Tales of the Desert
As recorded by Hamnač of the Scribal Convention, Eliskendiru (Alexandria).
"In the desert, no one will listen for your screams."-Berber proverb
Of all the creatures of the desert, none is so deadly as the Cockatrice. Said to be the offspring of a hen's egg hatched by a toad in a desert oasis, it has a serpentine body like that of Astarte's serpent, but with the head, wings, tail feathers, and legs of a cock. Its gaze is said to petrify men, its claws and beak are poisonous, and its cry can drive them mad; indeed, the Berber term for insanity is Old Tamazighit for 'he hears the Bird'. It has been the death of many a desert caravan guard. The only way to kill it is to force it to look at its own reflection in a mirror, thereby killing it with its own gaze.
The Dead City
In the far depths of the sands stands a giant city of stone. There is a flowing spring nearby, but the city remains deserted. The local Berber tribe tells a strange tale to explain it. Once, in the days before the sands overtook everything, when all was bright and green, it was the capital of a mighty empire that took the Maures, Carthage, and even great Kemet to their knees. They worshipped their god, Baal-Triclopes, a terrible god with three eyes, fire for hair, and a most gruesome maw (Statues of him still stand in the City, and his is a fearsome visage, with a mouth like that of a spider, and the three eyes seeming to follow your every movement). They became prideful in their exaltedness, and were the most powerful people on the earth. One night, as the Berber clan camped nearby, they heard a great moaning come up out of the city. At first low and barely audible, it gradually gained strength and became an unearthly howl, eating and tearing at their souls. They grew fearful of it, and fled the city. Later, they returned to find out hte source of that unearthly screaming; they found the city completely deserted, save for a small unease in their minds. As the penetrated the city's depths, the unease became greater, and greater. Finally they came to the main temple of Baal-Triclopes, and cautiously looked into the door. They saw row after row of corpses, decomposing in the desert heat. Then, just as the shock was wearing off, a great and terrible voice boomed out of the rafters 'LEAVE, OR SUFFER THEIR FATE!" Quickly they fled the city, and the Dead City laughed as they galloped away. Few travellers come to it now, the legends have spread; but the foolish few who dare to stay in it have never been heard from again.
The Murdering Jewels
Many times across the centuries, simple amulets have surfaced in the Nubian trade markets. They were beautiful, though simply made, perhaps their greatest mystery was their heat, for they radiate a warmth that is unexplainable, and deadly. They are bought by collectors who admire them for their strange ability, and they die in a year's time, sometimes less. The jewels always seem to go missing after this, but their strange properties have been told and retold of for many years. They have come to be known as the Murdering Jewels. No one knows whence they come, or whence they go. The Jewish priests preach that they are an instrument of Yahweh's wrath against the rapacious merchants. They provide yet another mystery of the great expanse of the Desert.
A very long time ago, the caravans across the desert were far less protected than today. In those days, the Berbers had been contracted by various Carthaginian Houses to look after the caravans in their wanderings across the land. Then one day, a vast caravan left the south embarcation points for Carthage, laden with gold and ivory for trade. Its value was so great that her organiser hired an entire tribe of Berbers to guard her treasure. She set off across the desert, visible for miles.
The trip should have taken three weeks across the desert, and then arriving in Carthage to load the trade junkets for dispersing the cargo to the ware markets of the East and Burdigala in the West. But three weeks came, and went, and the traders thought, 'they just ran into a sandstorm. They'll be here soon enough.' Caravans had been stopped dead in their tracks by sandstorms before, sometimes for a week or more. But soon weeks became two months, and there was no sign of them. The merchants became worried; they had quite a lot riding on this caravan arriving, and if it didn't get there soon, many would be ruined.
Then one day, a thin, emaciated man stumbled into the Merchant's Quarter. The nervous merchants recognised the caravan organiser in this sunken face, but only barely. He gasped for a flagon of water, and drank for hours, only stopping to regain his breath. He was but a shell of the fat merchant who had set out from the south months earlier. Once his thirst had been slaked, and he had soaked away the burning sands in the ocean pool, he told them his story.
The caravan had made it roughly halfway along in its journey, when a gigantic sandstorm came up. Fearing little, he had ordered the caravan to circle, and pitch their sandcamps, so they could weather it out. For five days the sand raged around their wagons, and they thought little of it. But on the sixth day, the storm rose above them, to a great hight, but did not disperse. As they stood and watched this strange spectacle, no one noticed the sands begin to rise from the ground, and form themselves into the shapes of men. Finally, one of the Berbers looked, and gave a cry of alarm, for men made of sand were marching towards them. They held sand swords and sand shields, and opened their sand mouths into a gutteral wail, the cry of a sandstorm at its full fury.
The Berbers let loose their warcries, and leapt at the desert warriors, slicing them with expert swordsmanship, dealing what would have been fatal blows to their attackers, had they been men. But these were not men, but foul demons of the desert, and as soon as the swords had cleaved the sand, it reformed into the foul flesh that made up the horrors.
The merchant, quaking with fear, stood and tried to think of what to do. Two burly Berber men grabbed him and hauled him onto a camel, and they took off at breakneck speed. The merchant looked back to see his caravan being eaten alive by the sand warriors, their flesh being ripped off by the stinging sands, their screams echoing through the hills. They rode for hours, putting as much distance between themselves and that horrible cloud. They stopped at an oasis, and began again as soon as they had a drink of water. Through the night they rode, finally stopping when the camels refused to go any further. They set up a small camp, and lit a fire. They talked of what the horror could have been, and one of the Berbers told of an old clan legend of the warriors of the desert, who guarded ancient and terrible treasures beneath the sands, and ambushed unsuspecting travellers who drew too near their charges. The night was so black they didn't see the storm approaching until it was too late. The Sand Demons were on them like lightning. The Berbers were caught off-guard and were consumed. The merchant ran to his camel and bolted off to the north. He rode as far and as fast as he could, until the camel gave up and died. He then continued on foot. After weeks of desert struggling, he had climbed last hill, and looked on his beloved Carthage below. He staggered into the Merchant Quarter, and there ended his horrific tale.
Slowly, he began to retake his former self, but he was always wary of the South. Finally, one day, a freak sandstorm made its way straight to Carthage, and battered the city for a week. During the middle, the merchant's neighbors thought they heard an horrified scream, but they couldn't see to place it. After the storm abated, they made their way to his house, where they found a windbeaten mummified corpse, mouth open in a horrified scream, sunken eyes staring forward at a message scrawled across the wall in the ancient Berber Tinafgh:
NO ONE ESCAPES THE SANDS