The sun was already baking the day when the caravan left Parsa for Sulba. It was well-provisioned and Arnulf had ensured that Broneslav had a djellaba to wear instead of his warm Karameikan clothes. Dressed appropriately, Broneslav found the heat more bearable as the caravan set off. It would be a week before they reached Sulba, so he determined to learn as much as he could about managing caravans through the desert. If he was to join the Torenescu trading firm as a fully-fledged merchant, this sort of knowledge might come in handy.
The day stretched on and one sand dune began to look much like another as the caravan followed the desert trail. Broneslav found himself dozing off in the saddle, despite his resolve to learn what he could. He only really awakened when the caravan stopped, which was regularly because of the need to water the beasts.
When night fell they camped in tents carried on one of the wagons. The night was colder than Broneslav expected but at least he had his Karameikan clothes to keep him warm.
The next day they set off again and once more Broneslav found himself dozing in the saddle. Suddenly he there was a shout from up ahead. He drew his sword and prepared to fend off attackers, but soon realised that the attacker they faced was not one that his sword could deal with. The guard at the head of the column was pointing to the south from where a wall of sand was approaching.
The caravan erupted in a flurry of activity as the guards and teamsters drove their mounts harder. Ahead lay a rocky outcrop that might provide shelter if they could reach it in time. But the sandstorm descended on them before they reached it. The shouts of the others were drowned out by the roar of the swirling sand. Broneslav raced like the others and stopped when he reached a sheltering outcrop. He could see none of the others around him because of the blinding sand, so he settled in for the duration of the storm.
What felt like hours later, Broneslav opened his eyes and blinked in the calm. He and his horses were half buried in sand, but the rocky outcrop had prevented them from being fully taken by the storm. he brushed himself down and stepped out to look for the rest of the caravan. Blinking in the strong sunlight he realised that he was alone. The others had been taken by the storm or found somewhere else to hide. Worse yet, the entire landscape had been changed by the storm. Dunes had shifted and there was no sign of the trail!
Checking his packs, he had water for a day for himself, but little enough for his horses. Likewise, he only had preserved food for himself. The horses' supplies were on the wagons, wherever they were. He would have to find his way back to the trail and the caravan, if he was to survive. He waited until the evening, as the sun began to cool, and set out.
The horses had collapsed the day before. He had not found the trail and had been wandering for three or four days. His own water had run out a couple of days ago and he was out of food too. He knew he would not last much longer, but a stony hill up ahead looked like it might at least offer shelter. He staggered onwards. As he got closer, he realised it was not a natural feature. It was a ziggurat. It was surrounded by ruined buildings, stones half-buried in the sand that tripped and hindered even as they offered hope. If this were a city, then there must have been water her at one point. Perhaps there still was. There was no sign of a well in any part of the city that he could see, so Broneslav turned his attention to the ziggurat.
It was five storeys high, and was topped by three statues, each 30' tall. That on the left was a strong, bearded man with a balance in one hand and a lightning bolt in the other. The middle statue was of a winged child with two snakes twined around his body. The third was of a woman holding a sheaf of wheat and a sword. A ramp ran up its steps to the top of the highest tier, where the statues stood. Broneslav began to climb. If nothing else, he might be able to spot a well or oasis from the top.
As he reached the floor of the highest tier, he realised that there was a hidden door to the side of the ramp that now lay open. The door was blocked by the remains of a Hobgoblin with a large crossbow bolt in its chest. The bones had been mostly picked clean, but the state of its tattered clothes suggested it was only a few weeks dead. He climbed to the top and looked around but could see nothing of help to him. Returning to the door, he prepared to step inside.