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Thread: July 2022 Challenge: The Deserts of Dorwine

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    Default July 2022 Challenge: The Deserts of Dorwine

    Here's my list. Decided to go with #6

    I'm picturing Dorwine as the dried-up remnants of a long-dead sea, with rocky spires sticking up, where the Dwarf cities are built. More to come when I have a rough draft.
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    Last edited by Diamond; 07-06-2022 at 04:43 PM.

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    The caravan snaked across the desert in a cloud of dust and biting flies. Personal wealth and Clan status determined one's place in line, and so Gavram Belso's three wagons were neither at the front nor the rear, but in the very ordinary, very dirty, very fly-ridden middle. Of course, one could take his chances by being an outrider - free of most of the dust and flies, but more vulnerable to attack from vraks, wandering unclean spirits, bandits, and worse things. Gavram shuddered. "No thank you, I'm just fine where I am," he muttered.

    "Talking to yourself, Uncle?" his nephew Arvid asked with an insolent grin. "They say that's a sign of creeping senility, you know."

    Gavram scowled and poked him in the ribs with the butt of his whip. "In my day, we didn't mouth off to our elders."

    Arvid rubbed his side. "Aw, you know I was just--"

    "Or," interrupted his uncle, "they didn't get a piece of hard candy!" He held out a gauze-wrapped bit of honeyed sugar tauntingly and his nephew's eyes lit up as he reached for it. Nearly twenty years of age and still a boy, thought Gavram before relenting and letting Arvid grab the treat.

    After a few minutes of quiet (or as quiet as the caravan ever got), Arvid pointed out one of the Lower Dorwine's ubiquitous ruins. "Why are there so many ruins down this way, Uncle? And who made them? And why are they ruins?" he mumbled around a mouthful of candy.

    Gavram sighed. "Don't they teach you young ones anything in Clan school any more?"

    Arvid flashed his strong, white teeth in another grin. "Of course, but everyone knows you're a scholar and know more about the deserts than nearly anyone, even the Loremasters."

    Gavram frowned and splayed his fingers in a forked sign to ward off ill-luck. "Don't speak ill of the Loremasters, boy," he said, but his heart wasn't in it. He never could resist a well-timed compliment. "Long ago, the Vasty Blue was much more vast than it is today. It's gulfs and inlets reached far inland from here, and the land was rich and green. Another civilization thrived here then, back in the days when our people were warring savages in the far far north. They prayed to what some call living gods, and what others call demons of the Firey Pit. Their magics were great, but their hubris was greater. Some say they tried to tame the weather on a grand scale, and it spelled their doom. The ocean began to retreat, the rains stopped, and the desert began its march. They--"

    He was interrupted by a harsh shrieking howl that seemed to go on forever. In the shocking stillness that followed, cries of "Vrak! 'Ware Vrak!" could be heard up and down the caravan.

    Uncle and nephew glanced at each other. Arvid gulped and his ruddy face paled noticeably under the sad beginnings of his first adult beard. "Be calm and remember your training," murmured Gavram. "Now go and rouse the hirelings and see to the weapons locker."

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    Some of the linework (most?) is done, as is some preliminary highlighting on the mountains and canyons. What's gonna be a bitch is all the linework for the deserts...

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    Even before the last of the shouting had died away, Gavram had reached for the heavy crossbow secured at the base of the buckboard in front of him. It was never far from him on these Low Desert runs where the vrak seemed thickest. Part of his attention was on his nephew as the boy made a show of alerting the hirelings, even though they were ready to go, but most of his focus was on the low dunes to the left and right. The few scattered outriders, wagonmasters either too poor or too proud to ride in file with the rest of them, were hurriedly making their way back to the main column, but even as Gavram lifted and cranked the crossbow, he saw four dirty brown shapes seem to burst out of the sand some thirty yards to his right. A small wagon, no more than fifteen feet long, with a much-patched canopy and six iron-shod wheels, was trundling slowly through the drifts, desperate for the safety of numbers. A terrified woman was in the rig's driver's seat, and Gavram caught glimpses of at least two children in the wagon.

    The four vrak, man-high and horrifically fast, tore into the wagon's canopy, swarming over it and screeching like the damned. Their snouts wrinkled back from needle-sharp fangs dripping with saliva. Gavram sighted carefully and fired. His bolt, nearly two feet of good iron-hard blackwood, punched through one vrak's neck and pinned it to one of the wagon bed's canopy struts. Its thickly muscled forelimbs drummed a death rattle against the side of the wagon. Before he could reload, the remaining three creatures tore apart the screaming woman before his eyes and raced back into the dunes with pieces of their prize grasped in their claws.

    Meanwhile, Gavram's men, a team of four brothers he'd worked with for going on five years, raced across the sand towards the wagon, along with a dozen men from the surrounding wagons. The brothers were four feet of solid muscle and nearly that wide, armed with an array of pikes and spears. Matteo, the oldest of the brothers, even had one of the new blackpowder weapons. As they closed with the racing vrak, Matteo got off a shot that sent an iron ball into the shoulder of one vrak. It screeched, dropped its meat, and whirled around.

