"Greetings travellers! You must have had a harsh journey through the desert."
"We didn't see this city was on the map."
"We're just a few like-minded folks trying to keep the world out."
"How many people live here?"
"Just a few of us, and now you."
The heat of the desert is raw, water supplies are dwindling, the winds begin increasing and vision becomes impaired as the sands are tossed through the air with every gust. A sandstorm is approaching. Using rags and shirt collars to shield your eyes and nostrils from the biting grit, you descry a dark shape in the distance. As the obscuring winds allow, you make out a wooden wall of some sort. It must be a city. As your eyes adjust to the distance, you begin spotting dim lights from guard posts. As hopes of shelter well up inside you, you see the city gate slowly closing to protect from the immanent rage of the desert sands.
The City Gate:
As you reach the solid wall of metal reinforced wooden poles, the sandstorm continues growing and thrashing vainly against the walled city. As the sands tear at your skin and clothes, you hear a deep booming voice as a guard calls out "Open the gates! Someone is outside!" The gates grind open enough for you to slip inside into the shelter of the giant wooden wall. A very tall, old bearded man wearing a simple tunic and tattered grey robes skillfully and ably pushes the large heavy door closed against the wind. He spits sand from his mouth and turns to you with a warm smile and a cracking voice, "Greetings travelers! Welcome to Unummodo. You must have had a harsh journey through the desert." Another man, wearing a sand-colored robe and headband, probably in his late 50s and rather short of stature, climbs down from a ladder that connects to a small outpost mounted above the gate. He wastes no time with introductions, "Ye must be thirsty. No better drinks be served than at the Ghastly Badger. Come on lads, I'll buy ye a round." The elder man, if asked, is Richard Carmen, the mayor. The short man puts off all inquires until he can wash the sand out of his mouth at the Ghastly Badger.
The Ghastly Badger.
The Ghastly Badger is a quaint inn with little more than tables and a kitchen on the main floor and a few rooms above. An oversized badger is mounted above an open fireplace that houses a healthy fire and a grill on which slabs of meat are being roasted. About twenty of the townsfolk are gathered to eat, drink, and wait out the rage of the storm. They are mostly older folk, but a few might be as young as their late 30s. They are all a tattered and proud folk who bear the weariness of life in the desert with dignity and a tempered joy. The short man, who introduces himself as Baloo Furston, brings a round of locally brewed spirits and makes small talk before announcing that he owns the Badger and is willing to let the team stay the night free of charge. He says, "T'aint fittin' to force a weary traveler to choose 'tween payin' for lodgin' or bein' turned out into the storm. 'Sides, the Blade Wisps that ride the sandstorms are so vast this year that they could sheer a leg clean off a camel!" Before Baloo can be bothered to explain what "Blade Wisps" are, he is called by the frustrated coo of a woman with all the endearment and annoyance that could only come from decades of marriage. Baloo excuses himself, and directs an elderly barmaid to show you to your rooms. The barmaid, Isabel, is very matronly and sweet. She offers to bring food, insists that everyone has their fill of homemade brew, and shows you to your rooms when you are ready. The homemade spirits, if tasted, are heavy, strong, and sweet, but have a distinctly metallic aftertaste. The Blade Wisps, if inquired about, are described to be beetles the size of your fist that let the sands blow them across the desert in swarms; they bear pincers that, with the force of the winds behind them, often injure camels or humans.
The City of Unummodo:
After the night has passed, the morning sun begins to wake you. The homebrewed spirits seem to not have settled well with those who drank it, but the rest had a very restful night. Gazing out the window, the small city of Unummodo is laid out plainly in the light of the morning sun. Eight simple buildings are all that make up the city. Seven wooden buildings each standing two stories and having a similar appearance are grouped near the gate while large, lush vegetation covers the other three-fourths of the walled city with a small fenced-in area that holds a modest count of pigs. The field is masterfully irrigated by several small aquaducts and manned pumps that draw water from a covered well at the field's heart to keep the field well nourished. Several townsfolk are climbing on the sturdy network of aquaducts repairing lightweight cloths that stretch across the raised irrigating constructs that help shade the field from the brutality of the sun. Beyond them, a large stone church stands alone at the far side of the field. The church is a simple square building dominated by a large steeple crowned with a golden star; a monument to the craftsmanship as well as quick handiwork of the townsfolk who had refused to let the damaging winds degrade the appearance of their fair village. It would seem that the small crowd gathered at the Ghastly Badger last night was the entire population of this small village. Not much, but with hard work and skill, the people here have made quite a living for themselves.
