There was once a wild boy. He wasn’t sure his real name or even his age. His parents abandoned him as a child to the elements of the desert. It was a common practice at the time. The surrounding people were very superstitious and believed terrible snake gods, known as the Vartisla, needed appeasement. And, as everyone knows, you can only appease the snake gods if you offer your firstborn male as a living sacrifice in the desert.

Many children did die this way, but not this boy. He survived the ordeal.

The toddler boy wandered the scorching heat for days before finding a cave. Inside he discovered a stream of freshwater. He lapped up the liquid with gratitude, then his curiosity got the better of him. The boy ventured further and followed the steam. The cave opened up into a wide paradise of lush palms and shimmering waters. He made his home in that lonely oasis.

Eventually, he found other boys lying in the sands around where he was left. Most were too weak to survive the heat and died a few days later. Just a few survived the three days journey back to the oasis through the cave.

The ragtag group of boys gave each other names after their natural environment. At night, the wicked thunder never bothered the leader, while it struck fear in the other boys. They began to personify him as the element itself. He was then on Thunder Crash.

Wave Runner saved his cousin from drowning and Tree Hugger loved climbing the palms.

Together they fought for survival against the burning sun. Little did they know, the domain of the Vartisla had perils unknown to them. The gods had their fate sealed.

The little tribe grew up working as a unit.

Thunder Crash would scout for new boys, sometimes having success. After they had learned to work together for months, the boys had a routine and motivation. They wanted to see the world and journey to back to the villages. The real world was out there, just beyond the mountain’s edge. They never had grandiose ideas of revenge against the people. But they did have dreams. They combined their patchy memories and shared stories in the cool of the cave. Some things they could only imagine, such as delicious blueberry cream pastries, dancing street goblins, schools of magic, and, most of all, the smell of a beautiful girl.

Tree Hugger prepared coconut meals. He loved smashing them open. His strength and bravery proved resourceful in gathering tools.

Wave Runner spent most of his time exploring the stream in the cave. The waters split in different channels and flowed down dark corridors. The underground labyrinth intrigued young Wave Runner. In the deep chambers of waters, gruesome and hideous the fish creatures dwelt. The large albino crabs made for a delicacy among the boys. In time, he began to chart a map of the area by etching landmark on the cave wall.

Wave Runner feared journeying beyond one point in the cave. After a long swim downward, the current became too strong to resist and, at the end, a faint orange light blazed. The illumination was unnatural and its presence felt evil.  

The boys did what they could off the land, but it was barely enough. Soon they had to resort to violence and thieving. Thunder Crash and his friends waited patiently for the villagers to drag their children to the middle of the desert. The offering season was early spring when the weather was favorable for travel.

Often the Vartisla priest rode on galloping lizgrods. They were tamed and bred to be docile, but still the boys struggled to overcome the beasts. They prided themselves in just scaring the monsters away and robbing the old priests, but the occasional lizgrod kill rewarded them a feast.

They had collected a trove of odd trinkets from their priest raids, like prayer beads, long black robes, and parchment scribbled with scripture.

The tribe lacked any terms to labels strange items, so they just called anything new “stuff”. Other times, they summed up any complex idea in the word stuff. It was a catch all word that summed up life.

While the boys had no concept of reading, they took a liking to the illustrations in the scrolls of prayers and holy writings. Drawings of snake demons and wild flashes of magic fueled their imagination. The boys wondered: is this real?

The Beautiful Princess

beautiful woman bathing in pond

One day, Thunder Crash heard a loud boom. He knew the roar of the horned jackrabbits and the persistent hum of the whallowing dune sloths. This was neither animal. In fact, it was the steady beat of marching drums.

The three boys raced across the sands with their makeshift spears ready for anything. They could see in the distance a great multitude of people, animals, and colorful animals slowly moving to the pace of the mighty drums.

The children didn’t know it, but the crowd was a passing caravan from the palace of King Fantaplob IV of Mallovia. The proud slug monarch had no fear of the Desert of Vartisla and its fabled curses, though most despised his arrogance. All sentient gastropod mollusc had an ill reputation.

Thunder Crash stared in awe through his spyglass made of the tusks of a jumbo gator. Slowly, he communicated to his comrades the wonderful sights. The limitation of his vocabulary prevented him from fully capturing the scene, but the story enthralled the boys nonetheless.

