The Sands of Sa'arad

Submitted into Contest #8 in response to: Write a story about an adventure in the desert. ... view prompt



"... 'And here the rising sun first touches the golden earth, and the glory of Zoltaeg, the Risen, still lives in the hearts of the people of bronze.'"

The words were whipped away from him by the rising wind, and he sighed, lowering the tattered book in his hands with gloomy disdain. "I'm going to kill Wensley."

Beside him, knee-deep in snow, a bundled figure coughed loudly into one heavy fur glove. "It's not - a-kaff! - all bad... I'm sure we must be close."

But his words were lost on his companion, whose face had settled into its familiar "battle scowl," reserved for the demon hordes of Kar-Entheil and the occasional misinterpretation of his diner order. On this occasion it was almost immediately followed by his ripping the book in half with his bare hands, before letting the two pieces drift into the snowbank with a disinterested flourish of his brawny arms. "Past the Tremarhein, over the Ramtops, through the funny looking boulders. We followed the directions exactly, Leslie. That damn weasel's swindled us!"

"But... he promised not to, after the last time!" the little man looked honestly shocked. "That's rather dishonest of him, isn't it?"

"Yes. That's the point."

"Maybe he meant a different set of funny looking rocks."

The larger man considered this. "No," he decided at last. "Couldn't be. Did you see how that little line looked just like" - he paused, frowning. "Never mind. Forgot you're a eunuch. Apologies."

"I never said I'm a eunuch. I told you I'm Dongmorean. It's not the same thing."

A grunt. "Debatable. And I'm not in the mood for a debate. All I wanted was a sun, some nice, sandy dunes... a hillock or two..." his line of thought was cut off by a sudden pickup in the wind, which threw a line of snow all across his face, precipitating a yell of anger. "Damn the wizard!" he screamed, and proceeded to slice at the snow with a sword longer than the average crocodile.

Leslie sighed. "Bugn. BUGN. Stop it. You're not - (oh, dear, that was close) - you're not helping things." The sword swept overhead again, and only a decisively timed duck spared the navigator his scalp. "Bugn!"

Breathing heavily, the barbarian finally abated. His bare chest heaved mightily in the cold, and Leslie thought it was a wonder he was even still alive. He raised his voice tentatively, taking care to keep it as inoffensive as possible. "Would you like your coat?"

"It's not my coat. It's that giant's. And no, I hate the smell of it."

"You're going to freeze to death."

He only snorted. "Ridiculous! Heroes don't freeze." He paused, thinking, then: "That would be anticlimactic."

"Well... if you say so."

But the Literate Mound, as he was satirically called in the larger Aemetian cities, had already stalked off down the snowy dune, and had raised his hand to peer into the dark winter landscape. "No use," he growled. "See," he pointed ahead, "by all rights, that should be the Oasis City of Navad. Does that look like a city, to you?" A few blasted foundations were all that remained. Leslie could only shake his head in dumbfounded wonder, and as they approached the ruins he found a spot where the snow had not quite frozen and, acting on a hunch, kicked at the spot with his boot.

Bugn looked at him with a puzzled air. "What are you doing now?"

As answer, Leslie pointed. The two of them looked at the hole he had made. There was no solid ground, nor frozen sand as they had found in other places. A thick sheen of ice gleamed in the blue torchlight, and below it the barest outlines of a fish could be seen, twisting in a prison of deadly cold.


"It's so devilishly odd," Leslie said. From the other side of the fire, Bugn perked up.

"Devil? I could use a devil. Where?"

"Figure of speech. Calm down. But"-

"At least you can kill a devil..."



"Well, fine. Then listen. Everything's exactly where the map places them, which is strange, since that would suggest that the map is correct. Wensley said he had this made last year, too, which means that it's most likely up to date."

"So? He got lucky. Con men have that tendency."

"But this can't be a coincidence! Right? The only difference is that this entire place is an icy, barren waste instead of, well..."

"A hot, barren waste." The voice was not without irony. For a barbarian, Leslie had long ago noticed, the man had a surprisingly dry sense of humor. They said he was wizard-learned, though what that meant was a matter of light debate.

"Yes. Well." He sat in silent thought for a while, broken by a cough or two, and the occasional snuffle. Then, hopefully, "I suppose it could just be a freak winter. Maybe in the spring, it'll get better."

"It's June, man. And this is a desert."

"Then what's going on?"

