A Sietch in Time

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A Sietch in Time
The sun beats mercilessly down on you as you trudge through the desert. You can practically feel your eyeballs drying out, and you[sic] skin baking in the heat. You'd like to tell that damn sun exactly what you think of it, but you're worried that all the moisture in your body will instantly evaporate in a puff of steam if you open your mouth.
How long have you been out here, anyway? Hours? Days? The shimmering desert sands stretch out to infinity. What on earth made you think you'd be able to find the pyramid on foot, in the middle of hundreds of miles of trackless wasteland? It seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea at the time!
You desperately need some kind of transportation. Or at least, a guide. Or at least, a bar. Yeah, a bar would be real good.
Then, way off in the distance, you see a small grouping of tents. What a relief -- maybe one of them is a bar! You start walking with renewed determination, estimating that it'll take you about an hour to cover the distance. It ends up taking about twelve minutes, because the tents turn out to be much smaller than you assumed.
The camp seems oddly deserted. Not abandoned -- the tents would be buried in the sand otherwise -- but everything is eerily silent.
As you stoop to investigate one of the odd little tents, a sudden freak sandstorm gusts up out of nowhere; you stagger back, arms raised to keep the sand out of your eyes. The whirlwind dies as quickly as it arrived, and you find yourself surrounded by a dozen gnomes dressed in sand-colored cloaks and black rubber jumpsuits.
One of them, apparently the leader, steps forward. He brandishes a small glittering knife in a way that is not immediately threatening, but could become so extremely quickly. "Halt, interloper," he says. "This is our sietch, and trespassers are not welcome."
Whoops.
"Sorry, sorry," you say, hands raised. "I'm not looking for trouble. I'm just looking for a pyramid." You show him your father's diary, by way of explanation.
The gnome studies your father's notes intently, then nods. "Yes, I believe I know the place you seek." He puts his knife away, and shakes your hand. "I am Gnasir, gnaib of this Fremegn tribe. I will barter you knowledge in exchange for your assistance with a few minor tasks." He rummages in his pack, and holds up three small pamphlets, entitled "Sun, Sand & Sightseeing!"
"Tourist brochures?" you ask. "I wouldn't have thought there was that much to see out here."
"That is why they are pamphlets and not hardcover tomes," Gnasir replies. "But the maps included should help you in your search."
"And you'll give them to me in exchange for running some errands?" you ask. Gnasir nods, or possibly bows. "All right. what[sic] do you want me to do?"
"Three things," he says. "In an abandoned village near the Oasis, you will find a carved stone rose. It was a symbol of our people, before the desert winds and shifting sands forced us to become nomads, and we wish it returned to us."
"Find the stone rose, check. What else?"
Gnasir points to the door of his tent, which is bright red. "The door of this shelter. I want it painted black."
"Um... all right. That seems simple enough."
"And finally, I need a banshee's killing jar."
"A what now?"
"You have heard of a lich's phylactery? This is similar. Banshees use them to snuff out their remaining positive emotions and memories. They're also handy for repelling desert sandflies and such."
"Right. So: stone rose, black paint, killing jar?"
"Correct. For each of these items you bring me, I will trade you one of these brochures."
"Okay," you nod. "It's a deal."
"Oh, one more thing," he adds. "In our last move, our worm-riding manual was mislaid. I fear the pages have been scattered upon the desert winds by now, but if you happen to come across any of them, I would appreciate their return. There are fifteen of them."
"Worm-riding manual? You ride... worms?"
"The giant desert sandworms, yes."
"Those death machines? You ride those? That is insane, and also awesome. Can you teach me?"
Gnasir shrugs (or at least, he does a little hop, which you guess might be a shrug). "Not without the manual," he replies.
"Gotcha. Okay, I'll be back," you say, giving the fremegn a wave as you leave.

