Midmorning, a gaggle of children from the oasis go running by flaunting their trophies; big black feathers, some a couple feet long. Kaedo called one over to tell him about his trophy; the kid got the (stinky) feather from the “booby lady” who is dead on a dune. The boy led them out to see the corpse of the harpy. (All they know about harpies is that they serve death gods, who like to decorate their slaves with various misfitting limbs.)
Kaedo and the others examine the corpse, Kaedo finds a tattoo. Saedenn looks it up in his book and sees it is a symbol of the “Bones of the World.” One of the many armies of death that emerged as part of the Death Muster millennia ago. They never conquered, nor did they leave, and they are made up of many monsters; that’s all the book says.
Kaedo takes news of this to the Frog Khan. The Khan says that Saedenn faced his challenge, this challenge is for Kaedo, who should investigate. They climb up on the shelf of rock overlooking the oasis, and peer at the horizon. Arane’s familiar spider has the sharpest vision, she reports it sees what looks like buzzards circling, far away.
They round out their supply of rations, water, and camels, and strike out towards the horizon. Arane and Crazy Bear come along. Saedenn magically protects them from the mutation of the sands.
As they travel, they run across a school of a dozen land sharks, a mass burrowing and cresting away from the direction the crew are headed. (They are five hours from the oasis.) Kaedo draws his sword to see if it senses them as reptilian, so it hurts them more; it does, and that gets the shark’s attention, it moves to attack, three tons of charging fury. Saedenn unloads his whole mass of flaming magic at the creature, mortally wounding it, but it still slams down at the group, doing massive damage. Arane magically poisons it. Kaedo stabs it with his blade and it bites him.
It tries to escape and burrow, and Saedenn misses, but Kaedo charges at it and manages to kill it as it digs away. It sort of ends up head down, hindquarters in the air, with an angry barbarian standing on them stabbing away, then flexing and roaring victory.
The other land sharks continue on their migration. Saedenn reflects that no lore suggests they travel in more than a mated pair; this number is unprecedented in the lore.
They ride on until dusk, then make camp for the night. They see a luminescence on the horizon. A flock flies overhead, blocking out the moon and stars; pterodactyls, dozens of them, flying towards the Oasis. Wingspans from 10 feet to 30 feet. Some have empty saddles.
The Living Army
They are close enough to see their objective. They circle around to a rise overlooking it. Plodding along in a valley between dunes, the Living Army moves, its footfalls like the heartbeat of the desert. Six legs 150 ft tall, into a reptilian body, the skin stretched up to a bone pyramid 350 feet up above the body. Like a termite mound of bone, streaked with foulness, full of holes as a harpy lair. It does not have a head. A mobile living city. Sand still pours off it, dissipating into the air; recently this was buried! Thousands of harpies circle overhead.
Saedenn consults his book. The Death Gods had living servants. This city was a death army unto itself; things like this slew the avatars of the Beast Gods before the sealing of the Ruinous Scar. Chances are there are other things inside that do not wake up as fast as the harpies did.
Kaedo tells the group that they must go into its body, and find some activating element and attack or steal it to deactivate the plodding thing. How to approach unseen? Saedenn scouts ahead through the eyes of his familiar, a fire dragon.
They decide to get out ahead of it and bury themselves, so they can burst out at close range and climb up into its body. Once they get in position they send the camels back to the oasis, and prepare themselves for desperate epic battle.
Infiltrating the Living ArmyTheir heartbeats seem to sync up with the thudding footfalls as it approaches across a great distance.
As it passes, they burst up from the sand and race over to the leg, climbing the leathery folds that are criss-crossed with ladder-like lattices of wrinkles. They scramble around the unmentionable detritus and up the hide, climbing fast.
The get above the legs, over the mass of meat and lip of skin overlapping the bone, and the ridges on the bone form something like a ladder. The entries into the bone look like dots from the distance, but are almost 7 meters across up close.
They dart into the corridor, sensing that warmer air is breathing out, and there is circulation for both air and heat exchange. Inside it is hotter than standing in the sun outside. Harpies ride the thermal coming up off this thing. The interior is organic; razor sharp bone, translucent enough to carry light. (It doesn’t radiate magic anymore because of its age; it is part of the background energy of the world!)
They find razor-sharp egg shards, and masses of harpy eggs, and shifting chimneys to release heat. They duck through a vast breathing sphincter as they head towards the “front” of the creature. Up sheets of tissue with “rungs” ripped into them. Finally to the ossuary suite built into the front of the thing, and long shelves of bone surrounding view slits.