The barbarian opened his mouth to answer. Then he closed it, and like a jackrabbit's ear he swiveled, moving like lightning, to lock his eyes upon a point very far away. Somewhere in the night, Leslie imagined he saw something moving, and despite the heavy coat and blazing fire, shivered.

The wind swirled. The darkness leered.

Then, a bolt of movement! Bugn was up and away, the only evidence of his passing a crater in the snow where his heavy frame had rested, and a line where his sword had lain. He was gone, in the snowy dark, and as he runs he hears Leslie calling after him, but ignores it.

Ahead, his eyes see beyond the limits of normal men, to a stirring shape near the base of the dune. These men carry no torches, and their postures are hunched and secret, their wagons augmented for snow. They came here prepared, which, Bugn thinks to himself, makes them very suspicious indeed. He allows himself a smile, and it stretches very far across his face as he hunkers behind what might once have been a grocer's stall.

Howling silence, and the soft thudding of hooves.

They turned with the dune, one glancing only momentarily upward, at the slight gleam of Leslie's fire. But the streaking ice hides it from obvious view, and he shakes his head as if to free himself from a dream, before walking onward. He steps once, twice, before being flung violently away! His torso flies left, his legs right, and before anyone can comment on the bloody sound three more of his companions lie dying in the snow.

The shouts from the wagon are ripped away by the wind, along with the quarrels that launch from the men's crossbows. Two are sheltered inside the cover of the vehicle, while another releases the reins of the oxen and dives to avoid the hurtling figure of Bugn. He is half successful, and the barbarian only manages to sever half of the left arm. Grunting in annoyance, he pivots like a dancer, and soon another headless corpse makes obeisance to the night. His eyes flick away. The oxen are of iron, their eyes red coals.


There is a sound like spears snapping in a man's rib-cage, and with a roar stronger than a dozen lions in tandem the great beasts charge, horns lowered in mechanical rage.

By this time Leslie had navigated nearly all of the tricky slope, and with a small lantern in hand he called Bugn's name into the wind. "Where are you going off to now, I should ask," he mutters, and then the roar makes shredded cheese of his raw red ears. When it has finally passed, he allows himself a moment of whimpering fear before rising from the reflexive squat, before continuing slowly on. "Bugn!" and it is, this time, nearly a wail.

"I am here, Dongmorean."

With a cry, the navigator turned, to find Bugn looking down at him. Smiling, chest thrust outwards, coated nearly head to toe with viscous red. Leslie gaped. "What happened?"

"The details would bore you. Most of this isn't actually blood, anyway. It's motor oil. See? There you go, asking questions again."

Leslie closed his mouth. Then, he noticed something. "Can I at least ask who that is?" Bugn looked at his left hand, which was clenched around the collar of a man who was not, in fact, unconscious, but doing a respectable job pretending to be. He whimpered ever so slightly at the barbarian's every movement, though, which was beginning to annoy Bugn intensely.

"A lucky man," he answered gruffly, and slung him over one shoulder, so that the captive's head was less than half a palms-width from the massive sword, which had been reluctantly sheathed. The climb was dreadful in the quickly worsening cold, and on occasion Bugn found himself carrying both of the men, while still trudging through the knee-deep, quickly freezing accumulation. So the sight of warm fire at the peak was a welcome one.

"Kept it burning, eh? Impressive."


"Of course. Hapshert's Wondrous Incandescence... but the flame is a friend." With a soft grunt he lowered his hostage and crouched loosely beside him, pulling out a length of rope.

"What happened down there," asked Leslie, excitedly, as Bugn began tying the man's wrists together. "Did they attack you? But you saw them coming! Marvelous!"

"It is, but no. I ambushed them."

"Ambushed them! But whatever for?"

"Look at the coats, scholar. Far too heavy for people expecting desert travel." Bugn pinched some of the material, showing its heavy layers. To himself, he murmured, "Yak fur, eh? I'm almost jealous."

"But... but..." Leslie glanced down at his own heavy coat. Bugn tried to give him a patronizing smile that turned out more as a snarl. The gore on his face didn't do anything to help the image.

"Yak, Dongmorean! They only make clothes with that in the northern mountains of Lin, which makes these very wealthy merchants, or something more... sinister."

"Or perhaps they bought them from someone. Besides, you didn't know they were yak fur until just now."

Bugn sighed. "Fine. But it's been a frustrating day, scholar, and I needed a way to... how do they say it, in Ans? 'Let off a little steam.'"

