Chapter 5: Sand/Storm
by Jeff Grubb
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When you speak of the planes of existence, the listeners always think of their native plane as the model against which all should be measured. This is, of course, an error, since the greater multiverse includes every imaginable world and more than a few that are totally beyond mortal imaginings.

Yet if you remove all the monoethical worlds (like the solid, immobile cube of Law or the sloshing broth of pure Chaos), you still have an infinite number of possibilities. And if you throw out all the places where worshipers cannot live (airless voids, baking suns, or phenomenally high property values), you still have a huge number of potential places for worshipers

And worshipers need gods, whether they are in a geocentric, heliocentric, or paleocentric universe. Which is one reason why there are so many of them.

-- Amandar's Great Big Book of Divine Power

The worlds of the Cascading Planes were in continual freefall, and great oblong rectangles spun through the void like toppling dominos. Sometimes the spin was so great that the days flickered by in mere seconds, while other spun too slowly, so that ice ages consumed the dark half, and civilizations navigated along a thin rim between fire and ice.

On one of the worlds, the spin was slow enough to allow a mostly normal life, though within one of its smaller lands it was far from normal. Indeed, most of the natives stood in the town hall, bellowing at the chief alderman and the town's two priests.

"We must move to drier land!" shouted one villager, who looked and smelled like a goatherd.

"No! We must move deeper into the forest," said a heavy woman with berry stains along her sleeves.

"Why have our gods abandoned us?" demanded a third, this one dressed in more affluent clothing.

The chief alderman pleaded for patience and silence. The two priests, one dressed in dun sackcloth, the other in opulent black robes limned with silver, shot dagger-glances at each other.

The chaos in the town hall reached a fever pitch, when suddenly a knock on the main door interrupted them.

As one everyone turned, surprised. The entire town was already inside the hall. Who was left to come in?

The door swung open slowly to reveal a single slender figure, wearing a strange hat.

"I'm sorry," said the newcomer brightly. "Is there a problem here?"

The problem, as the newcomer was soon to discover, was that the town was situated on the edge of a great, verdant rain forest (notable for the succulence of its jerboberry bushes), which frequent and sometimes heavy showers watered regularly. Beyond the town, the land rose into a great high desert made of ever-changing dunes and short, scrubby grasses preferred by the goats. The town was in an ideal position, benefiting from both climates without being held hostage by either.

Until recently, that is.

"The storms are growing," said the goatherd. "They grow fiercer and threaten to break away entirely from the jungle and swamp us all. Our water tower was stuck by lightning three times! It's in an ill omen."

"It's storms, all right," snapped the berry-picker, "but coming out of the desert. Huge dust storms that hide the sun and drive deep into the jungle. Already the plants on the borders are perishing, and we have to go farther for our bounty."

"Such is the will of our gods," said the sackcloth priest. "The desert is expanding, so we must move deeper into the forest."

"Bah!" snarled the black and silver priest. "I have had a vision that we will find true salvation in the desert. We should move there, and the gods will bring the forest to us as it spreads."

At that, both sides nearly collapsed again into bickering. But the newcomer held up his hands, and they silenced.

"So your gods are unsure about the best course?" said the newcomer.

Both priests bristled. "Our gods are never unsure," one of them said.

"And this has been going on for how long?"

"Weeks," sighed the merchant. "One day it's hot winds and sand, the next it's rain and thunder. It's too much for us." The merchant shook his head. "Is there anything you can do for us?"

The newcomer raised his thumb to the rim of his strange broad-brimmed hat, tipping it back to reveal a youthful, smiling face.

"Yes," said Jest. "Yes. I think there is something I can do."

Jest found Sand in a great pavilion in the heart of the desert. She was surrounded by djinni, whose stone-skinned and muscular upper torsos devolved into whirlwinds at their waistlines.

Sand was cursing when Jest pulled back the tent flap. "That absolute, complete idiot!"

"You rang?" said Jest.

Sand looked for an instant as if she would spit, but instead, she pulled herself up to her full and demure height and merely said, "I meant ANOTHER complete idiot."

"Anyone I know?" asked Jest, knocking a marid-cat off a caftan and settling himself down. "Animal, vegetable, or mineral?"

Sand closed her eyes in frustration. "Laughing God, I really don't have time."

"I know," said Jest, "which is a pity, because we could really use your help. And by 'we,' I mean Rust."

Sand's dark eyebrows arched at the name, and her features softened. "What does the Lovelorn Lord of Entropy want?"

"A favor, nothing more," said Jest. "He needs someone to gather together all the small pieces of a project we're working on."

Sand sniffed and ran a hand through her thick hair. "They must be very small pieces indeed."

"Indeed," said Jest, and in short order recounted the full tale. He was practiced at the task by now, and it rattled off his tongue with little difficulty.

Sand nodded and said, "Yes, I think the plan to recreate your door can be done. But I am afraid I cannot leave. Rust will have to understand."

"And you can't leave because . . ."

Sand shot a glance at the forest edge. "Because SOME idiots overstep their bounds and violate the natural order."

"Ah, you mean the recent storms," said Jest.

"Storm? Please," said Sand. "His portfolio is Spring Rains. Everyone knows that. He and every other weather god claims to be the God of Storms. It's disgusting, and so is the way he's deliberately fouling up my orders."

