A Cruel Desert
The great crimson sun hung in the many-hued heavens of the western wastes of the Kubrajzar. It seemed to eat up the skies, which were different hues of orange and yellow and red, as though there was not even the possibility of coolness in sight. The desolate redlands took the beating of the sky with the patience and fortitude of two thousand or more years - who could know? Were these wastes not eternal?
But there was a being here now whose like had never wandered the deserts and vales of the Kubrajzar. Malri was far from home. Yet as he wandered in the oppressive heat that baked his armor and cooked his skin, turning his wings to what felt like flames, he knew he never truly had a home. The Luminant was but a distant memory… The snow wastes, oh the snow wastes, they were gone too. Even the ocean was nothing more but a desire now. A distant want to escape the heat. It was torture. For he could not die. The bands kept him imprisoned to his flesh, healing his burns as they burned, fueling his rage. Not even thirst could keep him down. It was as if his mouth and throat were the desert and his tongue a shriveled, dying plant but it didn't stop his slow march. He was a wrathful spirit, consumed to the core.
Every now and then his mace would poof into existence beside him, only to be abandoned again as he walked and only for it to reappear. Time and time again. He lost track after the tenth time, for his mind wandered frequently and his vision was haunted by a red haze. This fate was not fitting for him. He had been conqueror, a king! He had been a God! No he was a God!
Did Gods tire? Did they get punished for being cursed? Did they thirst and hunger? Feeling their insides starve and be replenished? Did they become consumed by rage? Over and over and over and over and over and over…
No sooner had he begun to think that the suffocating heat of day could do him no more harm - that his body had taken all its ardent rays and emerged victorious - then that great crimson sky-orb slipped behind the sandy horizon and the twin-moons came riding the night on wings of bitterest cold. The chill would have raked at his very bones, perhaps, but he laughed in the face of the night. Such as he no longer feared the cold. His laughter did not last long however, for even if he was warmed by the stone, it reminded him that this was not a place of pleasant airs. Extremes on both sides, never just a pleasant day. It made him angry.
Everything made him angry and as he quickly found out, that anger could do nothing but keep him alive. Coupled with the bands, it prolonged his suffering. Such as Malri was too vengeful to die in such a place. Truly, he could use his anger to escape and then punish those that had wronged him. He would endure to enact his revenge against the Litus tribe and that damn giant. For in this place he could keep his anger sustained forever. The heat and cold… The never ending cycle… It took a toll even on him and added fuel to the fire that burned inside of him. Like hot coals begging to be ignited into a roaring inferno.
So he kept walking, sluggish now, each anger filled step, feeling like his last. There was no direction in mind, for his mind was taxed to the limit on just surviving. Besides, it wasn't like he had any idea where to go.
There was just the endless walk towards his enemies or the nothingness that haunted him. Of a revenge never given. He preferred the latter. For seemingly endless cycles of day and night did he wander, the redlands spreading out before him in all directions. Sand and rock spread out as far as the eye could see, here and there great towering rock formations shot up like gravestones. Their shade, at least, provided some relief. He was in such a state of rageful delirium that he almost missed it one day - that something was different.
On the distant horizons there was something not red. At first it seemed like the sky had forgotten to be red or orange or some other torrid colour, but after his eyes passed over it a few times and it did not disappear he knew it was no illusion. There on the horizon was greenery and the promise of life.
Where there was green, there was water and water brought food. The idea of such necessities was tantalizing. It brought him renewed vigor or the illusion of it as he scrambled closer. It ushered forth in his mind an all consuming drive. It was the essence of surviving or death would claim him. Day by day the greenery got closer and closer, and soon enough it was but a handspan away.
Before him, as far as the eye could see, were wrinkled husks of trees and plants - there seemed in them no sign of life; their only feature was that they glowed green and so gave the illusion of life. There was no water to be seen, no coolness from the eye of the sun. The wasteland remained - only that now it was green.
As he came to a stop before this trickery, he did not want to believe it. He could not believe it. He walked so far and for so long and this was what awaited him? This… This false hope. He felt his anger turn to rage, and his rage began to bubble. The all too familiar sound of his mace arriving next to him was too tempting, and so, in a burst of speed that had eluded him before, Malri picked up his mace and swung. He swung at the plants and at the trees, roaring and cursing. It wasn’t fair! They would suffer as he suffered! He would make them feel his pain and as a particularly large husk was felled, Malri stumbled and fell forward. A great bloom of dust erupted from the ground as his body- no… His carcass found it’s resting place.