They hide as 5 people walk in. Wizards with conical helms and leather cloaks. They converse in ancient Vermilion Scrawl. They say there are still no signs of avatars, and they have a clear path to the sea; all they have seen so far are stragglers. The harpies complain when told to start picking up the stragglers. They look forward to darkening the skies of the world; slaughter, then setting up slave pits. They are jolly. They wonders if the cities are big enough to be fun to crush yet. They seem to be waiting for more to come, trash talking “the monkeys.”
The adventurers look to Saedenn for a clue of what to do, since he is the only one that understands them, and he simply waits and listens. Giving up on that, Kaedo leaps out of hiding and charges the one with the staff, the others charging in his wake. The startled wizards are pummeled, poisoned, and brutalized in short order. Saedenn interrogates the envenomed survivor.
The wizard figures it doesn’t matter what happens to him, but they are doomed if they want to resist. They ask how to turn the thing aside, or put it back to sleep, or get to its heart. Saedenn tells him whatever he’s looking for is gone; the wizard is looking for the sea. He explains it is far more formidable in the water. They will bring a new, better order. Turning aside is above his pay grade; his is of the Leathern Order, but he is a caretaker, not to command the machinery of the gods. His masters are Firstborn of the Night, who first bore the power of the Death Gods into the world. They are here, and sleeping. Creatures wake in order of power, and he has only been awake for a day. Energy awoke him, breathing in the movement of the army. The army moves along ley lines, that is how it is controlled.
They are going to where someone imprisoned one of the masters, to free it from its prison to once again lay waste to the world.
Saedenn insists he wants to know how to get to the center; choose any corridor and head inward. Crazy Bear splinters his bones with a hug, and they leave.
Into the Center
Arane’s knowledge of cities and Crazy Bear’s guerrilla background and mechanical training combine to form a battle plan in this living city ruin. They figure out the heat sink is the key; if they can get near it then they’ll be right on top of the army’s vitals. To get anywhere near, they’ll have to endure 300 degree heat. Using various magic and toughness, they push close.
They reach a point where the four main fins for the heat exchange come together in the coolant system. The top of the shaft, with them, provides light to the central chamber that provides the exchange. Lots of hydraulic power in the blood and muscle. The goal: break one heat sink loose and ram it into another one, wrecking the system.
Must cut about 7 meters of tissue loose, then push on the bone hinge to bottle up the circulation long enough to cause a problem. If one of the flanking muscle clumps was jabbed somehow to flex at just the wrong moment, that could help. So Saedenn dissolved the tissue, Kaedo cut the tiny bone spur with his enchanted sword, almost breaking it, Crazy Bear pushed on the small spur on the bone tower, and Arane stung the strategic tissue.
Bone spiders squirmed loose, scarpering over to repair the burning tissue. Bigger repair creatures started activating.
The tower slides just barely out of alignment. Then the crunch, and the ripping; the repair creatures race over to a very urgent issue on the other side. Realizing they no longer wanted to be there, they raced away from the exchange. Cauldron loads slosh over each other, different fluids that should not mix, like bile and blood. Everything quivers and shimmies with pain and dysfunction. All the harpies gushed out into the sky, disconcerted. The back two legs fail with a boom, the city army tilts, the rump crunches to the ground, the front two lift off the ground.
Dust and sand form a 70 meter wall, blowing, curving over the army to bury it in the sands once more!
Saedenn melded into his fire dragon familiar and flew away. Arane used her spider scrambling magic to dart out of the thing (and all the way to the other side of a dune, safety!) Crazy Bear grabbed Kaedo and they leaped out of the thing as they reached the edge, falling down, down, down to the troubled sands. Kaedo cried out wildly to Killane, demanding divine protection for saving Killane’s world.
They all survived, and managed to crawl out of the billowing sandstorm, the Living Army nowhere in sight, and all the harpies roosted and buried, or fled.
They rest and heal in the deep fog of sand. Kaedo makes a small altar to Killane. Saedenn reads mysteries written in the sand swirls as they conceal such a mighty power once more. He also realizes that magic is fraying down below, if something powerful were trying to get out, reaching out to rescuers beneath the sand…
They return to the oasis in a white-out sandstorm. They report to the Khan. He takes the report reflectively, but sends them a bowl of fresh dates. And a groomer for Crazy Bear.