The Burnt World of Athas

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By:Nicolas Holzapfel

My alternative theory on the creation of the Grey is that long ago in the early days of the Green Age a Dark God descended onto Athas. A terrible battle was fought between good and evil, with good eventually triumphing at the expense of a whole continent.

The victorious powers created a barrier to keep the God away from Athas. A millenium later, a secret and warped cult made an attempt to bring the Dark God back down to Athas once again. In order to accomplish this they created an artifact of immeasurable power capable of breaking the spells that kept The Dark God away.

The artifact was said to be a portal to the heart of the Dark God. Preparing for the Dark God’s coming, his minions gathered a horde devoted to him. His ancient religion prospered again.

The plot was discovered by the Elves of the Forest of Sarimdor. They called on the help of the immortal Pyreen - beings created by the halflings to watch over the fledgling races- and just in time, the plot was foiled. Unable to destroy it, the artifact was sealed in the ruined city that was the base of the cult’s operations.

Here it lay for many millennia, the world changing around the ruins of a city forever tainted and warped. That changed one day, when a wandering Pyreen named Rajaat, discovered the artifact and took it as his own. Discovering its huge potential, he named it the Obsidian Oracle and the Pristine Tower was refitted for it.

As Rajaat’s plans were refined, he saw that somehow he must banish the Gods from Athas. Though it seemed impossible, Rajaat also knew that the Gods would never allow him to return Athas to an age before they were even Gods. In his wanderings, he learnt the history of the Dark God. He used his powers to transport himself to the God’s domain in the Outer Planes. The results of this meeting resolved Rajaat in his plans for Athas.

After creating his inner core of defilers and transforming them into dragons (he could only transform them into first lvl dragons for he knew any stronger changes to their minds might send them insane) he told them of his first plan. Rajaat and his Champions travelled to the centre of the Forest of Sarimdor where the Elves lived in a natural utopia, a place of great spiritual importance for the forest loving races of Gnomes, Pixies and most Elves.

The Elves welcomed him as a trusted Pyreen and the creator of magic, believing he at last would impart on them his wisdom first hand. (Despite not being taught by Rajaat, the demihumans had learnt magic from human disciples. Elves especially had embraced and excelled at magic.) In their joy, they happily obliged him when he asked for their help in constructing a vast structure which he said would expand the power of the magical Forest of Sarimdor. However; as the enormous obsidian construction (which soon became more of a citadel) grew it did not seem like a thing of good. It was sharp and bleak, with many strange twisting shapes and disturbing forms, but they trusted in Rajaat, believing in his wisdom over their own, for it was he, not they, who had founded the principles of magic and advocated the importance of preserving. And anyhow, he was, despite his deformities, a Pyreen.

It was only on the final day of its construction that they realized what it was they created. From far above, atop the great obsidian pinnacle that jutted into the sky, the symbol of the Dark God, stared obscenely down at them. Feeling as if a spell was broken, the Elves turned their horror towards the architect of the obsidian steeple, but Rajaat and his champions were prepared. The Elves began to writhe in pain, the bodies dancing to foul music formed of the anguish growing around them in the untouched  forest. High above them, in the tallest steeple of the Obsidian Citadel, the 15 Champions and Rajaat fused their minds, the Obsidian Oracle above them, blocking out the Sun.

Rajaat began his spell. The trees surrounding them bristled as a stinking black mist appeared from nowhere, poisoning the air and killing living creatures. The blue waters of the Lake of Veima turned into a dark ooze from the insidious black gas.

Meanwhile the Oracle glowed, its dark power wrenching the life from the benevolent yellow sun. The energy flowed through the citadel, its twisted structure forming into a vast spell that seemed to burn in the minds of all the people of Athas.

Guiding this energy as it flowed through them, the Champions initiated the second stage of the spell. The forest of Sarimdor began to change. The air, clogged with an impenetrable black mist, moved outwards onto the plains of Farfall and over the Grey Mountains. Everything the black clouds touched was tainted and choked by the blackness.

The people of the forest and the plains were killed, their bodies merged into the black. Their bodies fell cold on a landscape of pure obsidian. Inside the citadel tremendous life force was being utilized. The Champions opened a rift in reality using the power of the elements themselves. Into this gap flooded the energy, the Champions’ minds acting as the gateway. Eventually after many, many hours, even days, the mists stopped expanding and dissipated, leaving only the dead obsidian landscape. At its centre, the towering obsidian fortress, surrounded by the contorted skeletons of Elves.

Every living creature on Athas felt the effects of that spell. They were all left with a hollow part in their souls and yet they had no explanation, and so turned to their Gods for help. And indeed the source of the emptiness was revealed to them. The Gods no longer existed. The Clerics of the Lands prayed and prayed in vain, but no answer or feeling was forthcoming. Athas had been suddenly abandoned, or so it seemed.