He saw soldiers in the front arrayed in ornate silver plate armor. Behind the guardians marched the flag bearers. They waved the colors of Mallovia, blue and green with black dots in the center. In the center of the caravan, strode the majestic unicorns that pulled, quite effortlessly, dozens of large carriages with flowery designs. Inside the carts Thunder Crash could see elf women talking in the shade of their umbrellas.

Remember Thunder Crash had never seen a woman, except for his mother that he faintly remembered and certainly had no love for at all. He had no words to characterize their form.

“Look… it’s something different,” he said as he passed the spyglass.

The royal caravan passed steadily through the barren land. They crossed the dry dunes and around the cliffs to the very home of the boys. The lonely oasis was common knowledge to the cartographers, particularly the wise griffins. They advised camping under the palms, but solemnly warned of the evil spirits. King Fantaplob IV paid no heed to such cautionary myths.

The wild boys, on the other hand, didn’t like the unwelcomed arrive of the strangers. Their unicorns and frost monkeys ate the remainder of the stockpile kangoberries. The elves quickly set up tents, lit torches, and partied long into the night, indulging only in the finest of red haze wines. The boys rightly felt they were loud, annoying, and a threat. They hid in the safety of the cave, all huddled around a small fire.

Tree Hugger studied his map on the wall and plotted their escape while Wave Runner counted, then recounted, their food supply. They were low on whale fish. The other junior boys of the tribe all looks anxious and shook in terror.

Finally, Thunder Crash said boldly, “This is an opportunity! These invaders have lots of stuff lying around. And like… most of them are passed out by now. Let’s take their stuff and then maybe we can have enough stuff. To do things. Maybe like have our own… kingdom.”

All the children had very foggy concepts of the civilized world, but they did all know of kingdoms. Fantaplob controlled the realms of the swamp islands, Graybar ruled the sky world of the pixies, and goblin lord, Lxolomug, claimed the fire mountains. They murmured among themselves for a moment. The sentiment was clear. Everything, the tribe concluded, must have a ruler. Who would rule the desert wasteland, if not the lost boys? But they had to be proper about it.  

Tree Hugger softly responded, “Raise your hand if you agree with all the stuff that was just said.”

The eldest boys, by now fourteen years old, raised their hands first. Then the younger joined after a few minutes of silence.

They determined their brave leader, Thunder Crash, would sneak around the camp and steal what stuff he thought useful in establishing a nation, how ever vague they imagined it.

Thunder Crash donned one of the thick black robes of a dead Vartisla priest and crept into the shadows of the night.

At the exit of the cave, he three dwarves collapsed on the rough ground and snoring loudly. They smelled bad and had no shiny stuff on them.

Then, he moved slowly passed and encountered some elf warriors seated on some kegs of wine with overflowing tankards. Probably, the elves knew someone was near them, but they were too enraged in a political discussion to focus. They hotly debated the merits of constructing a vine barrier along the southern border of the enchanted forest.

Elfs looked better groomed than dwarves and had shiny weapons, but Thunder Crash didn’t wish to provoke them. He knew the real prizes would be hidden and well worth the sneaking.

He walked past the loud elves and moved toward the center of the great oasis. Centered around the cool pond lay a large pavilion of the traditional Mallovia hues in dazzling patterns. Elaborate columns of duckphants figurines carried tongues of fire.

Inside, Thunder Crash thought he could hear the voice of an angel singing.  

“Is this the different thing?” He contemplated aloud.

As he approached the tent folds, the voice became more clear and beautiful. He couldn’t understand the words. They were, in fact, some sacred dialect of the druids.

Thunder Crash place his hand under the edge of the thick fabric. His little fingers felt the powerful vibrations of the music. He stopped to listen, and his face grew warm with anticipation. Then, he took a deep breath, and squeezed his body against the sand.

He emerged in a room of green with a white fog nearly blinding his vision. Yellow orbs of light circled above him. Crawling carefully forward, the boy squinted to see. The overwhelming singing now mixed with the sound of water pouring. A shape began to appear before the small chieftain.

The singing came from an elf woman bathing in a hot tub of fragrances and rose petals. She repeated a famous hymn praising the earth spirits for a good harvest. Indeed, her voice was very lovely.

Perhaps the reader might compare the elf’s affinity for music and physical appeal to Katy Perry or Ariana Grande.

Her flawless golden skin, quite bare, astonished young Thunder Crash. His mission nearly slipped his mind as his heart thumped loudly. He knew he must silently keep moving, but his body wouldn’t move. Only after closing his eyes tight and cover his ears with the ragged hood was he able to direct his will forward. Her beauty was strong.

