The Burnt World of Athas

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He was exhausted. Kargath had been running all night, trying to catch up to the raiders, but had been unable to gain any ground. As the day approached, he could see the small band of raiders in the distance, a small speck on the horizon shadowed by the rising sun. His hair, once a luxurious mane of black, was soaked with sweat and filled with sand. His whole body ached, and what remained of his clothes offered little protection from the wind. He wasn't particularly muscled, had never done much exercise beyond what his parents had him do, and so all this running had exhausted him. His burn marks itched in the constant wind, and Kargath feared the burns might infect, but that didn't matter. As he stopped to catch his breath, his mind tried to make sense of the last day.

The raiders had approached silently, unexpectedly, and the small caravan had no chance. In one fell swoop, the raiders had disarmed and killed almost all the guards. Before anyone had even realized what had happened, the raiders had already circled his parents and him, toying with them before the inevitable happened. The few remaining guards desperately tried to fend off the raiders, but they knew they had no chance. They were surrounded, outnumbered and cornered. In a final attempt to escape, the guards rushed the raiders, trying to create a small opening to let his parents escape. They almost made it. Before they broke free, one raider managed to block off their escape, and his father had swung his sword at the attacker, a small dark-eyed human, to make him get out of the way. But the raider was good, and his father hadn't managed to make him move. Kargath cursed his own folly at never having learned to use a sword, cursed the paralysis that had claimed him at the most important time in his short life. He might have been able to make a difference, and maybe his parents would still be alive.

In the ensuing confusion, he had received a nasty hit on the back of the head, and had crumpled to the ground. The last thing he had seen before the blackness had claimed him was his father, a sword through his belly, vainly trying to defend his mother.

He had woken up on a huge pile of debris, the remnants of their small caravan. He had heard the raiders talking, and when he tried to sit up to look, he found that he was bound to planks, his hands and legs tied together.

"So, you've finally woken up." Kargath turned his head to look at who had spoken. A burly human glanced up at him from the bottom of the pile. He had long black hair, dirty clothes, and Kargath could smell him even from up where he was.

"Ready to burn?" The raider looked at him and laughed. In his hand he held a torch, and his eyes gleamed with a small light. Kargath looked at those half-mad eyes and started to scream. Just as the raider was about to light the pile of debris, someone yelled.

"Stop!" The raider turned his head to see who had yelled.

"Looking for a new pet Marisha? He's a bit young for you. I think he'd be too much trouble, although he didn't put up much of a fight..." The raider looked up at Kargath and laughed.

"Didn't put up much of a fight? Untie me, you sick excuse for a human, and I'll give you a fight!" Kargath screamed at the raider. He struggled to free himself, but he was tied down pretty good. The raiders were obviously used to doing this.

"Shut up, kank-dung. If you think I'll untie you so you can die easily on my sword, you're wrong. If you had put up a fight, I might've killed you then, but then again, maybe not!"

"Daskinon, stop!" A woman had approached them while they were arguing. She was very muscled, had a voluptuous figure and a face that seemed unable to smile. She was dressed in tight-fitting clothes, with boots of tanned Z'tal hide, and her blond hair was tied back in a long ponytail. Her eyes were small pupils staring out from under her eyebrows. Not a very pleasant person person to spent a day with: she had to be this Marisha. "I'll not have this idiot's spirit haunting me for the rest of my life. Get him down from there, and we'll set him loose in the desert."

"Set him loose? The sun must've fried your brain, Marisha." Mimicking Marisha's voice, although with a slightly higher pitch, Daskinon said: "Wow, let's just set him free, he'll never tell the templars where we raided this caravan, now will he? He's just a good little boy." Turning to look at Kargath, Daskinon said: "If you promise not to tell, we'll cut you free. I know you're a boy I can trust!" He looked at Marisha and laughed once more.

"Get him down from there. He'll never get far anyway." Marisha glared at Daskinon, her look a bit more imperious than the last, the words a command meant to be obeyed. "I lead this band, now untie him! Or would you rather I teach you another lesson?" Marisha looked at Daskinon and smiled, a cold smile with as much warmth as the dark of an Athasian night.

Conflict within! If Kargath could just exploit this, he might be able to escape when the two were fighting.

But then Marisha smiled at Daskinon, walked up to him and gave him a full kiss right on the lips. Both raiders looked up at Kargath. "Think me might set you free? Hmm? Think you're just gonna walk out of here? Hope you enjoyed our little show, cause it's the last thing you'll ever see. Burn him; he's provided enough entertainment."

"No!! Stop!!" Kargath yelled, but to no avail. Daskinon smiled and then lit the pile of debris. As the flames burned higher and higher, Kargath screamed from the pain, and then finally passed out.

He had woken up on a smoldering pile of ashes, slightly burned but still alive. How he had survived the fire, he didn't know, but he wouldn't complain. He had risen and found out he could still move. After looking around he had found the raider's trail, and had set off in pursuit.

Now he didn't know what to do. He knew he wouldn't be able to catch the band of raiders, but he didn't stop. He had nothing else to do, nowhere to go. His whole life had simply crumbled away. All that remained was avenging his parent's death.

