‘‘We found them at last, after three week of wandering the desert. As I had feared, they had encoutered the vile evil that dwells in this accursed region. The caravans stood there abandoned admist the desolate dunes, stripped of their cargo and occupants alike. Even a fool would have realised immediately who was responsibe for this merciless outrage. Bandits would have left the bodies of the slain where they were, intent only on seizing the cargo the trading convoy carried. Only the hideous Hourang would have carried away the merchants, eager to feast on them. May the gods rid us of this scourge some day’‘.
-The report of the Ilkhan Douh Fobar, commander of the first division of the Caliph’s Desert Corps
The Cardopian desert is a harsh, inhospitable place that few would test the ardour of even the most glory hungry adventurer. Water is hard to come by and the desert sands abound with a bewildering array of deadly fauna, some of which can kill an adult man within a fleeting moment. Even the climate is ruthless and unforgiving, with the region being prone to destructive sand storms. The Hourang however, have thrived despite the harsh nature of their home. Like their home, they are far from beautiful, at least by human standards. A stunted people, the Hourang resemble an extremely unattractive melding of locust and human characteristics. Reaching a height of no more than four feet for males and three for females, the Hourang are bipeds, albeit ones that seem to assume a permanently hunched posture.
Covered with plates of chitin, they are a dark brown, almost khaki shade of colour. Their bodies while vaguely humanoid in shape, possesses eight appendages, with four limbs growing out of either sides of their body. Each such limb is spindly and long, resembling the leg of a spider and terminates in four slender digits of equal length. Each of these have their underside covered with sticky, adhesive hairs that lend the Hourang unparalleled climbing ability.
However, their bodies are supported by only the bottom two legs which are markedly different from the rest, being thick, powerful hinged limbs that resemble those of a grass hopper. These grant a Hourang great leaping ability, allowing it to leap as much as five times its height. They are also covered with a ridge of five, barbed spikes, allowing them to be used as weapon in the event that a Hourang find itself being attacked.
However, it is their heads that are their most striking and perhaps disgusting physical characteristic. Grotesquely large in comparison to their diminutive bodies, their head are roughly humanoid in shape , but also possesses distinctly insect like features. Positioned on either side them are bulging ruby orbs that swivel frantically in their sockets, taking in everything and feeding a shattered, multifaceted field of a Hourangs immediate surroundings. Further augmenting the ability of the Horuang to perceive their environment, are the masses of stiff, wiry hairs that grow in thick tufts on its head. Each minute strand is an ultra-sensitive receptor , able to detect the slightest changes in vibration and hence allowing the Horuang to be extremely perceptive of the slightest movements around them. As for their ‘‘mouths’‘, they possess an elongated proboscis that resembles a moth’s.
However, unlike a moth’s mouth appendage, a Hourangs proboscis terminates in a wickedly pointed, hollow point which strikingly reminds even the casual observer of a hypodermic needle. The final distinctive physical trait that the Hourang possesses are twin, transparent wins that extend from their hunched backs. These resemble the wings of a dragon fly and allow a Hourang to move incredibilly fast through the air and hover in the same position, much like a helicopter.
Scourge Of the desert
Ghastly legends have sprung up about the Hourang in the human cities that border the Cardopian desert, as signified by the very name Horuang itself which simply means ‘‘devourer’’ in the common language. Popular lore holds that these creatures are a breed of monstrous abomination utterly dominated by their insatiable appetite for the flesh of men.
Lurid and unsettling are the stories of grotesque abominations as numerous as the grains of the dessert that swoop on hapless trading caravans and carry their wretched victims with them to their foul lairs. The Hourang, so the scholars and clerics of the human cities hold, are a race of mindless monsters spawned by the evil spirits that dwell in the desert, and as such, are dominated utterly by their accursed hunger and are no different from a swarm of ravenous locusts that will feats on anything in their path.
Thus, their fundamental nature being what it is, they are savage primitive life-forms that are utterly incapable of being persuaded to cease their assaults on human travellers that cross the deserts and must hence be feared as a primal and unstable force much like a sand-storm or a drought. Indeed, many scholars have estimated that the Hourang are probably no different intellectually, from the locusts that they so closely resemble.
This perception of them as mindless brutes could not be more wrong. The old adage that truth is stranger than fiction applies especially well to the Hourang. Contrary to the conventional human understanding of them, they are actually a highly complex, sophisticated culture in command of technology that is easily centuries ahead of what the most advanced human nations can boast.