He inched his way along the tent wall, feeling with his outstretched hand. The steam and aroma was intoxicating.

Then, he felt a thin veil of vibrant emerald. He quickly peeled it away and entered a simple bedroom. It had a straw bed on the floor, some wicker baskets, and leaf bound booklets scattered across the floor.

Thunder Crash skimmed through one of the prayer journals and then tossed it on the bed. Sadly, it had no pictures.

Next, he carefully opened a basket. He gasped at finding it filled with bright crystals, the shiny stuff. The boy picked one with two fingers and let it sparkle in the magical light of the pavilion.

But then, the singing stopped. Loud ripples from the tub echoed all around. The elf woman he stepped out of her bath. She approached the bedroom.

Thunder Crash was in shock as her curves appeared through the veil.

His instincts kicked into drive and he clutched a handful of jewels and rushed out under the sheet of fabric. In his panic, he knocked the container over and spilling the contents on the rug floor.

The following morning the boy tribe eagerly desired to know what stuff their leader had acquired.

Thunder Crash presented the glittered minerals.

The boys were impressed, but they more interested in the tale of his adventure.

Dwarves they could believe. Those were just fat hairy version of themselves. They somewhat doubted there could be anything like a twenty foot wall of vines in some forest. The only vegetation they knew of was the limited green of the oasis.

The elf woman, naturally, intrigued the boys most of all. Her sights, smells, and other sensations was beyond their comprehension. Each child had a slightly different imagine in mind.

Then one boy shouted in excitement, “Wait! I know this stuff. She must be a princess. Every king needs a princess to make his queen.”

“Don’t they have to love each other?” Tree Hugger asked to everyone.

The crowd didn’t know what to think. They didn’t know romantic love. Survival and brotherhood consumed their lives. No one loved the lost desert boys.

Thunder Crash ponder the possibility of the situation. Did love exist for the forgotten boys, left to die alone in the desert? He thought of that question for a long time.

“I will try to love the princess lady. She is pretty stuff. We can build real kingdom,” he said at last.

The Living Sacrifice

Evil skeleton black and white

Thunder Crash adjourned the meeting and the clan dispersed to their stations, prudently watching the strangers from the shadows.

They reported the caravan packing their luggage and piling their trash. By midday, the caravan would be back on the march.

The clan’s fearless leader needed to act quickly.

He waited patiently until he saw the elf woman walk out her dwelling and was alone. She was as beautiful in the morning as she was at the night.

Thunder Crash wasted no time. He ran up to his princess wearing his best hide rags.

With outstretched hands and teary eyes, he whimpered, “I have your shiny rocks… forgive me.”

The elf was quite surprised and laughed, “Aww! You cutie. You can keep the diamonds. I have plenty back home. Where’s your mother, dear?

“She’s dead.”

“Oh… maybe you can stay with us? The temple owns an orphanage. I’ll find you a family dear.”

Thunder Crash didn’t know his mother was alive and working as gargleberry farmer in the small hamlet of Paradise Village. He meant that he wished she was dead. All the desert boys hated to imagine anything positive of their parents. Indeed, they had died in their minds and nearly faded from all memory.

And, of course, Thunder Crash had no idea what the term orphanage could mean, much less how to pronounce it. He only heard “stay with us” that he understand as “stay with me”.

He wanted to leave with his alluring princess, but he was the de facto king of the desert. Younger boys looked up to him. They might not survive apart from their fearless leader.

Thunder Crash mumbled, “I’ll tell my friends. I want to go. I love…”

The disgusting sounds of a enormous ooze ball squeezing through the pavillion folds interrupted him. The purple mass of gelatinous flesh pussed hot bubbling sores. The mouth was wide and ugly. Silly googly eyes danced atop the creature as they protruded from grotesque tentacles. Between them sat a tiny, yet distinct, golden crown.

Bluttt is going on here? Bloonttt be speaking to this scum, my dearest! Bheyyy arrr snake trash! Cursed! Cursed! Beyyy cursed boys shan’t speak to ma dearest!” King Fantaplob IV wallowed loudly like the shriek like a dying goat.

The grumpy monarch eyed the young child up and down and side to side. Then, he finally spotted the dazzling diamonds hidden in the little fists. The discovery flew him into a wild outrage.

Brruards! Seize this thief!”

The princess covered her mouth, grew red in the face, and began to cry out of pity.

Elf warriors, the very same from the night before, surrounded Thunder Crash and thrusted spears towards him.