His rage subsided, growing dull as it did but leaving a reminder of its presence in the back of his mind. It wouldn’t let him die. That was his curse. He was too angry to die. What was left but that? Nothing but a nagging to keep moving on. The drive that came over those that faced death. And so, Malri began to drag himself. He would show them just how strong his will was. No matter what it took.
Yet these barrens - for all their lifelessness - were not quite devoid of life, and in his rage and in the great cacophony of his whirling mind, Malri almost missed the subtle sound of… buzzing. Looking tired towards the sound, he found that in the distance a great dust cloud was blowing wildly and violently, eating up all about it and approaching at speed. Only that - on closer inspection - it did not seem to be a dust cloud at all. The way its particles moved seemed too free to be the simple work of the wind. And as the buzzing grew louder and more incessant, and as the cloud grew ever closer, it dawned on him that the approaching cloud was in fact alive.
It was an endless vespian swarm, no doubt drawn by the great fury he had unleashed upon this deceptively verdant mirage. He growled, pushing himself to his feet as he watched the approaching swarm. His mace was not far and he walked to retrieve it. The rush began to flood into his senses, awakening them once more. He had heard of these things from the Litus tribes but had never actually seen them. Still… He wondered if they were edible.
They came screeching and hissing, armoured vicious things with abnormally large scything talons and stingers; and they seemed to care for little but him. Mindlessly they came, and mindlessly they were cut down - and still they came, blotting out the light of the sun, swarming from all directions, cutting at wings, at lefts, at arms.
His armor could only do so much and every cut, every sting, every bite that he felt was a dose of rage. He felt his wings be torn to shreds, he felt them be reduced to bloody stumps of flesh. He lost himself in the pain and his rampage was never ending. They came and they died. They cut him and he healed. They bit and stung him and he healed. He felt something hot run in his veins, only for it be purged with the inferno that was his core. His mace was a bludgeon and it became coated in sickly green, as well as his armor. They did not seem to be afraid of him and he welcomed it. It meant they would die by his hand.
And parting the swarm of little things came red and brown giants, winged and maned, and they struck out with claws and seemed, to Malri, to be directing the smaller ones so that they acted in greater synchrony - for now they seemed to see where he was weakest and target him there. Healing wings were struck, aligning limbs were scythed again and again. The swarm seemed as relentless as it was endless, day had become night beneath their sheer number, it seemed neither a step forth nor a step back could be taken except that they were there.
He began to grow tired of the game they played. The small ones were not a challenge, but a nuisance that did not end. It was time to go after the bigger prey. Try as he might however, his wings were gone and the swarm would not let him have a moment of peace. So Malri was forced to break the smaller ones, over and over again. Their bodies began to pile, turning the very ground wet with liquid. Malri pressed on.
There came a moment - he sensed the change immediately - when the swarm seemed to realise that there was a great futility to this for they very suddenly they began to back off - one moment he was cleaving them left and right and above and even below, and the next they were out of reach. They observed him for a while, watching as he attempted to reach them but buzzing just out of reach, and then they turned and left just as swiftly and in just as great a cloud - though Malri liked to think it was somewhat reduced - as they came. He watched them depart through the adrenaline, the world around a great vespian graveyard.
He fell to his knees and ripped off his helmet, then wasted no time in picking up a broken bit of chitin with what he assumed was meat, and took a bite. The mere taste was enough to repulse him and he gagged, spitting it out. In a fit, he punched one of the fresh corpses and it exploded on him. He wiped the gunk off his face and then grabbed his helmet, rushing off after the swarm before his adrenaline faded. He could feel his wings beginning to regrow and it would not be long before they were strong enough to fly with. He needed to see where they were going. Perhaps they had food and water. It was the only lead he had.
As soon as his great black wings were in a ready state, he beat them on the torrid air and went flying after the swarm. By air the distances that required endless nights and days on foot were eaten up as easily as lovers whispered sweet nothings to one another; and as easily as Malri planned to consume whatever eatable, drinkable vittles these sorry insects led him to. When he made landfall, it was within sights of a great oasis; real greenery and real water. But it was clear that it was not unoccupied - the very vespians, it seemed, called this place home. As he made his way towards it, hellbent on doing to them just as he had done before, a small group came zipping towards him and stopped some distance away.