The Hourang live in large social units that can be understood to be a clan, to borrow human terminology. Inhabiting large caves and typically comprising of a few hundred adults or so, and twice that number of juveniles, Hourang clans are dominated by a single leader that can only lay claim to this position after challenging the previous leader to a duel. Armed only with their limbs, each must endeavour to impale the other on the spines of its back legs and thus claim the mantel of the clan’s leader.
Should the challenger prove victorious, it becomes the sole and absolute source of authority within the clan, adopting an illustrious name that attributes a positive virtue like bravery or wisdom to it. Following its victory, one of the first things that a newly risen clan leader does is to attack and devour the juvenile offspring of the previous leader. Henceforth, only offspring that carry its blood line are allowed to live and any juveniles born of unions between other members of the clan are swiftly slain.
Of course, this practice of infanticide does not mean that the population of a clan will drastically decrease, since like every other member of its species in existence, the dominant leader is an asexual creature that is endowed with both male and female reproductive organs. When the period of mating arrives during the month of May, the genetic urges of the Hourang immediately kick in and they begin to secrete pheromones that announce their readiness to procreate. Immediately after sensing their readiness, the leader begins to fertilise the eggs that are in the process of being developed within the sacs of its subordinates.
As this occurs, even as it fertilises the rapidly developing eggs of the other clan members, the leader itself has its own set of eggs fertilised by its mates. The fertilised eggs subsequently take somewhat over a month to develop and finally hatch into offspring that are squirming, transparent, miniature versions of their parents. For the following few months , these infants cling to the bodies of their parents with their adhesive pads and are nourished by the nutrients that their parents consume by inserting their tiny proboscis into the bodies of their parents.
As time progresses, the infants become larger and begin to develop the drab brown hued chitin of their elders. Two months after their hatching, they become juveniles that are destined reach complete maturation a week later. Once this stage has been reached, they are required to accompany their elders on foraging expeditions in order to master the skills required for survival in their harsh environment.
Hourang society is very hierarchical. A clan leader has complete control over the lives of his subordinates and is free to slay a defiant subordinate that questions its orders. In fact, it is the closest thing that the Hourang have to a god or deity. Since it is the blood-line of the clan leader that will spawn future generations of the clan, it is revered as a living progenitor whose powers of fertility are tied to the continued existence of the very clan. Due to this important role performed by the clan leader, an elaborate cult has sprung up around the worship of clan leaders.
Given the great power of the clan leader and the revered position it holds, it is believed that it embodies the power of previous deceased clan leaders and is thus revered as a repository for their knowledge and experiences. By smearing a certain hallugenic herbal mash over its body, the clan leader goes into a powerful trance during which it thrashes around wildly, with its limbs skittering crazily.
As garbled shrieks issue from it, these vocalisations are dutifully translated by an especially favoured sycophants of the clan leader. Such translations invariably take the form of decrees and taboos that are to be strictly obeyed on pain of death.
Even the decrees of previous clan leaders are to be disregarded if they conflict with the declarations issued by current leaders since the Hourang belief that their deceased leaders are forward looking beings that are quick to discard former ways of thing should they be deemed obsolete.
Moreover, as further evidence of their heart-felt reverence for the clan leader, the rest of the clan adopts its name. Hence, every member of a Hourang clan becomes an extension of the clan leader, who is literarily the creator of the clan. Moreover, elaborate hymns in honour of the leader are also composed by ambitious subordinates that wish to attain a special position in the clan’s hierarchy. These poems are typically performed at the end of an especially successful search for food and water, as the clan celebrates in a spate of feasting. As the rest of the clan gorges itself, these poets spontaneously compose and recite poems that compare the prowess and wisdom of the clan leader to the power of the desert storms and his lethal hunting skills to the potency of the venom of the desert’s ubiquitous rattle snakes. If the clan leader is impressed, it rewards the innovative poet with a position of some authority over the others and allocates it a large share of available food and water, together with a promise to share with it any plunder taken from a successful raid upon a merchant caravan crossing the desert.
When taken to extreme lengths, this sycophancy can even manifest in the declarations of certain individuals that profess to the clan leader that it would be an honour for them were it ever to devour them. Of course, it is in the interest of the one who makes the offer, that it is not understood literarily.
Below the clan leader and its circle of sycophants, rank others who have distinguished themselves in hunts and raids upon merchant caravans, as well as in occasional skirmishes with rival clans of Hourang that intrude into the grounds of the resident clan. These individuals are usually given a position of some authority over the clan and see to the day-to day running of affairs. They are often given the designation off ‘‘suuurrrro’’ which roughly means ‘‘steward’’ in the human tongue. Stewards are rewarded for their services by being given a bigger share of whatever plunder the Hourang obtain from their hunts and raids.
