The King of the Desert
I miss the slum of Marienburg.
For a mercenary, the Old World was full of wars and nobles ready to hire some swords, but the risks were high and the payment was never so good… so we were often laying in the slum, eating some rat’s stew and drinking bad wine.
No wonder our minds were often dreaming of gold, hearing tavern tales about ancient kingdoms beyond the seas, ready to be sacked by brave men. And no wonder that, after a hundred of those stories, we found ourselves embarked on a ragged ship, sailing south and heading for the great desert, where long time dead wear golden masks and entire chests full of diamonds can be found in abandoned treasuries.
We were fortunate enough to avoid all the perils of the sea, as no pirate ship attacked us and no storm was on the way… so our morale was high, when we reached the southern continent. An immense city was lying on the coast, abandoned since millennia and half clouded by an unhealty mist, that war arising from a huge river that entered the sea, a green colored serpent, more similar to a putrescent swamp.
The dimension of the city was staggering, and even the lesser palaces were more splendid than the houses of our Elector Counts… yet centuries of raiding by treasure hunters transformed it in an empty shell, half buried by the advancing sands.
There was nothing for us, but Konrad De Boer, our leader, spurred us with his mantra “We’ll be richer than kings!”, so we proceeded into the desert, with our bottles full of water and our hearts full of hopes.
But days passed, and the water decreased.
Then the sandstorm hit us, a raging hell that lasted two days, and when it ended we were surrounded by huge dunes, half of the men were gone and so all the horses.
At that point, we didn’t knew if it was still possible for us to return to the ship, so we decided to go on. Somewhere there would have been a city, with wells and fresh water, and gold. “We’ll be richer than kings…”
But we found only sand, and we losed other men, until only seven of us remained.
And when there was no more water in the bottles, neither hope in hearts, we saw the city.
The outer walls were almost intact, still defiantly resisting the passing of time, but the wooden doors crumbled into fragments centuries ago, letting the sands creep behind them; the town within was like a long time forgotten attic, with stored stuff covered by dust.
Beyond the door, there was a place, with a great marble fountain; it was full of sand with an obelisk at its center, that was decorated with strange drawings… and at the bottom, there was a scarab carved in the stone, with its shell encrusted by emeralds. We forgot all, as the gold fever violently took us again.
We ran through the streets, toward the center of the city, where we would have found the palace of the nobility and the temples… our lightouse was a sort of stone mountain, smooth sided. Such a construction could not be nothing short of the heart of the town: a monument to their dead gods, or the inner fortress, with sloped walls to deviate cannonballs.
And finally we arrived. The immense square was dwarfed by the massive construction, which was a really bizarre one, given that no windows or openings were visible, aside from a single access: it was not a monument, and it was not a fortress. It was the treasury of this kingdom, or so we thought, given how abundant was the richness outside it: there was a paved avenue flanked by canine statues, each one with sapphire eyes, easy prey for our knives, and at the end there were two large statues, each one ten foot tall, sculpted from marble and decorated with gold and dazzling polished jewels.
Hans was picking a diamond from the chest of the one with the head of an hawk, when this thing came to life, and its massive blade sliced in half poor Hans. Konrad recovered from the shock before us, shooting at the monster, but the gunshot simply bounced on it, and when also the other statue started to move, both converging on us, we ran like hell toward the darkened entrance.
We were running for our lives, followed by those monstrosities, then the corridor was filled by a grinding noise, such as the rolling of a steamtank, and the world was shaken by a mechanical earthquake… the floor shiftened, swallowing Konrad and two of my companions and suddenly the trap-door closed, while a huge granite slab blocked the passage behind us. We were safe from the walking statues, but our party was divided, and we were buried within this place.
Hoping for an exit on the opposite side, we lit our torches and started to explore the place. An hour passed, with just dark, endless corridors interrupted by seemingly pointless turns, a maze made by a madman, with paintings watching at us.
We heard a distinct mechanical noise, when Klaus stepped on a moving tile. There were puffs of dust from the walls, and suddenly Klaus became a porcupine, covered by needles… he looked at us, scared, while his throat swelled and his veins turned black.
We screamed, crying and cursing the place and the gods, and then…
“Guys… Guys, are you there?”
It was Konrad’s voice, just beyond the wall.
“Konrad! For the love of Sigmar, yes, it’s Kurt and me! God, it’s so good to hear you! Are you all alive?”
“Scheisse, it’s just me! The other ones are all dead. This place is a nightmare, we must get out of here. Come on guys, take me out, do something please, do something…”.
So we tried, pushing our knives into the slots between the stone blocks, grating the old mortar.
“Be quick guys, I’m hearing something…”
And we heard it too. A strange ticking. clicliclicliclicliclicliclicliclicliclick…. growing stronger.
We doubled our efforts, while Konrad was throwing himself against the wall.
“no… NOOO! Stay away from me! Stay away!! STAY AWAYYYEEEHHHAAAAAARRRRGHHHhhhhh...”
And then there was only the ticking.
We stared at the wall… then, a beetle came out, slipping through the hole I was working on. Then another, and another, and another… I sealed the hole picking in it my dagger, and frantically i stomped the few insects that were on our side.
“Sweet Sigmar, Kurt… we need to move. Come on”.
But Kurt was not looking at me, he was looking at the corridor behind my back. And then he became grey colored and slowly he crumbled away, as a sand castle dried by the sun, dissolving in front of me.
So i ran way, not daring to look back, until I fell into a manhole, on a slippery slope that drove me into a huge chamber, and the tunnel closed behind me.
Finally, I’ve found the treasury.
It was big as the hall for the hearings of a noble, with mountains of golden ingots, gems, statues, jewelry… a man’s lifetime wouldn’t have ben enough to count all the coins that were amassed here.
I passed half an hour wandering in the huge chamber, finding only a massive, barred door.
And so, here I am, sitting on a golden throne, contemplating the treasure, as far as the light of my torch arrives.
Konrad was right, in the end. I’m richer than a king… but I miss the slum of Marienburg.
My light is fading out.
And I can hear the ticking.