In the course of my continued flailing about on social media, I have managed to make a few contacts here and there. One of them, a cover artist/designer by the handle of WillowRaven (Blog Here, Twitter Here) has issued a writing prompt/challenge based on one of her uncommitted works, titled Return to Dune Towers. The pic is attached as the featured image for the post and the resulting text is below the bump. Right now it’s just a short piece, but might grow into something more later.
On paper, this is just a courtesy check. The Towers have been written off as a low priority for a few years now; back when they first dug them out, the Guild of Mages was terribly excited about the prospect of a new find, and researchers were literally climbing over corpses to get a jab at the place. It was the most intact precursor facility uncovered in years, and there were high hopes that it might be a find on the same level as the Königsberg Vault. The whole place got turned upside-down, no stone unturned, and in the end, nothing of value was uncovered. At the same time, no one wants to take responsibility for declaring the place a constructive loss after all the resources that have been expended on it. At it’s peak the Towers had thirty mages and three times that in support staff, but now it’s just two young kids and zero times that in support staff, just there to scare off the locals, sweep the sand out of the hallways and mark time until it’s some other young kid’s turn. The various institutes and Guild branches pass the thing along like a hot potato, trying not to be the one responsible when it finally slips back into the sand for good. Another corpse buried in the dunes.
But that’s not what we see on the horizon. The building pokes out of the surface of the rolling dunes, like a submarine breaching the waves, a dark brown to match the sands. With the lights off, one could be forgiven for mistaking it for a particularly proud rock from a distance, but that’s not the case. The lights are on, glowing white and green and tracing the structure with bands of color that make it leap to the eye. If it were only the white, it could be dismissed as a mirage, but the green is a vivid shade that simply does not happen in nature. On the windward side, the sand has collected, piling up nearly to the tops of the towers, but on the leeward side the structure is exposed, multiple stories of interconnected steel, with the bedrock some unknown distance below.
Someone knew we were coming, as there is a welcoming party. A mass of humanity, clad in the same brown as the land and the tower, the loose, insulating garb of a desert people interrupted by the occasional piece of armor, a few tattered and faded banners, and the occasional rifle or rocket launcher. “There they are.” Chief Flexer says as he lines up his approach on one of the outer towers. “They call themselves Le Scorpions. It’s French. Means ‘The Scorpions’.”
“Thanks for the heads up, Chief.” I say, trying to keep from rolling my eyes. Towards the rear of the formation are the Scorpion Clan’s claim to fame. The scientists dubbed them Buthidae Androctonus Praegrandis, but most laypeople just call them fucking huge scorpions. I don’t dispute either name. Big as a bus, the Praegrandis makes up for it’s stupid, single-minded viciousness with a carapace thick enough to bounce a rifle bullet, pincers that can take out a jeep, and a neurotoxin payload that would be overkill on an elephant. No one outside of the Clan can train, tame or break the things, but their knights ride them around like oversized horses, dragging supplies from camp to camp and mowing down anything that opposes them.
All that is normal for the desert, but the woman at the head of the pack isn’t. She stands out from the rabble the way the tower stands out from the desert. Her skirt, thin bordering on translucent, does a better job of covering whatever device she’s hovering on to stay out of the sands than it does covering her form, and ends sharply at her waist, with only the minimum of cloth above to preserve what we Easterners would consider modesty. The Clan dresses to hide from the winds and sand, but she dresses as though daring it to challenge her, throwing a gauntlet straight into the face of mother nature itself. Her face is difficult to read, showing an almost regal apathy towards our arrival, half hidden by her loose, wild hair.
“Crazy desert witches are getting a little hotter each year.” Chief says, bringing the chopper down dead-center of the tower.
“Just don’t forget the crazy part. And don’t forget what we came here to do.” I say, grabbing my bagged-up rifle out from behind the passenger seat of the chopper before hopping out onto the improvised helipad.