Hourang communicate with one another by rubbing the sides of their back legs against their bodies. With the correct skills, a bewildering variety of screeching discordant noises can be produced, with each sonic nuance being interpreted easily by the receiving party. Depending on the context in which it is expressed, a certain sound can assume a variety of different meanings. For example, the sound ‘‘burrrr’’ can be understood as ‘‘worthless’’ when directed by one aggrieved Hourang to another. It can also be taken to mean ‘‘sun’’ or ‘‘sand’‘.
Thus, their language can be difficult comprehend for non Hourang. Even among the Hourang themselves, different clans may have difficulty understanding one another since the language that each clan possesses is rather specific to that particular clan. Contrary to what one might imagine, language is not an innate set of biological compulsions for the Hourang. While genetics does ensure that a basic capacity to acquire language does exist, juvenile Hourang have to be instructed in the rules governing their language by a certain subordinate favoured by the clan leader, usually one of the poets that has earned the favour of that august sovereign.
As well as teaching the juveniles the fundamentals of language, the duty of the teacher is also to ensure that the young are exposed to the verses that it has composed in favour of their sire in order to integrate them into the worship of the clans progenitor. Quick to learn, juvenile Hourang are typically able to develop not only working vocabulary but also an understanding of their clan’s religious practices within the space of as little as three weeks.
The Hourkang are nomadic hunter gatherers. Wandering the dunes in search of food and water, they have developed an interesting culture that revolves around the creation of various devices that enable them to hunt and capture live prey. As can probably be deduced by now, Hourang sustain themselves by inserting their proboscis into the flesh of living things and draining them of their life juices. This necessarily entails the capture of live prey. To assist them in both this venture and the collection of scarce water, they have developed an array of sophisticated technological devices.
The Cardopian desert is rich in metal deposits and the Hurokang, by learning how to mine them, have been able to harness their seemingly inborn engineering skills and put them to good use. Abundant iron ore is dug out of the ground by a team of subordinates and is smelted in makeshift forges made from large rocks. On occasion, metal items take from looted caravans are also melted down to be used in Hourang forges. By being able to focus and magnify the natural heat of the sun via glass shards and lenses taken from looted caravans, the Hourang are able to concentrate the full power of the sun and use it to smelt metal. Other metal ore like alumainin is added to further strength it.
Once this metal has been produced, a variety of useful devices are forged from it. Most important among these creations are water collecting devices that are simply large steel vats drilled into the desert sands and which are then subsequently connected through large metal tubes to a series of vast steel tanks located on the surface. Whenever the rare and frequent rains of the desert occurs, rain-water rapidly fills up these vats which then transfer their contents through the connecting tubes to the large tanks on the surface.
Once the water has arrived at its proper destination and the rains have ended, the clan that operates the system then seals off the ports leading from the tank to the water carrying tubes, in order to prevent the loss of the water through evaporation once the clouds clear and the sun emerges again. From that point on, the clan enjoys a constant water supply that will last it until the next rains arrive. A series of small, narrow ports located on the sides of the water tanks and which are normally covered by hatches, allow the Hourang to dip their proboscis in the tank whenever they feel thirsty and drink their fill.
Infinitely more sinister are creations that the Hourang forge to aid them in the pursuit of living flesh for them to leach dry of vital life fluids. Anything that is remotely edible will be consumed, but a particular favourite are unwary caravans of human merchants that are carless enough to venture into the desert unescorted by heavily armed mercenaries. Whenever such prey is sighted by a foraging party, the most sturdy and experienced Hourang hunters immediately take flight, their wings straining as they descend like heinous demons of the winds on the horrified caravans.
Dramatically boosting their natural ability to fly, Hourang hunters often achieve dizzying speeds in the air by attaching jet-packs with accompanying harnesses to their bodies. Doing so allows them to fly quickly enough to avoid the arrows and sling stones discharged at them by merchants that may be armed. While some clans power these jet-packs with an ethanol distilled from the sap of a large species of cacti, others prefer to use a crude petroleum fuel derived from the crude oil deposits that can be occasionally found in the desert. While petrol powered jet-packs are significantly faster than alcohol powered ones, they are also more unstable and have occasionally exploded in fiery bursts when an over eager hunter flew at speeds that its jet pack could simply not accommodate.