As you wander the town and begin asking around, you are quickly met by and introduced to the pleasant, elderly townsfolk. The townsfolk of note are:
Baloo Furston: Short man in his late 30's. Wears a sand-colored bandana and robe. Speaks with "ye" and "sayin'". Friendly but busy owner and keeper of the Ghastly Badger Inn. He acts as a lookout from the guard post during the day.
Gretchen Furston: Overly tall woman in her late 30's. Youngest woman in town, and wears a green dress protected by a blood spattered apron. Married to Baloo with no children. She is sweet to everyone, but very demanding of Baloo. She works as a cook and cleaner at the Ghastly Badger and is an apprentice butcher.
Thomas Furlong: Stocky older man with a curly mustache in his early 50s. Wears knee-high boots over grey slacks, a white silky shirt that is always tucked in, and a pair of goggles. He is completely bald and works as a carpenter. One of the buildings is his workshop that has a few rooms on the second floor. He keeps to himself, but is pleasant and straightforward. When asked where the wood comes from, he defers kindly to the mayor, Richard Carmen.
Amy Humphreys: Muscular elderly woman in her early 50s. Wears heavy grey skirt, green tunic, and a wide-rimmed hat. She is pleasant but in too much of a hurry to talk. She is always busying herself in the field. She is a builder, manages the aquaducts, tends the field, and feeds the pigs.
Jorg Havan: Heavy set, muscular man with broad shoulders in his 60s. Wears a leather apron and simple grey pants and white shirt. He is always happy to break from work to chat. He works in one of the buildings and the master iron smith making and repairing tools mostly. In his spare time, he likes to craft simple jewelry. Though many people in town aren't interested, he is always willing to sell to travelers.
Jason Havan: Heavy set, muscular man with broad shoulders in his 60s. Sporting a small beard that poorly hides a deforming scar across his lips, he is a twin brother to Jorg but not identical. Wears simple grey pants and a heavy brown vest. He is happy to talk all day, but he doesn't stop working to chat. He speaks with a slight lisp as he can't fully close his lips without great effort. When asked about the scar, he changes to subject. Jason is the village butcher, and his shop fills most of a building where he smokes much of his meat.
Lillian Medalia: Wiry elder woman anywhere from 80 to 100 years old. She wears a long blue skirt and white shirt. She has the warmest smile and moves with purpose and grace. She speaks slowly, but is quick-witted. She always has tea brewing and some tasty pastry cooking. She is a seamstress and tailor, and she will most likely be found sitting on a porch chair preparing more lightweight cloths to shade the field.
Isabel Fitson: Matronly woman in her early 60s. Wears a dull brown dress with a bright blue vest. Is ever so kind and serving and works as a waitress and barmaid at the Ghastly Badger. She also works the field and cleans and cooks vegetables.
Rupert Maggins: A very skinny old man of average height in his late 50s. He wears a wrap that covers his bald hear and brown trousers with a faded and tattered blue tunic. He is generous and polite and he always offers assistance whenever he can. He works the field and is the closet thing the village has to a doctor though his skills are rudimentary at best. If asked about feeling poorly after drinking the homebrewed spirits, Rupert suggests that your bodies aren't accustomed to the earthy drink, and he recommends another good night's sleep or two and staying out of the hot sun.
Ginny Maggins: A healthy and active woman in her mid 50s. She wears a blue skirt and a green shirt, and she keeps her long hair back in a bun. She doesn't speak, but she is very warm and friendly with her smile. She is married to Rupert with no children, and she cleans the homes and helps in the field.
Fredrick Govantee: Broad man in his late 30s, and the youngest man in the village. Wears a short grey robe with grey trousers. Always smiling and carrying a bottle of local spirits with him and offering it to whomever walks by (though he will never drink unless asked why he doesn't). His sole task in the village is the selection and cleaning of the proper vegetation and the distillation of the local spirits. Fredrick is the village brewer, and he works out of the church.
Rachel Spade: Fair skinned woman in her late 40s. She wears a green and brown dress and a wide-brimmed white hat. She is kind but also demanding and insistent. She cleans houses, helps with sewing, cleans vegetables, and is an excellent cook as well as singer.
Curtis Mathewson: Tall, muscular man with a thick red beard in his early 50s. He wears a dirty tan shirt and grey trousers. He speaks in single word sentences whenever he must speak, but he is never cruel. He is the stonecutter in the village, and he is rarely ever seen outside his workshop except when he is wheeling a cart of stones from a stockpile behind the church.