"You killed them because you were bored?"

"Precisely! And anyway, he's getting up, so perhaps we'll find some answers."

The man was indeed rousing himself, with all the dignity of a mountain lion that has been beaten, half-drowned, and shot twice in the leg for good measure. Upon seeing Bugn, he screamed.

"See what you've done? Poor thing's frightened half to death." Leslie sighed. "Honestly, I don't know why I try..."

Bugn grunted. "It seems you are right; he's gone quite mad. Listen to that gibberish he's mouthing... insane, no doubt about it."

"No! Bugn, no, wait." He grabbed the other man's arm, which was reaching toward a short dagger hung at the belt. "That's not gibberish, it's western Jian!"

A brief hesitation. "You speak it?"

"Well enough to know what he's saying, certainly. As long as he doesn't start talking about Prythenian mountain flora, we should be fine."

Bugn eyed the frozen necropolis of snow. "That doesn't seem likely."

But he was ignored. His navigator was already deep in hushed, apparently one-way conversation with the abducted man, who was trembling gently while Leslie spoke in reassuring tones. At length, the navigator turned back towards Bugn with a reprimanding expression.


"They're natives of the Highland. Come to seek the wisdom of Orogas. Those bulls you were talking about were intended as a gift, to be exchanged for prophesy and camels."

Bugn winced, but only slightly. "We all make mistakes." He gave the third man a once-over, taking in the long, high-boned face, the lightly tanned complexion, and the slender limbs of a man suited to mountains. He had been to mountains once, and far preferred them to here. There was a briskness at that altitude that gave a man a feeling not unlike freedom, after many long years of graceless toil. "Does he know what happened here?"

Leslie only sighed. "That's what they're here to find out." In his hand was a scrap of torn, linen-like parchment, which he extended to Bugn. It was filled with funny looking letters that all looped together, and which pained the eyes in long exposure. "Loosely translated, it reads: 'Winter devours the vanity of man. Orogas, 2677.'"


"His two thousand, six hundred and seventy-seventh prophecy of the future. I believe the monks of Radabad are fond of keeping a running tally for each Prophet. They keep score on these little wooden tablets" -

"Yes, yes. All very interesting." The barbarian paused, trying to think. "They really don't know?"

"No. But," Leslie added hastily, for Bugn had drawn his knife, "he's the last person around here who knows where to find Orogas. We need him."

The knife stalled, then sank back into the bear-skin sheath. "The old man's probably dead. Like everyone else."

This was met with a quick translation from Leslie, and an outburst from the man. Leslie frowned. "Not dead. That's all he said."

"Not... look around you, man!" The wind wound and turned. "There's not so much a hut left standing. It would've taken a blizzard of godly proportions to -- wait." Their eyes met. Widened. "That could work," said Bugn.

"Makes enough sense," nodded Leslie. The former broke into a grin, the latter a horrified face of grim realization.

"I've always wanted to kill a god."

"Now wait just a minute, we can still" -

But in a motion, the Highlander had been hoisted over the brawny shoulder, the snow billowed up as if rousing from sleep, and with a wink and a brief kick at the fire, Bugn, Mace of Dragdorn, Savior of Ten Thousand Lands, Klindavar to the Broken Shadows of Zavathu'ul, had disappeared. In the night, a torch flickered, now far, now farther, away, and Leslie could not suppress a smile.

He would be waiting. Such was his way. Just out of sight, in some clever nook of the dunes, perhaps, but he was there. Adventure awaited, away in the snow. Mounting his holdall more securely over his slim frame, the navigator stepped to find it.


And high above, away from death and horror and cold, the sun rose over a sea of silver clouds, and smiled slow glory upon the earth.

September 24, 2019 19:06

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Will Lopez
19:43 Sep 30, 2019

This feels like the beginning of something fun. I like it 😁


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19:31 Jan 07, 2021

It was a new twist for a desert adventure story so it was ok. Then I realized that such a story could take place in a winter desert rather than the notorious sandy rocky desert. Interesting waiting to see what happens next. Good ideas for another story with the characters.


Show 0 replies
19:31 Jan 07, 2021

It was a new twist for a desert adventure story so it was ok. Then I realized that such a story could take place in a winter desert rather than the notorious sandy rocky desert. Interesting waiting to see what happens next. Good ideas for another story with the characters.


Show 0 replies
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