More mundane but equally important for the pursuit of hunting large game like humans, are the steel clubs wielded by raiding Hourang hunters. Equipped with smooth handles and rounded heads, they are light enough for a Hourang hunter to wield two of them simultaneously, as it goes about landing blows on the heads of hapless travelers. Wary of spilling the precious life fluids of their prey, Hourang hunters have ensured that the smooth surfaces of these weapons inflict only light bruises. clubs are designed to render a victim unconscious, rather than dealing wounds that may result in massive bleeding.
Any hunter that uses excessive force and causes a victim to bleed heavily is often banished from the clan for such foolishness. In an effort to prevent just such an outcome, some of the more advanced clans have even invented ponderous rifles that launch heavy rocks at fleeing quarries to stun them. These normally have an effective range of over a hundred feet and spring into action when a complex spring mechanism is activated.
Once their unfortunate victims have been rendered senseless, they are then transferred to large steel cages mounted on mobile platforms. These platforms often consist of a sturdy, triangular base that has a series of five large wheels on either side. These mobile cage platforms, like the jet-packs, either run on petrol fuel or cacti derived ethanol. The mobile cages are usually put to good use when they accompany the clan throughout their nomadic wanderings, carrying living captives for the Hourang as they seek new sources of food.
These unfortunate souls are given meagre supplies of food and water to keep them alive, even as their captors regularly poke their proboscis through the bars of the caged and penetrate their exposed flesh with their ravenous appendages, gradually leaching them completely dry of their life fluids. Eventually, these wretches waste away and perish, typically weighing at their moment of death less than half of what they originally weighed prior to their capture by the Hourang.
When victims expire, their withered corpses are simply removed from the cages and left to rot in the desert. Not even jackals will approach a carcass that is literarily nothing but skin and bones.
Inter-clan relations between the Hourang are usually cordial, with the various clans preferring to avoid savage war-fare with one another due to their fear that doing just that would leave all of them vulnerable to potential reprisals organised by the humans that they have so mercilessly pillaged. As clan leaders are fond of remarking, with so many humans already loathing them, it would be sheer stupidity for the Hourang to begin to hate one another.
However with that said, rivalries and tensions do exist among the Hourang.
A strange feature of Hourang culture stems from the inordinate significance that each clan attaches to the particular type of fuel that powers its technology. Such a choice of fuel plays a vital role in the way that it perceives itself in relation to its neighbours. Every Hourang clan firmly beliefs that the particular type of fuel it utilises was first discovered by the founding ancestors of the clan centuries ago. Hence, great pride is attached to the particular fuel employed by a clan, while the other different methods used to power machines by other clans, is often derided as being inefficient or ineffective by the clan leader’s poets and toadies.
Such insults are a powerful means by which one clan can assert the intellectual superiority of its ancestors over those of the neighbouring clans. Thus, the users of petrol often describe the clans that use cacti derived ethanol in less than flattering terms, often questioning the wisdom of the ancestors of the ethanol users for pioneering such an absurd, useless technology.
However, rivalry between the clans can also manifest in a more dangerous form, during the skirmishes that erupt whenever an overzealous winged squadron of hunters pursue a feeling merchant caravan into an area of desert that is traditionally the domain of another clan. Due to deeply rooted clan taboos that revile outsiders that intrude into the lands of a clan, the moment pursuing hunters from another clan are sighted, resident clan members take to the air to engage these trespassers in mid-air duels, swinging their clubs furiously.
During such aerial combat, furious insults are exchanged, with both sides mocking the ancestors and clan leaders of the other party. Fortunately, the blows that are traded by these duelling fighters are often intended to embarrass and humiliate opponents rather than actually slay them. No Hourang fighter truly wishes to begin a devastating blood feud by killing the offspring of a neighboring clan leader.
Eventually, after having battled for a period of time deemed sufficient to uphold the honour of their ancestors and clan leader, the trespassers withdraw. Consolation is obtained by them from the fact that for the next few years, the clan leader will entertain juveniles with grand stories of how their great forebears successfully bested the cowardly thieving hunters of the opposing clan, sparing them only out of compassion.
Ambush:The PCs are escorting a merchant caravan travelling through the desert when it is suddenly attacked by winged Hourang raiders.
A dangerous proposition:The PCs are contracted to obtain the advanced technology owned by a resident Hourang clan. However, the desert contains many perils for them, not least among which are the Hourang themselves that would as soon eat the PCs as trade with them.