Desert Cave

Nomadic legends speak of a great worm slumbering beneath the sands, stoking the fiery heat of the desert. Tales told how the beast would awaken when the desert grew too cool, emerging from its slumber to bake the world above. For centuries the desert has grown and extended, proving, say the tribesmen, that the worm grows stronger.

Until a year ago, the legends were mere fables. Then the tremors began. Scholars grew concerned and began to investigate, but the desert tribes knew the truth: the Ravager was awake.

It emerged two months ago, hot as the sun itself and as tall as a mountain. The beast destroyed an ancient desert city, reducing it to particles of sand. For a few horrifying days, it remained above ground, and then it crashed down, disappearing into the earth, leaving a massive tower of luminescent crystal behind.

Even as the legends foretold, the crystals remain, acting like lenses that amplify the sun’s energy, heating the desert even more. The site is uninhabitable, and the heat blisters the skin of any who venture too close. Some even say that those who venture too closely begin to change, their bodies mutating.

The bedouin legends spoke truth: the Ravager of Shurax has returned to the world.

Part I

Part I: A Legend Unearthed

“Quarro, slow the camels!”

“You hardly have to tell me, sir.” Quarro set about the business of slowing the long caravan train because the ground was trembling again. The tremors had come every few days, for more than a month. At first, they had been a curiosity, but now they were getting worse.

The caravan proceeded at a measured pace, and Quarro turned to what he felt was the important business, cheering up Noscal, his caravan master. “Why so glum? We shall reach Illum for today’s early morning market and turn a nice profit.” The moon was low in the sky, and the chill in the air felt refreshing.

Noscal sighed. These days, he always looked morose. “It’s the ruins,” he said. “Our history, our legacy, is far more important than mere coins. Doesn’t the sight of them raise your spirits?”

“Never seen them. Don’t care about them.” Quarro replied.

“But you should, and I do. I visited many in my youth. The way this ground trembles, the next one I visit will be reduced to piles of sand.”

“But the tremors, leveling the sand, it’s been good for us. We haven’t broken an axle in six moons. Our caravans have never traveled so safely.”

Noscal shook his head. “Some of the ruins were beautiful. And some held ancient libraries that housed magnificent tomes. We can learn much from the history of the world by visiting these places. Those friendly illumon who have agreed to buy our wares, a few of them, Greidl, Satmith, and Cerbon, they promised to lead me to the ruins of Fordon this time. Said to be a gorgeous place, with great sandstone sculptures. And I’ll bet it’ll all be reduced to rubble. This trembling earth is the death of our glorious ruins. And what causes it, I say? Where do the tremors come from? The very devil’s awake down there.” He peered back toward Quarro pleading his case earnestly.

Quarro forced a smile. “You know of the legends. Perhaps the living rock slides a little below, to reach a sturdier place. Allow me to cheer you up over a drink at Illum. We’re only two parasangs away, and the tremors have stopped again. Let’s make time!”

“Forward, make time!” Noscal called, and the merchants urged their camels forward.

The caravan was approaching the last hill that hid Illum from view when a deep rumbling and a slight quake shook the earth. This one was closer than the others, and it stirred the camels into vigorous protest. Quarro’s eyes widened and he blurted out: “Sir, let’s stop. Let’s go back. The other way.”

“Min Sijak, are you serious?” Noscal said, surprised. “We’ll have to junk all our wares if we don’t get to Illum. Forward, I say.”

The ground trembled beneath them again, causing it to swell underfoot in small waves. A sharp judder, and then once again, the earth lay suspiciously quiet.

“I’ve been thinking,” Quarro said. “These tremors: every step we’ve taken on this blasted trip, they’ve gotten worse. Stronger. More frequent. Maybe Illum’s their center. Maybe what’s causing the earth to quake lies in wait there. Please, master, accept my word this once. Let’s just leave.”

Noscal smiled with only a bit of confidence. “We’ll discuss it over a drink in Illum. It’s a fine place to cheer you up. Forward.”