Richard Carmen: An old bearded man wearing a simple tunic and tattered grey robes. He appears to be 80, but he moves with such certainty and precision that he might be mistaken to be 30 from behind. He speaks intelligently and with a cracking voice as though he needs to clear his throat. He seems to be slightly hunched over, but he still stands much taller than average despite this. He is also unnaturally strong and agile though he doesn't often let it show. He acts as both mayor and spiritual leader. Richard will only be found by entering the church. He will attempt to stall any productive conversation with a story of the village's history: "Many years ago, a hidden cave was found in the desert by a small band of merchant nomads who had lost their way. Thinking the cave to prove their salvation as a sandstorm was approaching, they hurried inside. But the cave was not vacant. The Resident thought he was being attacked and he lashed out at the intruders with speed and fury. The nomads were taken by surprise; many were killed, a few escaped to die in the dessert, and one remained to confront the Resident. After a brief exchange of violence and words, the nomad managed to convince the Resident that he intended no harm and only sought shelter from the sands. The two discussed things awhile longer, and as it turned out, the Resident had a problem the nomad could help with. In exchange for his services, the Resident offered the nomad some of the treasure found deep in the cave. The two forged a lasting a mutual relationship and gradually built the small village you see today. Other travelers came and found ... a like-mindedness to live alone and keep the world out. We have developed ourselves and our village with pride and we welcome others travelers to share in our like-minded ways."
It should be at about this time that those who drank the local spirits begin vomiting a little blood. While talking to the mayor, the other townsfolk had gathered in front of the church's door to insist that the travelers remain inside. The mayor will gently smile and say, "There is a wonderfully complex parasite that Fredrick puts into our brew. Once swallowed, this parasite works to secrete digestive fluids throughout your body that will slowly liquefy your muscles and organs. I have an antidote that I use to protect myself, and the other townsfolk needn't worry about the effects. I want what any good merchant would want in this situation: a trade."
If you ask what Richard wants, he says that he only wants your money. All of it. And then he will ask you to follow him to receive the antidote down stairs in the back of the church that enter an underground tunnel.
If attacked, Richard will retreat down those stairs into the tunnel. Richard moves unnaturally fast to avoid your attacks.
In you try to escape, the villagers will close the door to the church and attempt to hold you in. If you manage to attack the villagers, you find that they are actually hollow skins occupied by large roach-like insects that are covered in prehensile tentacles and hairs that manipulate their body covers to perfection.
Once you enter the underground tunnel, you hear a rapid clicking sound and a wispy voice says, "You've brought more travelers." A large rock quickly grinds into place behind you, sealing off the tunnel. As everyone turns to question Richard, he has already disappeared deeper into the tunnel, but his cracking voice carries back to you, "Everything I told you is true, except that I would want to trade with you. You will provide fine new bodies." If anyone did not drink the spirits, Richard will add, "and a good snack for the Resident is always appreciated."
A chitin-armored beetle-like monster the size of an elephant emerges from the darkness. Its razor sharp mandible clicking in fevered anxiety. It raises two large wing-like plates on its back, and dozens of fist-sized, hairy, tentacled, beetles drop from its back and swarm towards you.
Each of the smaller beetles will attempt to attack and bore into the torso of the travelers. The beetles are easily smashed or chopped up, but their mandibles and tentacles make them hard to remove once they've latched on and started digging into the softened flesh of their victims.
Only after the smaller beetles are killed or burrowing through their hosts will the mother beetle charge and attempt to eat anyone left standing. The mother beetle's mandibles secrete the digestive parasites, and anyone bitten will immediately begin feeling the effects. The mother beetle has a hard shell, but she will retreat when wounded even slightly and attempt to blame Richard saying in a raspy voice, "It is Richard's fault. Do not hurt me. He forced me to serve him because he is addicted to the Nectar of Life."
When questioned about the Nectar of Life, the mother beetle will say, "It is a honey that seeps from the mushrooms deep in the cave. To drink it prolongs life and grants health, but it is strongly addicting if taken too often. It drives Richard mad!"
If the mother beetle is further attacked, she will attempt to retreat into the cave and will do all pleading and begging for her life rather then defend herself.
When the cave is further explored, Richard can be found drinking a golden sap that drips from a cluster of 2-foot tall, gently glowing, yellow mushrooms. He says, "I was not frightened alone in the desert two hundred years ago. I will not be frightened of you." He will lunge at and attack the travelers with his bare hands. Though he moves quickly and packs quite a punch, he has no mind for strategy and can quickly be swarmed. He will show nothing but anger and hate for you ruining his perfect village.