They all looked the same to him, but if they could look different then perhaps these ones were, in some insectoid sense, more refined, cleaner. And they did not come at him in a swarm. “Hail, Vespslayer.” One stridulated, “we are the hWebi-Vesp, traders and resource gatherers. We have heard of you in the cries of those more barbarous kin of ours - we have no wish for strife or war.”
Malri hung in the air, inhaling their words with each beat of his wings. He had not thought them capable of speech, nevertheless capable of being traders. From behind his helmet, a very rare smile appeared upon his lips. “Those that do not wish for war and strife often find themselves in it’s midst.” he said, voice raspy and dry. “If these kin of yours told you about me, then they will have made mention that I was unkillable, yes? Now listen closely, for my patience for your kind is thin. I require food and drink and answers. Provide these and I will not harm you.” They stridulated amongst themselves for a few moments, and then the one who had spoken before turned back to Malri.
“There is no need to speak of harm, we will feed you and quench your thirst, and we shall give you answers too. In exchange we ask little - we are traders still, and we ask something easy and of little value. We too would like answers. Food and drink in exchange for our safety from your wrath, and answers from us for answers from you. It is a good trade.”
Malri was in little mood to argue with them, as much as he thought them inferior. Besides, spilling blood in the water would ruin it. Probably. After a moment of silent contemplation, he flew closer and uttered but one word. “Agreed.” They watched him with their jewel-like eyes for a few moments, before stridulating their approval and zipping off into the air, towards the oasis-hive. The trees that grew around the oasis were all fruiting - palms, figs, apricots, peaches, and other fruits. Fabrics and banana leaves were laid out in the shade and clay bowls of fruit were brought before the black-winged Neiyari, as were jugs of water from the oasis. A fire was lit nearby and an ibex placed on a spit.
“We prefer it raw, but the redmen do not like such things - if you wish for it raw, Vespslayer, simply tell us.” The one who spoke hovered above the ibex for a few moments before zipping down and sitting on his thighs before the winged being.
Malri could hardly believe the bounty of food that was laid before him. He removed his helmet post haste and set it on the ground next to him. The flame flickered and danced over his impassive visage. The first thing he did was grab a jug and bring it to his parched lips. He drank until it was empty, then did so again. Next, he grabbed a fruit, not caring what it was and began to eat. The sweet flavors erupted in his mouth before being swallowed up like a wolf.
Between bites, he managed to say, “Cook it.” and glanced towards the meat. He then went back to drinking and eating the fruit, the aromas of meat seducing his nose, making hum hungrier. It felt as if years had gone by since his last meal. When at last the meat was cooked he took while still hot and ripped into the flesh. The meat was gamey but he would not complain.
The hWebi-Vesp watched him as he tore through fruit and meat alike, and fresh bowls of fruit and jugs of water were swiftly brought forth to replace empty ones, which were carried off. As he began to slow down, however, jugs of a strange, sweet-smelling liquid were brought forth. “Date wine. The redmen like it.” The speaker explained. “We don’t. Meat and water is sufficient - meat raw best.” The creature paused as it poured some of the wine into a cup and placed it before him. “Where did you come from, Vespslayer?”
He took another sniff of the date wine before taking a large swig. The taste was far too sweet for his liking but it was something different and he downed the cup. He licked his lips as he turned to the speaker Vesp, narrowing his eyes. “Where is here?” He instead asked.
“Here is the redland - it is redland from the north sea to the south sea, wherever that may be. It is redland from the west sea to the mountain, and it is mountain from the north sea to the south sea, wherever that may be. That is what is here.” The hWebi-Vesp answered simply. “How did you come to be here, Vespslayer, without knowing where here is?”
Malri pondered the words of the speaker. Never before had he heard of such a place or its unique description. His eyes flashed with anger. Where had that damned giant sent him? He took a breath. “Have you heard of a land of golden grass, teeming like the oceans with life? Stretching as far the eyes can see and then further still? Or before that, a land of ice and snow, where the cold would freeze you solid? Or perhaps a place of light, more colorful than any field of flowers or the setting of the sun? These are the places I am from.” He grimaced, gritting his teeth. “Then I was cast out of them, one by one. Finding myself wandering an empty red land of cruel heat and bitter cold. That is how I came to be here.” He spat before drinking some more water.