To add to the terror and confusion, it seemed they no longer lived on the same world, for the Sun itself had turned a hateful red. And the people burned under its new merciless glare. Many refused to believe it was so or felt that the Gods were punishing them and would return. Many religions felt it was necessary to protect the worshippers from the truth and carried on as normal in the hope that it was indeed, a temporary departure, or some kind of test. Despite this, the world was besieged by a universal feeling of emptiness and the people panicked.

Gradually, rumors filtered in of a scar on the land. In the city states of the Tyr Region the people talked of the South being turned to black glass. They talked of the end of the world, that Armageddon was finally here. There were not far wrong.

The problem escalated and people began killing themselves and their families in mass suicides, while others lost faith and began venting their terror in riots and attacks on various groups. The city states began to change their character, isolating themselves from their neighbors and persecuting the non-humans in an attempt to secure themselves in their own cultures and forget the emptiness inside them.

Amidst all this were rumors of Gods from the past returned to guide them. It was said their ways till now were sinful and against the wishes of the ancients. These new Gods would descend and teach the people the way of truth. It was in these rumors that most people placed their hope. When, to the joy of the people, 15 great heroes did appear, each calling on the people of the lands where they appeared to follow them, they were flocked with hopeful followers.

Several of these new heroes were already in fact rulers of various lands. Wyan of Bodach for instance, convinced the humans of his native city that the demihumans were controlling the city, that Pixies had been secretly using their magic to control the government. He accused them of starting the chaos and the people believed him. No-one complained when Wyan cancelled all the old rules which had made Bodach so prosperous for so long.

In the far away land of Zha-Dor, a new hero took the land and led his armies in a campaign of cleansing the world of the Gnomes which he claimed were hording the worlds wealth in deep caves and selfishly keeping all knowledge to themselves.

These 15 heroes distinguished themselves from other tyrants that had come to power in the chaos in that they alone were the sole source of clerical power. Their claims of godhood were believed and welcomed. And so the Cleansing Wars began.

I made that story in attempt to explain various nagging questions and add some history to the Cleansing Wars. The Obsidian fortress was basically a gigantic artifact imbued with the power of the Dark God. It was placed in the holy place of the Elves because that was the place where the spells that banished the Dark God from Athas were woven. Only here could they be broken and he be allowed to have some influence. It was also a place of great spiritual power. The Dark God had seen in Rajaat a way to have his revenge on the Gods of Light which had imprisoned him.

He fed Rajaat’s despair and hatred of himself and planted the dark thoughts which led to the concoction of the Cleansing Wars. He instructed Rajaat on the building of the Citadel. The holy Lake which the fortress was constructed over was protected by a pyreen. The Pyreen were distracted with a plague that Dregoth created to sweep over the Pyreen’s protected lands South of the Tyr Region. The Pyreen was then destroyed with the death of his lands.

What Rajaat actually did in the Obsidian fortress was to use the Sun’s energies (turning it red) to create a temporary spell utilizing the energies of the Dark God imbued in the citadel to bring the Black (which the Dark God was bound up with) closer to the reality of Athas. He created a spiritual vacuum and blocked off the God’s powers, continually drawing energy from the Sun to maintain this spell he awaited the completion of the enchantment.

As the Black spread over the land, killing it and turning it obsidian, a vast cloud of souls built up in Athas, unable to depart because of the shield which was draining the life from the Sun and cutting off the Outer Planes. The Champions used their combined minds to create a rift in reality. They opened up gateways from the elemental planes and used this energy to construct a new dimension as part of Athas. They opened up an infinite pocket of nothingness into which the souls of the drained land flooded into. Here in this meaningless plane, they lost who they were and lost their consciousness, they became the Grey.

Rajaat was at last able to stop the spell. The sun stopped losing color and the mists dissipated. The Grey was formed and the Gods could not see into Athas. However, Rajaat had taken the very heart from the Sun. It began to die, doomed to grow forever darker. When the Champions opened up the elemental planes to create the Grey, they became permanent conduits to the elemental planes (as an alternative to when Borys turned them into dragons) allowing their templar spells.

Incidentally I also think the Sorcerer Kings should be able to use cleric spells as a 20th level Templar. It makes sense after all. The Land touched by the spell is now the Dead Lands. The land is covered in spirits unable to rest. Spirits that refused to enter the opening which the Champions opened for them.

The Fortress seemed to have an agenda of its own, one which Rajaat did not anticipate. Many psyches somehow knew of what they had been used for, why they had been killed and what that would lead to. They became incensed with a hatred for their murderers and the murderers of their people who had yet to commit their atrocities. They became the minions of the Dead Land, forever connected to the Black and the fortress which formed them.

