.” She looked to her husband.
Fabian frowned. “This isn’t natural. I don’t like this.” And immediately he regretted bringing his daughter along. She was fourteen, and able to make decisions for herself, but he hadn’t forgotten his fatherly instict to protect his child. He said to the people on watch, “This snake man has skin and eyes like an bee or wasp.”
Samarra slowly backed up, and glanced down at the corpse. “It sounds wicked. Whatever happened here was evil. I’ve wrestled Snake Men and none had skin like that.”