Anyone drinking the Nectar of Life will begin feeling better as it will counteract the parasites and gradually heal wounds. The travelers will also find a lever that will open the entrance to the cave.
If the mother beetle is still alive when the travelers leave the cave, the remaining townsfolk all speak in unison with a single-mind and say, "Thank you. Thank you for freeing us from the pain Richard inflicted. Go in peace."
If the mother beetle is dead when the travelers leave the cave, the remaining townsfolk will have abandoned the village and began seeking out another desert cave to begin a new existence.
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? Responses (16)
A intriguing little village with a nice twisted undertone, perfect for post apocalypse settings.
The village can also be used without the insectile sub plot easily enough to make for a stop over or outpost to springboard other adventures from.
If you take out the parasitic brew, you could easily have a goldmine of a hidden plot that adventures could interact with regularly and never know it.
Richard's motivation is to build himself a castle using the beetles as his fear-controlled minions. He is as addicted to power as he is to the Nectar. By removing Richard from the equation, the beetles would have no motivation to build a city.
Some additional backstory that didn't fit well with the narrative: Richard was obviously the merchant nomad from two hundred years ago, but in the 'brief exchange of violence and words' Richard actually wounded the mother beetle. The beetle pleaded for her life and offered the Nectar's secret in exchange. Richard left after the storm, but he soon returned to the lure of the Nectar, and he eventually threatened the mother beetle until she submitted to building him a city so he would never have to leave the Nectar of Life. Living forever by the power of the Nectar, he forced the beetles to build him a paradise, and any travelers were just more potential minions to him.
This sub starts out average but it really jumps into awesome territory really quickly. The beetles are a beautiful twist. And the fact that the beetles are really the victims and the old man the bad guy is a second, even more awesome twist. But maybe I like anything where the bad guys is just a spry, old man.
Do they have to be a hive mind? You could have young adults wear the skins (and have names like Amy), while the tiny, mindless cling to out with their mother. A city of skin-wearing beetles would be great to be friends with (I know I'd want to come back again).
I'd add a bit of misdirection at the beginning. Maybe some blather about drinking to local brew or the badger ghost will get you. But no, this is great. Clever, self-contained, no plot holes. You should do a lifeform sub for these guys (just a short one).
I love the idea of a big scary beetle being the mentally abused victim of an old man. I couldn't put my ideas for this sub down fast enough once I had it worked out.
The beetles do share a hive mind, but they are still each unique. Because I wrote this sub as a narrative, I didn't get into the ecology of the beetles, but I haven't stopped working out their life cycles and natures. So I'll write a lifeform sub for them.
Whoohoo! One last question: are the beetles shy about getting out of their skins or is that like asking a person to get naked?
Good questions. The beetles are blind at birth, and they easily risk freezing at night if they don't have a body to keep themselves warm. After the beetle kills it's host, it will fuse its own 'spinal cord' into the host's unused brain and tap into the cranial nerves (for facial movement), the ocular nerves (for seeing through the host's eyes), and the cochlear nerves (for picking up auditory stimulation). After a few weeks with a host, the beetle will slowly begin growing into the new body and gaining more access to the nervous system granting it better control over motor skills, sensory input from skin contact, and speech. Without a host, the beetle is blind, deaf, mute, and insensitive to feelings, so the beetle relies on the host's ability to provide these functions.
The beetles can target a host through keen scent and using ultra-fine hairs on its face to pick up vibrations and heat waves that humans naturally give off.
This gets my 5/5
A magnificent sub. I could see this being a nice inbetween adventure.
Thanks Kassy. I intended it to be a 'one-shot' adventure that could be played out in a single night but could still offer long-term influence such as making friends of the beetles or becoming addicted to the Nectar.
Update: Spelling error fixed.
Interesting, more information about the ecology would be a nice tough...
He must be poweful to threaten a massive beetle.
It's not a question of power. The beetle simply doesn't like pain (or maybe the beetle is smart enough to know that any injury on an open circulatory system could be fatal). Once the beetle gets hurt, it begins to fear for its life and will do anything to survive. So the strength of Richard or the beetle is not the issue; it is more about Richard's abusive use of fear over years that has completely subdued the beetle. The mother beetle doesn't have the determination to stand up to Richard.
Besides, if the beetle ever injured Richard, he would only need to drink some Nectar of Life to recover his strength and return to fight again.
Update: Added Freetext
Great sub. Starts out just your normal, average city, but develops a twist that twists. everybody else said it all. I will find a way to use this!
I echo Forganthus' many thoughts.