  • When you click on Gnasir's Place, first time:
You make your way back to Gnasir's camp, and find the gnome meticulously checking and adjusting the straps on his rubber jumpsuit.
"What's with the suits?" you ask. "Do they recycle your sweat and urine into drinkable water, to prevent dehydration?"
Gnasir looks horrified. "That is the most revolting idea I've ever heard! We wear them because they look cool."
"Oh. Well, anyway..."
"You think we just pee in our suits, and then drink it? Good grief!"
"Anyway, look, about those errands you had for me..."
  • When you click on Gnasir's Place, second time:
You make your way back to Gnasir's camp, where he and the other fremegn are sharpening their knives, patching holes in their tents, and doing all the other miscellaneous little chores that nomads do when they aren't actively nomadding.
"Greetings to you, Muad'derp," Gnasir says.
"What?" you ask. "What does that mean?"
"It is the name we have decided to call you by. It means 'mouse with horrible ideas about urine'."
"Look, I... oh, never mind," you sigh. "I just came about those errands."
  • Subsequent times. before turning in all items:
You return to the fremegn camp, and find Gnasir conversing with another member of his tribe.
"Ah, it is good to see you again, Muad'derp," he says, and the other gnome stifles a giggle. "How are things progressing with those side-ques... I mean, favors that I asked of you?"
"What was it you wanted again?"
"Our agreement was that I would trade you tourist pamphlets of this desert in exchange for a can of black paint, a banshee's killing jar, and the carved stone rose from the abandoned village near the Oasis," Gnasir says. "And there was also the matter of our worm-riding manual -- it has fifteen pages in all, which were lost in the desert."
"Right," you say. "I knew that."
"Have you brought me any of these things?" he asks.
"Not this time. I'm working on it."
(Or, if you've turned in an item this visit:)
"No, that's all."
"Then good luck to you on your travels," he says, and waves as you turn to head back into the desert.
"I found your stone rose."
You give the stone rose to Gnasir, who inspects it carefully, then nods. He gives it to another gnome, who wraps it reverently in a piece of cloth and carries it into one of the tents.
"Well done," he says. "My people and I thank you. As agreed, here is a travel brochure which should aid you in your search of the desert."
"Look," you say as you take the pamphlet, "I really appreciate this, but didn't you say you know where the pyramid is? Can't you just take me there, or at least draw me an accurate map so I don't have to search the entire desert?"
Gnasir solemnly rotates back and forth a couple times, which you guess is him shaking his head 'no'. "We cannot interfere in such a journey of personal discovery," he says.
"But it's not... oh, never mind."
"Was there anything else?" he asks.
Pamphlet.gifYou acquire an item: desert sightseeing pamphlet
"I brought some black paint for your door."
You hold up the bucket of black paint, and Gnasir nods in thanks. He hands you a paintbrush.
"You want me to do the actual painting for you too?" you ask, a little annoyed.
"Must I humble myself to demonstrate my physical inadequacy to this task?" Gnasir asks, and waves his little arms at you.
"Oh, all right," you say, rolling your eyes. You brush a couple of coats of paint onto the tent flap, obscuring the bright red color. Why was it red to begin with? Who paints their tent flap anyway? You don't bother to ask Gnasir these questions, since you're pretty sure you won't get any satisfactory answers.
"Thank you," Gnasir says when you've finished. "As agreed, here is a tourist brochure which should aid you in finding that which you seek. Was there anything else?"
Pamphlet.gifYou acquire an item: desert sightseeing pamphlet
"I brought you that killing jar you wanted."
You hand Gnasir the glass jar, and he looks approvingly at the odd little will-o-the-wisp inside it. "Excellent," he says. "This should deter the desert gnats and flies. We cannot swat them effectively, with our little arms, you see."
He carefully packs the jar into his knapsack, and hands you a travel brochure. "As we agreed, here is a pamphlet to guide you to your goal," he says. "Was there anything else?"
Pamphlet.gifYou acquire an item: desert sightseeing pamphlet
"I think I found all the missing pages of your book."
Gnasir looks surprised. "Our worm-riding manual? You actually found all of the pages? Let me see..."
You hand him the pages, and he shuffles them into their correct order and inspects them carefully. "You... you have done it!" he says. "You have returned our worm-riding manual! Some call it the very soul of our tribe -- I cannot thank you enough!"
"Well," you say, "you could thank me plenty by teaching me how to ride a giant crazy fanged sandworm like a total bad-ass."
Gnasir turns to the other fremegn, and they whisper amongst each other for a short time. "Very well," he says. "It is unheard of for us to share this knowledge with an outsider, but considering that, without your help, we would be unable to properly train further generations of our own people, it is clear that you are deserving."
He takes two long hooked poles from another gnome, and hands them to you. "These will be your worm-riding hooks," he says. "You jam them under one of the worm's armored segments, to use as reins."
"That's pretty hardcore," you say. "It sounds difficult."
"No, that's the easy part. The hard part is controlling the worm, because they do not like it when you jam hooks into them. Whooo, not even a little bit!"
He spends a few hours going over the diagrams in the manual with you, and teaching you the basics of worm control and maintaining your balance while racing through the desert on top of a giant angry sandworm. Eventually, he seems satisfied that you've learned as much of the theory as he can teach you.
"By the way," he says, "you will need to acquire a drum machine from the creatures at the Oasis, to summon the worm. Is there anything else I can do for you?"
Makerhooks.gifYou acquire an item: worm-riding hooks

  • After giving Gnasir all the requested items:
Your return to Gnasir's camp, but it looks like the fremegn have packed up and moved on. Soon the desert winds will remove any trace that they were even there.
What weird little guys.

Notes

References

  • The conversation when you visit Gnasir's tent the first time is a nod to Still Suits Run Deep, a non-combat from the previous incarnation of the arid extra-dry desert. This, in turn, references a people from the Dune series, the Fremen, who wore "stillsuits" that recycled their body's water.