The Burnt World of Athas

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Sister, curious events recently befell the city of Nibenay, and, as I know you enjoy an interesting tale, I have composed this missive for your enjoyment. I think you’ll agree that the developments are most intriguing. - Nashwa

On the eve of the city’s greatest annual celebration, House Wavir officials were invited to Nibenay in order to bring charges to bear against House Shom for the smuggling of psionic parasites, and Bogann and Xhir accompanied the House officials as bodyguards for the trip.

Once safely within Nibenay, their contractual duties were complete and the pair were free to explore the city. Bogann and his thri-kreen comrade-in-arms were soon contacted by the city’s templars and charged with the capture of a Veiled Alliance package that the templars believed would be used to oppose the sorcerer-king. Xhir balked at the idea of opposing the Veiled Alliance, and so refused to perform this mission; Bogann, on the other hand, happily accepted the commission. However, upon reaching the scene of the exchange, he hesitated in the face of the Veiled Alliance’s use of magic to cloak themselves, and refused to move against them until they were long gone - a fact Xhir was quite thankful for, considering he had been willing to do battle with his comrade for the sake of the Veiled Alliance’s survival if it came down to that.

The pair spent another tense day partaking of the festivities, with Bogann even betting a hundred ceramics on a matched pair of gladiators - one a dwarf and the other a half-elven convict; Bogann lost the money upon the pair’s defeat - before a great thunderbolt lanced from the palace at sunset, flying over the walls of the city-state and striking the Plain of Burning Water to the south of the city.

The Burning Rain, from Marauders of Nibenay
The Burning Rain by Baxa

At first, the people believed it to be the sorcerer-king attempting to entertain them for the sake of the festival - they were wrong. Moments after the thunderbolt struck home, a horrible earthquake struck the city of Nibenay. Hundreds, then thousands died, all in the matter of minutes. Street battles between templars and the preservers of the Veiled Alliance broke out with the appearance of the great thunderbolt, but the conflict suddenly ground to a standstill as both sides took it upon themselves to save as many civilians as possible, even going so far as to collaborate in their efforts. These valiant attempts saved hundreds of lives, but only minutes after the earthquake ended, acid rain began to pour from the sky, killing hundreds more who were trapped in the streets where the rain could dissolve their bodies, delivering them a slow, painful death.

Huddled beneath the few buildings that remained intact, the templars and preservers could do little but listen helplessly to the people dying in horrible pain. The rain, though potent, lasted only a few brief minutes like the earthquake before it, a fact that was little consolation to the survivors - the rain had contaminated every single open-air source of water in the entire city, bar none, and left corrosive puddles of acid strewn about the entire city, pocking the streets and maimed the feet of any unfortunate enough to step into them.

After some hours of helping civilians, Bogann and Xhir were contacted by the templar that attempted to recruit them against the Veiled Alliance the previous day - Leaza. She claimed that a prophecy that centered around outsiders drove her to seek them out so as to bring them to a council that was set up in the city’s Temple of Elemental Water. Once there, it was revealed that Leaza, though being only of modest rank, believed she was perhaps the highest-ranking templar of Nibenay left alive, as no others were seen moving in or out of Naggaramakam, Nibenay’s forbidden section in the center of the city-state.

The templars were worried about their king, as they were no longer able to cast spells, which indicated that he was either incapacitated or dead. Bogann and Xhir were charged with entering Naggaramakam and putting an end to the terrible disaster at any cost; they gleefully accepted, being eager to prove themselves worthy of respect.

Bharnag, always one for the simple approach, attempted entry via the front gate of Naggaramakam, which succeeded, and then attempted a circuitous examination of the entire area. The pair were confronted with a grisly scene - hundreds upon hundreds, if not thousands, of dead templars were strewn all across the area, and the pair were soon assaulted by score after score of incredibly fast, vicious templar zombies. With the help of a bandoleer of potion-fruits, Bogann and Xhir cleaved through the zombies, retrieved the key to the Palace gate, and pushed on to Nibenay’s home. The gate proved troublesome, as the magical wards proved much too powerful for any entry to be feasible, eventually requiring Bharnag to lift Xhir and use his shadow walk wild talent to appear on the other side.

Once inside, trouble came again in the form of a potent golem made of jade that had to be destroyed, seriously injuring Bharnag in the process. Exploring Nibenay’s palace brought the sights of hanging prison cells from which pained moaning ensued, potent magical force fields protecting Nibenay’s private living quarters, a dragon-woman who claimed to be the victim of a polymorph experiment orchestrated by Nibenay, the sorcerer-king’s art gallery, his library, his private living quarters, and a fountain full of pure water. Also, they found a small child who, according to prophecy, would be the most important part of saving the entire city-state. On the advice of the bound polymorph victim, the child (who was revealed to be called Siemhouk) was taken to the door of Nibenay’s throne room, which she managed to open, though three more jade golems had to be destroyed along the way.

Nibenay, from Marauders of Nibenay
Nibenay by Baxa

Within the throne room, the group beheld Nibenay in his true form - a terrible sight - but were not alone with their thoughts for long as a spirit of elemental Air sought to punish them for their intrusion. Unable to strike down their adversary - which seemed to require powerful magic weapons to successfully injure - the group satisfied themselves with parrying its attacks, by which they prevented their opponent from landing a telling blow. In this way, they were able to defend Siemhouk for long enough that she could contact the mysterious entity assaulting the sorcerer-king - later revealed to be known to the Veiled Alliance as the Zwuun - and purge from it the murderous rage that had brought it to the brink of destroying an entire city-state. Shamed over the death it had caused, the Zwuun fled the palace, destroying the remaining zombies that threatened to overrun all of Nibenay.

