The man hated this place.  He hated coming out here, into the depths of the Badlands, hated meeting with those withered creatures, hated waiting for them in the cold shadow of this great, unsettling thing.  Yet, here he was, nonetheless.   He first saw their tiny figures when they mounted a distant dune.  He watched them steadily descend its face into the next valley, then several moments later they appeared again, closer now, still coming at an even pace, unhindered by the rising heat that began to pulse in shimmering waves off of the endless sea of sand.  They reached the crest of the penultimate dune, and his horse, which had been idly pulling at the burnt stalks of some long-dead shrub, came to him nervously pressed its head against his shoulder.  Even she didn't like these meetings. In a few more moments they were there before him, and the first among them spoke. "Your task is done, then?" it rasped, its red eyes flickering behind the rags that held it together. "Of course," the man answered stiffly. "The proper people were paid, the peasants were fed, the shows went on., as promised." "So say our listeners. You have again performed...more than adequately. Your payment will be delivered to the oasis south of the Fallen Angel on the fifth day hence. A portion will also be delivered, to be used towards our efforts. Return to this place in two fortnights for further instruction.  This is an adequate rendezvous, is it not?" "I'd prefer somewhere closer to water," the man said slowly. "My horse doesn't do well so far out here." "Perhaps a camel would suit you better," the creature dismissively returned. "No, closer to water is closer to eyes that might see that which must not be seen.  Our meetings must remain unmarked. Besides, this place is significant to us." The man didn't respond.  He'd tried, though he didn't expect to get much better from such dealers as these.  He began to turn to leave when the creature spoke again. "Do you know why this place is notable?" Its voice seemed distant now, its gaze rolled slowly up and down the strange grey stones of the spire, and still the man didn't respond. "This marks the site of a great victory for our kingdom. Here, where lay their last great city, was the final gasp of an ancient empire, who came before even the god-kings of old.  In their time they knew power unrivaled, ruled over lands innumerable, counted themselves as masters over earth, sky, and sea, and yet they are gone, and we remain.  Our armies crushed them to a man, their halls and towers were torn to the ground, and our mighty king wrapped the very stones in the loving arms of this desert.  Such is the fate of those who would stand before us!" Its eyes flashed brightly as its voice came to a crescendo, then just as suddenly the creature was silent. "As you say." The man bowed his head and turned, walking his horse back past the spire, the way he had come.  "Remember," called the creature, and the man paused and looked back, "Our great master is generous to those who serve him well.  Give thanks, and pray that you never fail him." The man bowed his head again, and both parties turned and left.  When he was sure the creatures could no longer see him, he mounted his horse and spurred her away as fast as she would run.