“And what could be powerful enough to cast out the like of you, Vespslayer? Not once - but again and again.” The same speaker asked. “It is certainly not something that dwells in this land or anywhere that we know of.”
He eyed the speaker, his expression souring. “Surely you’ve heard of the divine in this forsaken land? The Gods? They have cursed me time and time again and for what, you might ask?” His words grew angrier. “For being alive, for existing. For asking questions and demanding answers. I was king. Warrior. Wanderer. Conqueror. In this place… It all begins anew. Starting with Vespslayer.” He tore into another piece of meat. The speaker looked to some of her gathered companions.
“And do you think it wise to defy the gods, Vespslayer? If it has played out like this so many times, do you not think it… appropriate… perhaps, to do something differently this time?” She paused and let her words settle. “Perhaps there is a way to achieve what you wish without gaining the ire of the gods. You are sat here eating as you please, delighting in the shade, hearing from us as we hear from you. You have gotten what you wanted. You could have, if you wished, slain us all, taken what fruits and meats you wished for, forced one terrified hWebi-Vesp or another to answer your questions. You would have gotten what you wanted too - though I would say you would have been the poorer for it, and so too would we. Is there no way for you to gain what you want while avoiding divine ire? Many have managed it - why not you?”
“I still could.” He said with a deadpan stare. “Kill you all, I mean. It would be easy, like breaking twigs for a fire. I would feel nothing doing it.” He rolled his head, something cracked in his neck and the giant let out a sigh. “The Gods are fickle things. One could rape, murder, pillage and slaughter a whole nation before they deem it appropriate to act. Is it wise to defy them? No, of course not. You think me a fool do you not? You are inferior to me, just as we are all inferior to the gods. Does a bug not fear a boot? I will do as I please, for they made me this way and the only way they can stop me is if they kill me. They’ve had their chances and each time they send me on my way. Now, tell me of these Redmen and about this land. If you know not where I come from then I am truly forgotten.”
The speaker buzzed in agitation at his words, but then settled down on her thighs. “The gods do as they will. It is not the place of - as you say - bugs to question the boot. If you slay us all it shall, of course, sadden us greatly - but we have no illusions about our own greatness. A god created us and dropped us from the heavens - why? We could not tell you. Perhaps it thought it fun. We do not ask why - it created us and can do as it wants with us. But we think we have a good trade with you. We have given you no reason to slay us - and you have given us your word, have you not?” She paused for a few moments. “Redmen, yes. Two legs, two arms, a head, oddly placed thorax - like you actually, but no wings. Feathers on the head like a crown, hair also. Often the colour of the desert, sometimes dark. They live on the oases, on the coast, in the mountains. Some trade with us - they like many useless trinkets, give good food in exchange. They go beyond the mountains - they say it is all trees there, that there is so much water that it is a snake. They say there is water there as much as the sea, only sweet. Those are the redmen.”
“Humani?” He said to himself after a moment of contemplation. He then waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “Yes, yes. Gods and greatness. What else exists within these lands that speaks and has thoughts of their own beside the redmen? What are the dangers besides this desert? What do you trade?” He asked leaning back. The speaker clicked and cocked her head.
“Ah, yes. Humen… humenak. They call themselves that - humenaki.” She paused and rubbed her face in thought. “No other sapients on the land. On the sea in the west are waterkin - ugly tentacles, sea-redmen too. They bring treasures from the sea - they bring treasures from distant lands. Powerful tentacle-leader - powerful magicker. But redmen have powerful magick - keep tentacles off land. So they trade instead. Trade is good.” She paused again, clicking her mandibles and rubbing her head as she got her thoughts in order. “Many dangers. Flying men and magickers. Demon-magickers wander the redland. Redmen bring thought-fiends - too much worrying. Faeryfolk can be nasty - but make good trading. Wild vesps are irksome - always after our water, raiding trade. Redman hate us because of it, but hWebi-Vesp do not raid. That is all we know of.
“As for trading - we give poisons, fruits, wild meats, faeryfolk things, salts and copper-rocks, demonbits and trollparts, inks and dyes, weeds and herbs they think precious. We make their food too - grains and earth-things, they give animals. We can’t herd - kin too wild and volatile, can’t herd animals, only kill. But planting we can do - see, fruits and grains that redmen love. They bring camels and goats; delicious. The hides we sell back. We make pots for them too,” she picked up the bowl of fruit, showing off the ornate handiwork, “good quality, yes? We know what redmen like. Many other things. Every useless thing we find, the redmen take.” She stopped there and rubbed her face once more. “See, we give good answers. Why these questions? Do you… plan to rape, murder, pillage and slaughter?” She rubbed her head in agitation. “You are powerful. There is no need. Trade is good. Trade is powerful.”