    Arvid was petrified. He'd thought he was ready for this. He'd thought he was ready for anything. He was wrong; the vrak were terrifying. They were bats, but nothing like the little fruit bats that haunted the cities and canyons of the Merchant Republics. Four feet tall, they ran hunched over on their 'wings', flightless, heavily muscled appendages that over the millennia had evolved into swift-moving legs. The limbs that had once been their legs were now smaller, grasping arms and hands, four-fingered, with three-inch claws that darted out to rip and tear. As terrifying as they were, Matteo and his brothers made quick work of them. Vrak were opportunistic hunters, waiting in ambush under the sand until something they perceived to be weaker than themselves came along. The woman's wagon had fit that bill nicely.

    When it was over and the two new orphans had been handed off to a family who volunteered to care for them until they reached Adaram, Arvid rejoined his uncle on the driver's station of their wagon. His hands were shaking and his mouth was as dry as the desert around them. Gavram reached into his vest and produced a dreamweed cigarillo. He lit it with his sparker and puffed gently, inhaling and holding the smoke for long seconds, then passed it to Arvid. "Here, boy. Don't tell your mother I let you smoke this filth."

    Arvid reached for the cigarillo gratefully.

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    Last edited by Diamond; 07-18-2022 at 07:09 PM.

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    It's looking great so far!

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    Thanks Tiana!

    No story this time, but I'll probably add more to it next post. Anyway, lots and lots of hills and settlements and caravan routes. I think I'll probably start adding some color and shading next.

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    Nice job, as always ! You're really great at this (story and maps...) !

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    Three days later, the caravan was approaching the halfway point of their journey, the oasis known as the Inn of the Southern Star. Some of the leatherworkers had boiled down the skull of the vrak Gavram had killed and presented it to him. He mounted it on a pole above the driver's station. Arvid was as efficient as always, making sure the teams of haura were ready to pull the heavy loads of the wagons, but he seemed to Gavram to be much quieter than he'd been on the first leg of the trip. Small wonder, he thought. A vrak raid is enough to curl the short hairs of even a seasoned warrior.

    The haura of Gavram's wagons lurched forward heroically, moving the multi-ton wagons slowly at first, then at a steady mile-devouring pace. One of the haura had recently given birth and Gavam had taken her out of the traces, roping her to the side of the lead wagon along with the calf. The mother, a shaggy, four-legged beast eight feet high at the shoulder and twelve long, butted the calf gently with her massive curled horns when it started to lag or veer off course. Gavram watched it carefully, wary of any injury. He could sell the calf off at the Inn as partial payment for a night there.

    The Inn of the Southern Star was legendary in the lands of the Merchant Republics, not only for its hospitality but for its hot baths, powered by remnant Old Time technology. As the caravan rattled along, Arvid glanced over at his uncle. "I need one of those hot baths," he said, as if reading Gavram's mind.

    "You and me both, boy. How, uh, how is everything? Doing all right?" Silver-tongued in his mercantile dealings, he was often at a loss when speaking with family.

    Arvid sighed. "It... isn't what I expected. I mean, I knew what to expect, but the reality is a lot... more."

    Gavram looked sidelong at him. "Life often is." Arvid propped his elbows on his knees and his chin in his hands and stared out at the desert.

    A few hours later, dusk was drawing in, and the caravan was only a few miles south of the Inn. Gavram was resting in his cabin when he heard Arvid shouting excitedly for him. Bursting through the small door that connected the main cabin with the driver's station, he looked around frantically. "What? What?"

    "Look!" Arvid said, and pointed towards a trio of weathered pillars leaning out of the sand. At their base, a rumpled figure clothed in black and red was waving at them feebly, slumped against one of the pillars.

    "Gods," Gavram muttered. "Doris! Get up here and take the reins for a minute!" Matteo's wife Doris was their company cook and along with Matteo, shared the cabin of the main wagon with Gavram and Arvid. She hustled forward and crowded in between them, smelling of dough and rock beets. When she saw the figure on the sand, she clucked and grabbed the reins. "Well go then," she said. "Find out who it is."

    The two clambered down the ladder and stumbled off; one didn't stop the wagons without a good excuse, and this didn't qualify as one. They could always get Matteo to come out with a mount and pick them up. When the reached the figure, now seemingly unconscious, Arvid gasped. "A- A Tallman!" Gavram frowned down at the man. "Aye. And not just any Tallman, either."

    "What does that mean?"

    "Never mind right now. Help me get him up."

    Between the two of them, the managed to support the man. He was a full two feet taller than either of them, with dark, almost black skin. His bald head was crusted with oozing, half-healed wounds, and his black robes were ripped and torn. Around his waist was a wide scarlet sash and hanging from it were a series of small leather pouches. He was half-conscious at best as they staggered back to the wagon. Matteo was coming towards them on a slow-ambling haura, a riding platform secured to it's back, but Gavram waved him off. "Keep a good lookout! This one has vrak wounds!"

    "Aye, right you are, boss," Matteo said and whistled sharply for his brothers to man the three lookout towers at the centerline of each wagon.

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    Quote Originally Posted by - JO - View Post
    Nice job, as always ! You're really great at this (story and maps...) !
    Thanks! I appreciate it.

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    Ah yes I see you decided to not draw every single part of the desert and do what I would have done: the desert texture. I like it though, it looks soothing though of course it wouldn't be on the ground. Just all swirls of endless waves of sand.

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    Yeah, definitely a compromise, but I think it worked out all right.

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