Nibenay, now freed from the psionic assault, loped over to the great window of his throne room, shattered it with a blow from his elbow, and took a terrible harvest of life energy from the Trees of Life in the garden below, with which he banished the Air spirit, sparing the party from their unwinnable battle. Somewhat sheepishly, the sorcerer-king admitted that his casting of the great and terrible bolt of lightning was likely what had enraged the Zwuun and caused it to attack.

Nibenay testified that the stars had shown him a time in the future where the internal struggles among the peoples of his city-state were diminished, and had taken this to mean that the time was right to permanently destroy all those who had opposed him, starting with the Veiled Alliance. He had believed that destroying the Zwuun would cause the Alliance to crumble and cement his monopoly on wizardly magic, but Nibenay admitted that he had interpreted the stars incorrectly, and stated that he sensed the suffering of his citizens - describing the day as the darkest in all his long reign. The sorcerer-king claimed to also sense that those who were at odds only days prior - the templars and preservers - were now working together to preserve the city - his city - and that this had persuaded him to consider that cooperation may, in fact, be the way of the future.

Siemhouk was charged with escorting the group from the palace. Bogann could not resist announcing his exasperation quite loudly and informally as he exited. Nibenay did not rise against him for this indiscretion - it seemed as though the sorcerer-king felt the sentiment echoed his own mind. Once they had exited, Siemhouk declared that Nibenay wished the pair to set up a sort of council, at which the state of the city could be discussed and a plan laid out for the future.

The pair met with difficulty from the word ‘go’ - the Veiled Alliance members reluctant, to say the least, to sit at the same table as templars and the sorcerer-king himself, but insistence from the party, who were by now considered heroes for saving the entire city from certain doom, eventually convinced them to agree. The group also met with representatives from House Shom, the Exalted Path and Serene Bliss monasteries, the noble Ahli Kiaka, and the high priests of the surviving temples of the Elements within the city. The council thus assembled, Nibenay set about organizing the terms upon which the city’s reconstruction would be based. The city-state still considered itself at war with Gulg, but as the vast majority of the Templar-Wives had been killed in the Naggaramakam, something would need to be done. Restrictions previously in place indicating just who and what could become a templar were declared null and void, many ceremonies and non-essential duties of the Shadow King’s templars were done away with, and, most curiously, the sorcerer-king promised not to rely on slave labor to rebuild the city. Also laid down were a series of reforms considering the treatment of preservers within the city. The laws against the buying, selling, and transport of spell components were relaxed and preservers and members of the Veiled Alliance were no longer to be hunted by Nibenay’s templars - though, make no mistake, they were still nowhere near first-class citizens yet.

House Shom attempted to divert attention away from their recent charges of smuggling by diverting many of its caravans to supply much-needed food, water, and medical supplies to their city of origin at no charge. At first, this succeeded in mitigating the House’s troubles, but once they began demanding exorbitant reparations for their aid, Nibenay’s patience rapidly began to fray once more, and the city drafted several concessions to House Wavir to warn the belligerent Shom that the city had alternatives they could approach instead. Among these concessions to Wavir was the pointedly named Freedom Declaration, which freed those slaves who had demonstrated ‘extraordinary conduct’ during the disaster. The precise definition of ‘extraordinary conduct’ was never specified, but rumor has it that nearly two hundred slaves were freed by the Declaration - a fraction of the city’s legions of slaves, but certainly a step in a fascinating new direction.

The sorcerer-king’s promises to not use slave labor to rebuild the city came to fruition two months later, when the Nibenese Army was recalled from the Crescent Forest to relieve the depleted templar corps’ law enforcement duties and assist in the reconstruction effort. Nibenay ceded some territory to Gulg in the retreat, but rumors tell of a bold Gulgan offensive turning to stern defeat at the hands of the Shadow King’s new army - thousands of undead soldiers taken from some ruined city somewhere. These rumors were proven true four months after the disaster when three thousand undead marched into the city by way of the main gate, totally under the sorcerer-king’s control. At his beck and call, the thralls tirelessly labored to clear streets, rebuild homes, and repair roads day and night, and day by day the city-state began to look more like its old self again.

The Veiled Alliance spoke critically of such public use of powerful defiling magic, but the sorcerer-king’s retort that his magic harms nothing due to his garden of Trees of Life and the fact that the undead thralls allow him to reduce the need for slave labor silenced most critics, and the populace of Nibenay has begun to slowly shift toward a less hostile view of wizards in general. For all their complaints, preservers hide their spellbooks a little less carefully now in Nibenay.

Assisting in the city’s restoration effort is a sudden wave of immigration as Nibenay’s more democratic leanings are drawing swathes of the disillusioned from other city-states and those from the outlying villages that once chafed under the city-state’s authoritarian style of government. The sorcerer-king continues to wield ultimate power, but the council has reconvened several times and each time Nibenay personally attends, under little to no guard, to show his commitment to a less factionalized future for his city. Not all in the Tablelands, however, are pleased at the changes seen in Nibenay.

Hamanu of Urik is said to have flown into a rage at the news that Nibenay was drawing closer than ever to House Wavir. Urik has built the very foundation of its economy on the institution and practice of slavery, and Nibenay’s market is one of the largest. Rumors swirl that the Lion of Urik is mobilizing his army and drawing up plans for the invasion and occupation of Nibenay even now.

Nibenay is aware that his compatriots smell blood in the water and will not hesitate to seize his city if they believe him to be vulnerable. Already, the sorcerer-king has begun to scheme, plotting an attack that will serve to strengthen his ties with Altaruk and Wavir, put on a show of strength to his enemies in Urik and across the Tablelands, and serve to increase the wealth of his city-state. Three birds with one stone isn’t a bad deal - all Nibenay needs is a few good men and women willing to fight for the future of his city.

Valentýn Poláček