"Which are?"

"To spread the desert," said Sand. "I've got the authorization form . . ." She looked around the tent. "Somewhere."

"And so what's the plan?"

"For the moment, I'm brewing up a sirocco today that will knock him on his lightning bolts. Let's see him recover from THIS."

Jest held up his hands and said, "Let me understand this. If I go to Storm and get him to stop raining on your parade, you're free to go?"

"Like a bird, darling," said Sand, brightly. "And if anyone can do it, I think it's you."

"You're nuts," snarled Storm. His encampment was in a cloud-wrapped keep in the heart of the forest. He was wet and tired, and sparks danced along his eyebrows. Lightning sprites crept around the edges of his throne, trying not to attract attention.

"No I'm not," said Jest. "We could use your help."

"And by 'we' you mean Rust?" said Storm. When Jest paused for a moment, he said, "You can tell the Tin Woodsman that he can bite my shiny electric . . ."

"But he would ask you if he thought about it. Putting the door back means we need power, and that means . . ."

"You need the Stormster," chuckled the small god of Spring Showers. "Ya know, I'd love to help, just to see Rusty's face, but I can't get away. I have direct orders to spread the region of rainfall here, and SOME people aren't making it easy." He shot a glance toward the desert border.

"Ah yes," Jest sighed. "She CAN be difficult."

"Difficult?" snapped Storm. "She's a pampered, spoiled little brat who has no concept of other people's needs or responsibilities."

"Yeah," said Jest. "She said the same things about you."

"She WHAT!" Storm leapt to his feet and the sprites scattered.

"Well, she used 'vain, uncultured thug' instead, but the feeling was the same."

"That little --" Storm started pacing. "That does it! Tomorrow, I'm unleashing a gullywasher. I'm going send her precious desert out to sea!"

"Tomorrow?" said Jest, lowering his eyes. "Oh."

"Whaddaya mean 'oh.'"

"It's just that, well," Jest shook his head, "she said she was planning on the mother of all sandstorms TODAY in order to kill your forest. No plants, no need for Spring Rains!"

"That little tramp!" thundered Storm. "That tears it! I'm going to hit her hard, and today, before she has a chance to do it!"

"Thought you might," said Jest. "And when you're done, we'll be on our way."

The newcomer popped his head into the town hall.

"You folk have a root cellar or something?" he asked.

Both priests started talking, then stopped, and the stormpriest said, "Both churches share a set of catacombs."

"Ah," said Jest. "You might want to get everyone down there. With supplies and the livestock. I think you're in for a bit of a blow."

The storms hit just as the last of the townsfolk got below. From the desert came hot, dry wind, driven by the djinn, who lifted the loose sand and imparted it with a hellish velocity. From the jungles came towering thunderheads -- storm clouds building one upon the other and roiling forward -- which tore at the leaves below with the force of its torrents. The lightning sprites danced in strange, jangled steps along the front.

The two forces met at town at the desert's edge. The sand first stripped the paint from the buildings, then began to dissolve the wood itself. The rain shattered the windows with its force. The combined winds first lifted roofs from their buildings, and then buildings from their foundations. The djinn and the sprites met in hand-to-hand combat and cascaded through the few remaining structures.

Deep in the catacombs, the townsfolk huddled and cried when the earth shook around them. The priests gave each other Last Rites and then turned to their followers, who were busy apologizing for sins real and imagined.

The newcomer sat in a corner with the children. He had pulled a metal device he called a harmonica from his pocket, and he played bright tunes. After a while, most of the townsfolk drifted toward him as well.

They didn't even notice that the sounds of the storm above had stopped.

Jest did, and he looked up and started for the stairs. To the chief alderman he said, "Stay here for another five. And warn your people they have a lot of work ahead of them, once gods leave."

Above, Sand strode into town, her feet not touching the sloppy mess that the village had become.

Storm, lightning bristling like a corona around him, was waiting for her.

"Ah," said Sand. "The Spring Rains have finally come."

"Call me Storm, goddess," said the angry god. "And look what you have done to my work!"

"Your work!" snapped Sand. "Look at what you did to MY assignment!"

A trapdoor flipped open, and Jest's head appeared. "Ah, you're both here. We can go now."

"Trickster," spat Sand. "You're responsible for this!"

"Guilty as charged," said Jest. "I had to find a solution to your problem. Both of you were given orders by your elder gods that could not be completed."

"We're both still stuck here!" said Storm. "She has not spread the desert, and I have not spread the forest!"

"So what do we have here?" said Jest, dragging foot along the ground.

Storm picked up a handful of goo. "Mud," he said, scowling and letting it drip through his fingers.

"Ewwww," said Sand.

"And which of you would be the God of Mud?"

Storm bridled at the suggestion. Sand screwed up her face for a moment, then realization dawned on her face. Her eyes lit up. "If it's mud . . ."

"It's no longer your department," Jest finished for her.

Storm blinked for a few moments, then let out a deep, earthshaking laugh. "So some other poor godling has to deal with this. And we're free to leave."

Jest nodded and adjusted his hat. "So let's cowboy up. They're expecting us."

To be continued...

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