Something of the essence of the Dark God still lies in the fortress, left their by the spell. The spell moved the Black closer to Athas and now the God has grown more powerful with it. Travellers in the Black are walking through a kind of demi-plane in which the dimension of the Black is everywhere. The Black represents despair and emptiness. In the fortress a conscience being of sorts has formed from the essence of the Dark God and it is the Dead Lands in which his power is greatest. The Being resides at the center of the Dead Lands in the great Obsidian Fortress where he gathers the armies of undead for their revenge on the descendants of the murderers of their people. Only their devotion to revenge, their anguish and hate, sustains them. The Being, a part of the old God of Darkness, Evil, Revenge, Hate and Despair, has grown stronger as these emotions grow more evident in the minds and psyches of the people of the Athas and as the Black seeps into their minds, the living darkness at the center of the Dead Lands grows stronger still.

Banishment of the Gods, Timeline

BLUE AGE (Pre -14,100) –
The Grey was in a spiritual symbiosis with Nature, cultivated and maintained by the enlightened Halflings. They used their knowledge and understanding to create their utopic civilization. The power of the Nature Masters was mix between psionics and clerical magic.

THE REBIRTH (-14,100 to -14,000)
To bring about the Rebirth, the Halflings changed the fabric of reality that made up Athas. Athas was no longer the harmonious unity of the Grey and nature. The world was flooded with uncontrolled energies that was the Rebirth. Pure entropy. The Halflings had used the Pristine Tower to temporarily merge the Grey (which is a plane if infinite energy) with Athas. For 100 years chaos reigned. The Grey released into Athas was based on the pysches of the Halflings. The various parts of the Halfling pysche formed into the new races. For example their devious parts (which were a part of Athas’s share of the Grey during the Blue Age) became the goblins, their noble, high-minded parts became the Elves. The only intentional race was the Pyreen, who are immortal but cannot reproduce. They were created to watch over the new races. The creation of the mortal races left huge imprints in the Grey. The Grey as concieved by sentient races is their pysche (which is the part of them that always exists in the Grey (or the mindscape), but it is also everything strongly connected with that. For the races of the Green Age, this was the means of their creation - the facets of the collective Halfling pysche. These facets were experienced as Gods. For instance the greed of the Halflings became Blagor, God of Greed. All the pysches of the Green Age had some unconscious conception of these Gods and this vivid collective conception caused something of a mass psionic power being used to give reality to these ideas. Though this was not deliberate, the result was the Rebirth resulting in a vast pantheon of actual Gods, who fed and grew off the pysches in contact with them.

THE TIME OF GODS (-14,000 to -11,000)
The Gods grew very quickly in power as the infant races longed for these higher beings to guide them. Much of their culture first began at the instruction of the Gods, who regularly descended in the form of avatars. The three millenia of this time were dominated by the struggles and disputes of the Gods. This culminated with a titanic battle between the forces of Evil following the Dark God and those who sided with the powers of Good. The battle was fought across a continent far away from the Tyr Region and, though the powers of Good eventually emerged victorious, resulted in the continents complete devastation, creating a warped and twisted landscape. The victorious Gods decided that the Gods should never again walk the surface of Athas. To this end they used their combined powers to move their domains away from the Grey, this done, the Grey as experienced by mortals, became closer to it’s true form, the meaningless entropy.

THE AGE OF THE MIND (-11,000 to - 4,500)
The result was that the Gods could no longer directly intervene in mortal affairs. They could still be contacted by those especially in contact with them - the clerics, and still gained power from their worshippers. But they could only influence the world by gifting their clerics with spells. Another effect was a dramatic increase in psionic ability. Though the number of clerics was reduced, a great many people found that they could now experience a dimension more infinite than the Gods. It had no one specific feeling to it, it was all. This became the Golden Age of post-halfling civilization and psionics reigned. Spiritual needs were still filled by the Gods, and death was easy for the people of this age. But the mortals were now their own rulers, and having been brought out of infancy by the Gods, they prospered. When magic appeared three millennia into the age, it soon joined psionics as a major power in the land. However, psionics remained dominant, having thousands of excellent schools to teach it’s art.

THE HOLLOW AGE (-4,500 to the present day)
Having been prevented from claiming Athas as his own six and a half of a millennia ago, the Dark God contrived his revenge. He found it in Rajaat. He used Rajaat to cast a terrible spell which finalized the spell the powers of Good had began so long ago to limit their power. He banished the Gods from Athas. The memory of the Gods that all mortals held somewhere in their pysches since their creation nearly 10,000 years ago, disappeared in an instant. The spiritual connection they all held was gone. All that was left was the empty, meaningless and hopeless plane of infinite that was the Grey. All that remained was something of the essence of the Dark God, who was primarily the God of Despair. It was the part of him which had destroyed the spiritual conduits of the Gods and it was called the Black -pure emptiness and despair. It was the thing that had replaced their connection with the Gods. The chaos caused by this mass spiritual vacuum would very soon lead to the apocalyptic Cleansing Wars, with only the blasted waste that we see now remaining.


Original creator of The Burnt World of Athas back in 1995 or so… Join me @Raddu76 Play Dark Sun with me on Patreon.