The yellow sands of the Shandan Desert stretched from horizon to horizon, desolate and bleak. The hot, arid wind seemed always from the south, sometimes easing the grains of sand across the dunes, but more often hurling them with enough force to feel like tiny pins pricking incessantly at any exposed skin.
Five figures moved through the nothingness that surrounded them. The three mules they led forged along, heads lowered, not even willing to voice protest with the granules so abundant. Each beast bore supplies and equipment for the task the men had planned, and each bundle had grey and brown hides covering them.
The lead man, wrapped in dingy, white robes adorned with dull red accents, abruptly stopped and fell to his knees, then laid his hands to the scorching ground. His magic had not all been taken away by the forces of the Red Griffin. As he clenched the granules in his fists, another approached and spoke the first words any had uttered in days.
“Tambur, is this the place?” They had been traveling due east for two weeks, waiting for some sign to tell them their search was finished.
“Yes, my brother. I sense it.” His eyes still closed, Tambur held out his hand to receive a wooden spade. The three younger men, who had been waiting away from them, rushed forward to help begin the digging.
“We must scoop out the sand eight feet down and twenty feet wide,” Tambur told them. “There, we shall hit firm clay. Four feet under that should reveal evidence of the stream running below. Let us work now.”
The five men began stabbing into the loose earth, tossing the detritus high to let the wind take it away. By sundown, they had reached the firmament the elder had described.
They pitched camp in the center of the pit and made a small fire to cook their rations.
What little discussion they had centered around the life they wished to create in the middle of the surrounding bareness. Tambur, along with his younger brother Rangor, had escaped the persecution of the tyrant wizard Red Griffin a month earlier. Tambur’s wife Shelar, heavy with their first child, had been entrusted to the care of Vicanta, wife of Rangor and mother to Thelis, Aqom and Kentur. The quintet of men set off ahead of the women after they were sure of their safety, leaving them protected by several other families who had fled with them.
Exhausted from the day‘s travel, followed by the work accomplished, they soon rolled out their pallets and fell to sleep.
By sunrise the next morning, they had stored their bed rolls and were finishing a small meal. They began their tasks in silence, each knowing what needed done. With coordinated efforts, the work progressed rapidly.
The youngest two retrieved cutting implements and began slicing the firm, red clay into rectangular bricks. Their brother and father stacked these against the south wall as their uncle carved steps leading down for entrance to the structure.
By the end of the day, they had a barrier wall all around the quarry and enough room in the subterranean living quarters to sleep inside.
When the rest of the group arrived with additional provisions, the domain was near complete. A tour of the complex ensued, and each of the families chose which room they would inhabit. All of them had a basic central space and would need to create their own private sleeping quarters. They would share the food preparation area, complete with a brick-formed oven.
The women set about making a large feast to celebrate their new-found freedom. They baked several loaves of bread, fixed meats and vegetables aplenty, and even a rich dessert. All stomachs were satisfied by the end of the meal.