The Cleft Dweller

An oft-heard local legend near the Clefts of Rujark.
For as long as the travellers(sic) wandered the Desert of Ro, madmen have eked out an existence amongst the other inhabitants of the area.

He had always lived at the Oasis of Marr, though sometimes he travelled(sic) into the mountains to the south.

There, he would find handholds and climb upwards to stand high above the lands and dance, flinging his head back and shouting with glee. No one knew his name.

There was no reason for anyone to know his name; it is likely he had himself forgotten it. No families came to beg him to return home. No children turned away to see him dancing near the fishing village.

He was hard to miss, though, as his ecstatic shouts echoed from the hills and his dancing was inspired by some deep, unseen well of joy.

The wanderers who set up camps here and there in the desert scorned him, though they would leave scraps of food. Maybe he ate them maybe not. The food was always gone.

Sometimes his distinctive footprints marked the area. He was missing the small toe from each foot and dug his big toes into the ground for balance.

Children were warned away from him by their elders. “Do not get too close to the madman,” parents warned, “or he will take your little toes and make a necklace of them!”

Thus alerted, the children followed the madman at a respectful distance, curious and afraid. Did he really steal toes? Were those bones that rattled around his neck the remnants of other childrens’ toes?

For several days, the madman had been dancing near the Oasis, skipping around the water and yodeling.

It seemed even the crocodiles and caimans had become used to his activities, for they barely turned an unblinking eye toward him.

He scooped up water with one fist and sand in the other, then clapped his hands together, flinging the resulting mixture everywhere.

And then, he stopped. One knee jutted skyward and his hands upflung, the madman stopped dancing. He sniffed the air as though he were a gnoll or a wolf sensing danger.

He blinked, slowly lowering his arms and leg, his posture alert and puzzled. Then he began clapping again, his dark eyes crinkling in delight.

“It is coming!” he crowed, clapping his hands over his head. “The end of Norrath is nigh! Mountains rise! Run and hide!”

He laughed happily, as though this pronouncement should inspire any listeners to revelry.

“It’s ending! It’s ending!” he crowed, waggling his hands in the air. He shooed the children who followed him and said, “Run! Run while you still can!”

“He’s going to steal our toes!” cried one little girl, her eyes wide. She let out a terrified scream and did just what the madman told her to do: she ran.

The other children likewise turned and ran, screaming with excitement and terror. The madman was going to chase them and cut off their little toes! He was every bit as mad as their elders had said!

But the madman did not run after the children. Instead he capered along the shore of the Oasis once more turning northward.

“Rocks fall! Mountains rise!” He yelled as he danced along.

Sometimes he knelt on the ground, grabbing fistfuls of sand and flinging them upwards into the air. He watched the way the winds blew the particles, then scampered off.

The children reached their families’ camp and began packing their bedrolls.

“The madman said the end of Norrath is near!” cried the first little girl, frantically stuffing her pack. “We have to hide in the hills!”

“Don’t be foolish, Sasha,” said her mother angrily. “He’s nothing but a fool.”

At that moment, a loud boom sounded outside the tent, rattling the line of pots that hang from its poles.

“It’s the end!” Sasha screamed, flinging herself at her mother.

Elsewhere throughout the camp, similar scenes played out as the children begged their parents to run into the hills.

Though none of the elders gave credence to the words of the madman, the boom was certainly terrifying enough. Perhaps he was made enough to sense things, like the animals sometimes did.

Though the incredibly loud sound had rattled the camp considerably, there were no further noises.

After a few minutes, however, the faint voice of the madman drifted into the camp: “It’s the end (the end, the end)! The sky is falling (falling, falling)!”

Sasha ran out of her tent and looked around for the madman but could not see him. He must have been bouncing his voice off the hills.

And so he was. The madman danced around the lowest hills near the Oasis, sometimes pointing himself north and other times, south.

He watched the tents of the nomads, from which no unusual activities could be seen. He squatted low, pounding his fists into the earth, then raised his face toward the sky. He howled like a wolf and that too echoed.

Finally he stood and ran away northwards yelling, “Mountains rise!”

“What was that big sound?” Sasha asked her mother, who had come to stand beside her.

When her mother did not answer, Sasha looked upwards following her mother’s horrified gaze and saw that in the sky above, one of the moons had shattered. It reminded her of a pitted date, its insides splayed outwards.

She whispered, “He was right; it is the end.”


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