The boy heaved and huffed in a panic! He tried to dashing to the left, but the guards thwarted his escape with a quick jab to the abdomen. Blood gushed out as he collapsed to the dusty ground. The warriors closed in for the finishing blow.

Suddenly, Tree Hugger leaped out from behind a boulder and swung a branch bound in cactus needles. The attack tore into one elf’s thigh.

Next, Wave Runner blew into lizgrod horn. The deep tone coupled with the rallying yelp of the tribe startled the whole caravan. From a cliffside, he led the wild boys in throwing rocks and shouting obscenities at the king and his cohorts.

Thunder Crash crawled slowly away in the confusion, his head pounding and eyesight fading.

Tree Hugger swung again, madly, at the other elf. Then, he carried his dying friend.

Each guardian limped away as stones pelted their heads. They fled in annoyance, not utter defeat. The wine had given them a terrible hangover putting their off coordination and eagerness for battle. Anyway, they knew the offending vandal had dropped the diamonds somewhere in the sand.

The elder boys entered back into the cave. Thunder Crash laid in anguish. The tribe all gathered and waited with anticipation. They slept unease, fearful of the king’s reprisal and of their leader’s state.

Tree Hunger had taken command as Thunder Crash recovered. He made the choice to move everyone deeper into the cave, following the stream. Their spies reported soldiers outside massing and sharpening their swords for a devastating assault.

In response, Wave Runner formed a council to planned tactics.

The boys had to survive.

As the night passed, a fire stirred in the soul of Thunder Crash. Wraps covered his waist and the bleeding had stopped. The body healed, but the spirit yearned to move. Like a magnet, some force pulled him deeper down the cave stream. Lower into the earth he moved without thought.

The war council counted their arms and arranged traps for the pending invasion. Every boy had a role to play. They assumed the safety of their brave chieftain.

Thunder Crash heard many voices echoing the same words as if all around him at once.

They beckoned him to walk deeper, toward the light. The faint burning orange color at the end of the passage calmed his mind as he approached it.

Through the fiery hues of rock he cross. The voices all began chanting guttural tones.

At once, the boy snapped out of his trance and saw a giant bronze snake, towering in a wide ritual chamber. Old snake skins of red and black lined the walls, broken bones covered the tiled floor, and a rotten stench consumed the air. Several lit archways marked the beginning of new passages.  

In front of the statue, a cloud of black smoke appeared and, just as quickly, faded away into nothingness. Now, a figure cloaked in black stood in its place. A jagged helm sat upon its broken head. The flesh had nearly faded away and it’s sulken eyes were only hollow beads of light.  

Drawn by some unnatural power, Thunder Crash approached the monster.

“Child… you stand on unholy ground. Bow before the might of Vartisla,” the zombie growled.

Thunder Crash obeyed.

“You were chosen… Ten years ago, you survived the ordeal of the desert, becoming a living sacrifice to the demon serpent. His spirit drew you to the oasis and now to this temple. The world shall begin anew with the waking of our terrible master, but we must lift the enchantment placed on his corporeal visage. The elves and their trifling slug king will discover this idol and destroy it. They must be stopped. Our lord has determined to use you as his vessel. Rise and submit your soul to Vartisla, The World Ender!”

“I’d love to help and all… but I have my own ideas. You work magic stuff, huh?”

The undead shaman creaked it’s lopsided skull. Thunder Crash took the confused silence as answer in the affirmative.

“I want someone to love me – an elf woman. She’s pretty. Can your magic do that?”

Flustered and at a lost for words, the cloaked fiend shouted, “Ungrateful runt! Mortal love is fleeting destruction and folly!”

The reader must understand that while Vartisla’s servant was a wicked being, demons cannot just meddle with souls by force or they would risk a war with the heavens. The individual mortals must agree as per a sacrifice or contract. Some knew they could really negotiate.

“If the world is going to end, I want to be with her.”

“Blasted human! Ahhh… I am somewhat of a chef in the underworld. I know a love potion you may craft. It’s a simple trick. Find toes of a goblin child, pixie dust, vampire fangs, and the tears of an angel. Boil it all in centaur blood for about thirty minutes, stirring occasionally. At the end you’ll want to sprinkle in some chili powder. It’s served best as dip for tater tots or onion rings…  NOW will you embark on this quest for evil?”

“Hmm sounds smart. I’ll just have her drink it. And then she’ll have to love me. No matter what any mean slug says. The lost boys will have a kingdom after all,” Thunder Crash spoke to himself.