As he crested another hill, Kargath saw a man, looking towards him. When the man saw him, he waved. Might this be an ambush? Had the raiders spotted him? Kargath approached the man cautiously, looking for signs of others, but this man seemed alone. When Kargath got closer, he saw that it wasn't a man, but a mul, a dwarf-human crossbreed. The mul was standing, leaning on a staff of agafari wood with a polished obsidian shard on top. Kargath stared hard at the mul, trying to determine his actions, wondering what a lone mul was doing out here far from any village.

The mul looked intently at Kargath, then smiled, his smile showing a row of razor sharp white teeth. "Going somewhere? Trying to catch to your 'friends'? It'd probably go faster if you had a kank to ride." The mul said. Kargath looked closely at the mul. The first thing he noticed was his eyes. They were black! In fact those eyes virtually glowed, as if they proclaimed to the world that inside this mul burned a red hot fire. The mul was scarcely dressed, in fact looked like a beggar, and had numerous burn marks over his hairless body. His skin was deeply tanned, and had a fairly muscular built. But what Kargath noticed most was the eyes. They seemed the only interesting trait of this mul, as if nothing else mattered but the eyes.

"Who are you? Where did you come? What do you want?" Kargath asked.

"Patience, young one. Temper your vengeance for a few moments that I might explain myself." The mul paused, then looked at Kargath with those black eyes, a hard penetrating stare, as if he could see directly at the core of his being, "How had you planned to accomplish your act of vengeance? Just walk right in to camp and demand that everybody dies? Think those raiders would just curl into a ball and turn to dust? Oh, maybe you planned on attacking with your arsenal of weapons, and... oh silly me. You don't even have a sword." The mul laughed.

"How do know what I planned to do?" Kargath was suspicious now. How could this mul have known what he was about to do?

"How do I know? My dear boy, you should have brought along a sign that says: 'I want to kill those raiders', because it's so obvious to me."

" And how would you help me? Why would you help me?" Kargath asked. He was cautious. Although not very old, Kargath had seen his father at work many times, and knew that nothing was freely given in this world. His father had been a trader for a small merchant house, and he had brought along Kargath many times with him so that he might learn the tricks of the trade. And so Kargath had learned that a trade always required an equal exchange.

"I will help you get your revenge, and in return you will serve me and my master." The mul replied in a cold tone, a deadly serious voice.

"And if I refuse?"

"Then I shall take back what I have given you. Your life."

"I guess I don't have a choice. If you help me get my revenge, I will serve." Kargath replied. If this mul could help him kill his parent's murderers, it would be well worth a life of servitude. "Now tell me who you are."

"Who am I?" The mul looked at him now, his eyes turning to pools of midnight black, his face a mask of anger, "I am the raging fires of vengeance, the noose that hangs the rapist, the sun that burns down upon the desiccated corpses of my enemies. I am the cleansing flames of the fire, he who cleanses the world, the one who gives birth to new life by killing the old. I am the smallest spark, the huge bonfire; I am fire, I am flame. I am passion, I am lust, but I am also rage; cold, hard, terrible rage. I am the dying who find the strength to go on, the will to survive. I am free, free to dance on the whim of the flame, bound to nothing and to no one." The mul stared hard at Kargath. "Accept the pledge of fire, and you will have your revenge."

"I accept. Now help me kill them!" Kargath replied. He didn't have time to waste. He wanted his parent's murderers dead immediately.

"You will need to prepare yourself first. Follow me."

They walked for more than three hours, Kargath getting more and more impatient, thinking maybe he had made the wrong decision. He wasn't sure he would be able to find the raiders again, although the mul had told him it wouldn't be difficult. Kargath thought back to all that the mul had said. He realized he didn't even know his name. When he had asked, the mul had just replied, "Call me Master." Another thought nagged at his conscience. He had heard the mul saying it was he who had saved him from the fire. When Kargath had asked him why, the mul had replied that all would be made clear when they arrived at their destination.

Finally, they arrived at a small clearing at the foot of the mountains. There were small bushes everywhere, and in the center of the clearing was a large circle of stones. There seemed to be little else around.

"Go gather as many bushes that you can find. Bring as many flammable things as you can. Put them all in the circle. Make sure you have a huge pile." The mul said to Kargath.

"And what are you going to do?"

"Me? I'm getting some rest. Don't think about running away, else you'll never get the revenge you desire. And don't think about trying something stupid. Last time the fire didn't burn, but this time I can garantee you a very fiery death."

Kargath gathered all the scrubs and bushes he could find, and put them all inside the circle. After a few hours, he had a huge pile. He thought about what the mul wanted to do with his pile. It was obviously going to be used for a fire, but what purpose would that serve? They didn't need a fire this big to warm up, and night was approaching fast. A fire that big might be used as a signal to someone, but who might that be? Well, he had no answers. He would just have to wait and wish that he didn't fall asleep while listening to an explanation.