“Very good answers.” Malri mused. “You speak of many things. Many unknowns. You are useful, that much I can see with my own eyes. And these questions are of great help to me, being a stranger in a strange land after all. Full and ripe for the taking, if one knows where to look for it. And you have looked for it and you have come to your conclusion- That being trade. You trade to live and live to trade, this is plain to see. But are you powerful? You must be if you can maintain this oasis in a desert of death. Protect and maintain, yes. Trade keeps you alive and you are content to always trade then? Is that where your aspirations died? Perhaps, perhaps. Now do tell me, one last question, do these redmen travel to you, or do you travel to the redmen?”
The speaker clicked her mandibles and rubbed her antennae. “Redmen are forbidden here - they come far, travelling back and forth. But here they don’t come. We go to them - they are easy to find, they know where to stay until we come. We are powerful enough to keep them away. Powerful enough to keep our wild kin at bay. More powerful than you? No. But the gods have made you powerful, and so you are. The gods made us weak, but we made ourselves powerful - more powerful than our kin, powerful enough to tame the redmen and stop their aggression, powerful enough to make them bring food to us. We survived. Now we thrive. Maybe one day trading will no longer be good - maybe then we will need to find other things. But now trading is good, and we will keep to it until it isn’t.” She paused again and then gestured to his armour. “Your clothes - odd. Metal? Not copper. How is it done? The redmen will like it.”
Malri gave a bemused smile. “It was forged by a god.” He picked up his mace and displayed it. “Forged by a god.” He set the mace back down. “It cannot be done by mortal hands. There is none like it in all this world. Now, I shall sleep for several days and several nights. Do not disturb me, do not touch me, don’t even think about trying to slit my throat. It won’t work. When I wake, you shall take me inland, towards the mountains. I have no wish to see this sea with its dangers.” He stood up, and looked down upon them. “Since you are fond of trades, I shall offer you this.” He clapped his hands together and a glow came from within. He began to pull back his hands, revealing the glow to be that like the sun’s light. It was blinding but was over in a flash. In his hands there was a red hot blade, unlike any metal seen within the land. That he was sure of. The sword, more of a large dagger to him, was straight like an arrow with a small hand guard and narrow hilt. He showed it to the speaker and the others. “A sunlit blade. Let it drink the sunlight everyday and it will not disappoint you. So, do we have a trade?”
The hWebi-Vesps seemed dazzled by the strange thing, and a few lifted off and backed away from the sudden burst of light. The speaker, however, remained in place and eyed the offered sword. “We never go to the mountain… but for a trade like this, we indeed have a trade. You have nothing to fear from us - and we have nothing to fear from you. Trade is the cure to war and hostilities, and we are trade partners now. Sleep well, Vespslayer.” And with that, the speaker lifted off on her wings and buzzed away with the others, disappearing into a subterranean burrow by the far side of the oasis with the sword in hand. Malri grabbed his helmet and put it on, then took the mace and found a better spot with shade. He rested against a tree, mind abuzz with many hateful things, until at last sleep came.
Malri is in a desert, basically enduring through his rage. Time passes and nothing truly makes sense. He thinks about a lot of things, mad ramblings in his head. He eventually finds green in a desert of red but is tricked cause it’s all dead stuff. He throws a fit and it attracts swarmer Vespians. They rip his wings off to the bone and stab, bite and cut him where his armor is weakest but Malri endures due to the bands of healing and renewal and his sheer rage. He doesn’t even make a dent in the swarmers but kills enough for them to leave. Being a spiteful guy, he trails after them as his wings regrow and comes into contact with trader wasps. They don’t want to fight and offer a trade instead, answers for answers. They treat him to a feast and Malri learns about the place he is in. It’s very far from home, at least he thinks. After some back and forth Malri comes up with a new trade and they graciously accept. Malri then sleeps.
This is for you En. ZIP.
Starting = 19
-1 Prestige to make a sunsword.
Starting = 19
-1 Prestige to make a sunsword.