They crested the hill as the sun was rising, and the sparkling city came into sight. Quarro continued to drive the lead camel, but it was moaning now, resisting his tug and shuddering even when the earth stood firm.

The merchants shouted in glee at that first glimpse of Illum shining in the sun, but the earth beneath them gave a mighty yank, and their cheers changed to cries of horror. In the distance, in the center of the city, a violent and cataclysmic eruption shot a massive tower of rock into the air. It was a hundred feet wide, and hundreds of feet tall. A blast wave of sand and debris launched into the air, causing the caravan and its creatures to rear back in sheer terror.

The monolithic tower was no rock. It was alive. Its breath was a living cloud. Its radiance dimmed the sun, and its blast of heat, even at this distance, made the men stagger back.

The thing began to move. It turned and twisted, and opened a massive trichotomic maw, so big it was an impossibility to fathom. Glassy plates all over its hide reflected piercingly bright light from the rising sun. And then it hit the earth with a monstrous howl that could be heard for miles around. It caused a tremor that made the camels roar and knocked the men of the caravan off their feet. Quarro heard screams behind him, and footsteps, as half of the merchants ran off.

The titan rolled away from them. It roared and twisted and turned. The date palms south of the city caught fire from its bright light and heat and abruptly burned to ashes. And then the creature lay still, towering over the place, almost still.

“Sir,” Quarro said. “The city is gone.” The entire city had vanished under the massive creature’s thrashing weight.

“The deaths,” Noscal said. “Our friends: They’re all gone. Oh, weep for them.”

Quarro rounded up the remaining merchants. They gathered in a small group and offered up prayers for the spirits of the Illumon. And they stared at the city’s wreckage. One of the remaining merchants bowed low to Noscal. “Sire, we have lost our market. We are ruined. Lead us away from here, before the thing attacks us.”

Noscal frowned, looking determined as ever. He drew out a bulging purse. “Men, I’ll make up your losses! Let’s stay here and watch. It is history itself that we witness.”

“Sir,” Quarro said, “what if it attacks us? Shouldn’t we flee at once?”

“If it wants to chase us, how could we escape?” Noscal said.

He paid each man enough and bade them watch. They unpacked, setting up sun breaks for themselves and their camels, keeping a wary eye on the creature. Every hour or so it moved. They could feel the ground tremble, along with a blast of heat, whenever it did. It seemed to be heating up, the sun amplifying and warming its hide. Already the temperature here had risen to a dangerous level.

“Do you know what it is, sir?” Quarro asked.

“We all know,” said Noscal. “We’ve all heard the same legends, but never wished to see it. You’re looking at the Ravager.” The men shook their heads in disbelief.

“What else could it be? The tales say it will go aground soon. Care to wait and find out?” Though none wanted to stay, they believed their only hope in surviving this event was to stick together.

They set watches that night. As the moon rose, the thing stirred and the ground quaked once again. They had moved the caravan back a good way and were glad that they did, a massive fissure grew around the beast.

Some hours later the Ravager gave a mighty wriggle that made the ground beneath them roll and jerk. It curled around and then crashed downward near its entry location. In a mountain of sound, the beast plunged back down into the earth, its body taking nearly a minute to disappear into its depths.

Thick dust lingered in the air, that would take hours to clear. Though the Ravager had disappeared, part of the monster remained behind. What had looked like glassy plates on its hide were great red-hued crystals, and they had torn away and peeled off the monster as its hide rubbed against the earth. It was now a jagged, angled tower of crystal that scraped the sky.

The sun made the tower glow fiercely as it rose. The area around it became hotter than the heart of the desert, for like a lens, it was amplifying the sun’s light. The tower focused the sun’s brilliance in a hundred places at once. The caravaners stood in disbelief as they watched a grove of great acacia trees shrivel and burn in half an hour. The patch of burnt earth near the tower expanded as the day progressed.

“It’s time to leave,” Noscal said. “We’ve seen all we can see. We must warn the people before they find out about the Ravager, the hard way. It isn’t done with us yet.”

Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII