Dark Sun: The Scorched World of Athas
Grak and his bandits sacked the nomad’s wagon in seconds. They had found little of value, and the women and children huddling together only angered Grak more.
“Where is your treasure?” he shrieked. “Surely even sniveling dogs like you must have a bone tucked away for a stormy season!”
One of the women shielded her child and pointed to a barrel on the back of their ruined wagon. “There! There is our treasure! Take it and let us be.”
Grak turned his head slowly, watching her for signs of deception. He had learned long ago that nomadic women were as capable in combat as their men. He tore the skin that covered the barrel, hoping to find a few scraps of metal or hides, or other valuable goods, but inside there was only murky water, contaminated with debris and the sand that had seeped in from the desert.
“Aaaaah!” he screamed. “This is no treasure, woman! This is a bucket of slop fit only for beasts and nomads!”
The woman’s eyes grew as big as ceramic pieces. A barrel of water in this desert was worth more than its weight in gold, these men must be mad from the sun. She put her hands deep inside her robe, searching for the dagger hidden within its folds.
“Keep your blade where it is, woman, or I’ll be giving you a taste of mine!” Grak roared as his frustration grew. He knew his bandit companions would not be satisfied with the measly belongings of the nomads, and they might even take out their anger on him. What he needed was a show of force to keep them all in line. He grabbed the lip of the barrel and slit its restraining cord with one quick slash of his knife. “Here is what I think of your treasure!” Grak pulled the barrel from the wagon and let it smash in to the rocky soil. In moments, enough water to quench a hundred thirsts vanished into the scorched and greedy earth. Grak waited to see the woman’s reaction. It would make him feel good to see shock and horror creep across her leathery features.
But when he looked into her narrow, brown eyes, he saw only the satisfied gleam of revenge. She was looking past him…
Grak turned. Standing on a rock only a few feet away was a tall figure dressed in flowing blue robes and carrying a crude spear. Long, brown hair cascaded down, flowing over his broad shoulders. His watery blue eyes frothed with rage.
“You would spill the life’s blood of the land for the sake of terror?” he shrilled.
Grak waved his blade slowly around his head, giving the signal for his men to attack, but with one gesture of his battered staff the stranger stopped the brigands in their tracks. He raised the staff once more and looked to the heavens. He muttered something in a language Grak didn’t understand, and then leapt down from his rocky perch.
“You will learn the value of water, desert rat – and then you will die.” Grak stumbled back and smashed his head on the ruined barrel. When he cleared his vision, the stranger and the nomads had vanished in to the night. He stood and inspected his men. Strangely, they were still motionless. Grak felt a burning thirst in his throat and undid the lip of his waterskin. He raised the container to his lips and almost choked when coarse sand poured down his throat. Frantically, he took the skins from his men and tried to drink, his thirst growing stronger with each passing moment. It was no good, for every skin he touched turned to sand.
An hour later, Grak sat among the ruins of the nomad’s wagon and watched as his men finally recovered from the stranger’s spell. They were a day away from their spring, and the harsh sun was just edging over the horizon. As the realization of their situation finally dawned on them, Grak knew that he would be the first to die.