He rose and said plainly, “You can do what you want with my soul… if I can have my princess.”

The deal was made.

The undead man extended its hands and chanted some dark spells. Energies of bright red poured forth and connected with the innocent child. The surge of villainous hate linked with his soul.

For the most part he was still a normal boy. However, from then, occasionally, perhaps once a week at precisely midnight, his left nostril might twitch uncontrollably, which indicated the spirit of Vartisla had taken complete control.

Leaving the shrine of evil, he felt imbued with this destructive, supernatural nature. As his friends fought for their lives against a dozen elf soldiers, he calmly touched them and absorbed their essence. He left their enemies as a sulked mess of melting flesh.

Beyond the Sands

Old church chapel interior

The boy tribe stood in utter terror of their beloved Thunder Crash. Yet, they also felt proud in their strange victory.  

“What have you done? Is this the curse? Are we not all doomed? The king will seek vengeance.” Wave Runner stated, breaking the awkward silence.

Thunder Crash jerked his body wildly and bucked his face in the air. He screamed and breathed  heavy as though he had just ran a mile.

Looking around confused, he panted, “What happened? Where am I? Ahh I… I need to find baby goblin toes!”

“Hmm… what would we do with those?” Tree Hugger pondered.

Thunder Crash had to think about the whole situation himself. Everything was very confusing. The last hour felt like a blur, like it never happened.

“The princess will love me… and we can have a kingdom. The toes are one ingredient.”

“Well, I believe you mentioned an orphanage last night. Baby goblins might live there. Anyway, it’s wise for us to explore beyond the sands. We have to adapt. The desert is our home, but we have no idea of a real kingdom,” Wave Runner declared. Excitement filled his mind with the thought of entering the unknown civilized world.

And so, the war council to decide their course of action. They took a vote this time. Simple democracy among the clan seemed natural as often is the case among primitive people. Thunder Crash recommended the shrine room become their sacred place of government.

Back and forth they argued the merits of staying or leaving the desert sands. Eventually, the elders reached a compromise: Tree Hugger would organize and fortify the oasis settlement, Wave Runner would form a division of scouts to report on neighboring villages, and Thunder Crash would find their queen.

The boys voted unanimously in favor of the arrangement, and they set to work immediately.

Tree Hugger had the bright idea to dangle the deformed bodies of the elf soldiers from the cliff encircling the oasis. The caravan cried out in sheer terror. King Fantaplob IV order an emergency departure. He, now in earnest, believed the curse of Vartisla.

The desert boys were living sacrifices to a serpent demon god. The beastly spirit wouldn’t let them perish so easily.

Wave Runner was a small, wily child. He knew how to track the unicorns that pulled the royal carts. In their haste to flee, the company left many clues.

After a week of spying, Wave Runner knew well the layout of the royal city – Haseven. He painted a map of the major streets and structures on leather hide.

Thunder Crash studied every facet of the Haseven, including their jumbled politics, exquisite arts, and delicious foods. He learned to read and write from some stolen books the scouts returned. The chief even adopted proper fashion of the elf and slug communities.

He had to blend into their society.

Finally, he made the long trek through the Vartisla Desert, over the Haunted Hills of Mauiv, and across the Sickly Swamp. After a month of travel, he reached the Ruby Gate of the capital.  

He waited patiently on the street corner beside the temple orphanage in the lower district. Other homeless children huddled together crowded beside the poor rundown wall.

Slug priest, the white ooze variety, waddled passed them each night. Sometimes, they offered alms. They always preached the good news of Goo Savior.

Thunder Crash waited for the evangelist to speak directly to him. More than the other helpless lot, he would hear their gospel and memorize their holy text.

The depraved spirit of the snake god wrestled with his soul and bolstered many of his vices. Thus, he had become a master of deception.

He finally gained the favor of one slimeball. The priest admitted the wild boy into their orphanage and school for the temple. The church only accepted the most sincerely devout of their converts as applicants.

“Step one, success…” Thunder Crash snickered to himself as he entered the temple halls for the first time.

He eyed every other orphan at the convocation.

He scanned the crowds, analyzing any potential foes and allies. Some cute girls were in the pews, but they weren’t his target.

No… he had a ravaging obsession with the elf princess.

Then, as the children and priest bowed their heads in solemn prayer, he spotted a feeble goblin youth sitting peacefully in the third row to the right.

Thunder Crash laughed wickedly and whispered, “Toes! My first ingredient.”

And yet, the spirit of Vartisla also plotted evil.