The heroes are lost in a brutal and empty desert land of drifting white dust, where stunted stands of ancient eucalyptus trees cling together in rows like withered old men. During the day, the heat and the choking dust make it a hellish, smothering wasteland; at night, the empty skies become frozen arcades of blue, and the heat is sapped from their bodies.

As they travel through this land, searching out some sign of civilization, they stumble across a large region of disturbed dust, where piles of unsettled sand stand head-high, and gnarled eucalyptus-limbs lie discarded, clotted with sap. Crossing through this surreal landscape, the heroes encounter a group of hard, weathered individuals, their hair greyed by the sun; these people are clad only in filthy rags, and are chained to each other with heavy bonds and collars. These individuals are carving through the baked desert earth with axes and spades, seemingly at random, creating great pyramids of loose earth.

But they are not long for this sight; a group of soldiers in bizarre dress and armament arrive on horseback, and shouting unintelligible commands, hustle the heroes away, driving them to an oasis over the nearby hill, where they are watched over by other soldiers; they are soon sent in the direction of the nearest city.

Possible Explanations

Prisoners: These individuals are criminals and rebels. The government of this debatable and hideous country must use their empressed labour to break up the dirt to build roadbeds and new outposts. They are very dangerous people, and the soldiers had the heroes' safety in mind.

Slavery: This is just another expression of the common institution of slavery. The colonists who founded this kingdom capture all the men they can find of the native population and force them to work the soil. However, the rulers of the land find it their wont to present this slavery as a blessing to the savages, and thus attempt to hide the fact that the natives are hideously abused and oppressed.

Soldier's Exercise: The emperor of this nation has secretly decreed that the soldiers of his armies are to be stronger than any others in the world. To this end, his counselors have devised ingenious and bizarre exercises, and these are now being tested on a select group of hard-bitten warriors. The emperor wishes this program to be in secret, so that other nations will not know his methods and emulate the success of his warriors.

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