When the mul woke up, which was about the same time as when Kargath finished gathering all the wood, it was nearly dusk. The sun was setting fast, and the temperature was starting to fall. The mul looked at Kargath and said: "It's time. I will light the fire." The mul looked at the huge pile, whispered some strange words, and then a small flame appeared in the mul's hand. The mul approached the pile, then seemed to talk to the flame, as if asking it to jump to pile of wood. Then the mul put his hand on the pile, flame and all, and everything caught fire. There was now a huge bonfire! Kargath could feel the heat of the flames from nearly 20 feet away. It was even starting to make his hair curl.

The mul looked at Kargath, his coal-black eyes narrowing, and said: "Ready to accept your bargain? Are you ready to gain the power you need to seek revenge?"

"Of course. I've already agreed to do what you wanted in return for revenge. Let's get this over with." Kargath replied.

"Then come over here."

Kargath walked to the mul, and the mul put his hand on Kargath's forehead. The mul whispered some strange words that Kargath couldn't quite understand, and then said: "Walk in the fire. It is safe for those who do not fear the flame."

Kargath looked doubtfully at the mul, wondering if this was some sort of joke, or some kind of trap. Well, the mul could have killed me anytime, Kargath thought, and he looks very serious. So Kargath took a deep breath, then walked directly into the fire, the heat becoming so intense before he stepped in that he almost couldn't breathe.

It was warm inside the fire, but it didn't hurt. The flames hadn't burned him. As he was wondering what was going to happen, Kargath heard a strange voice inside his head. It was smooth, soothing, but also had a hint of madness, a strange touch of insanity. The voice, the presence inside his head made him remember his parent's murder, the savagery of the raiders, but it also talked of fire. It talked of Athas' current situation, of the grand plan to preserve Athas so that it may once again burn in one raging never-ending fire. It talked of the joy of burning the guilty, those who had wronged it. It talked of the power of fire, of its gentle caress, of its ravaging flame. The voice promised to help him kill his parent's murderers, to help him gain the revenge he yearned for. So when the voice asked him if he would accept the Pact of Fire, if he would serve to preserve Athas so it may once again burn, Kargath accepted, the memory of his father with a sword through his belly still fresh in his mind. The voice then proceeded to explain to Kargath all that would be required of him in his service, and explained how it would grant him his powers whenever he needed it.

When he emerged from the fire, Kargath saw that it was nearly dawn. He had spent the whole night inside that fire, but he wasn't hungry and he felt fully replenished. The mul was gone. Kargath yelled for him, tried to look around, but couldn't find the priest. When Kargath took a drink from a nearby pool of water, he saw that his hair was red, as red as brightest flame, and that his eyes were black, two pools of darkness. He looked around the pile of ashes, searching for anything that might help him to gain his revenge. He found a small medallion on a rock. The medallion was made of obsidian, with runes carved on its surface. When Kargath picked it up, it was warm to the touch, and a voice inside his head, the same voice he had heard in the fire, told him: "Wear this always on your body, so that others will know and fear the power of the flame. When you go and seek your revenge, show this to all so that they may know their folly."

He'd finally caught up to the raiders. After spending nearly a month at the clearing where he had undergone his initiation, it had taken him another month to find the raider's trail and catch up to them. But here he was, ready to exact his revenge.

He walked towards the raider's encampment, taking his time, walking boldly, his head up high. Soon one raider spotted him and yelled a warning to the others. A man came towards him, and Kargath saw that it was Daskinon. Daskinon looked at Kargath, stared hard then said: "Is that you, kid? What in Ral's name is going on here?"

"What's going on here?" yelled a female voice from afar. Around one tent came Marisha. When she spotted Kargath, her eyes opened wide. "I don't know how you survived the fire, but if you think that dying your hair red will impress us, think again." She turned to one raider and said: "Perimeter check. Make sure he's alone."

"You should have killed me when you had the chance. It's too late now. You murdered my parents, and now its your turn to die." Raising his voice, Kargath yelled: "It's time for all of you to die. Feel the power of the flame, the flames of vengeance!" And with these words, his heart heavy with guilt over his parent's death, burning rage against these people who had so callously killed them, Kargath opened himself to the flame, letting his vengeance fuel the fire inside him. He grasped the medallion his patron had left for him, called out to the fire he now loved so dearly and held the medallion up high for all to see. He felt the power of his patron filling him, his blood beginning to boil, so intense was the heat inside him, and knew that now he could let it go. Almost bursting from the inside, the pain so intense he almost couldn't think, Kargath first pointed two fingers at Daskinon and Marisha, and they burst into flames. As their screams filled the air, more raiders rushed him, but they too burst into flame. As Kargath turned his gaze everywhere around the encampment, everything burst into flame. More raiders died, running while on fire instead of dropping to the ground to extinguish the flames. As more screams filled the air, an air filled with the smell of sulfur and burned flesh, the only other sound came from Kargath, his laughter filling the air. As he looked around, fire and smoke filling his sight, the screams of the dying in his ears, maniacal laughter coming from deep in his throat, he thought that yes, Athas would burn once again.

And so was born another priest of fire.

Nels Anderson