The Burnt World of Athas

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The Journal of Zong-Tossu, Entry 1 - The Moongate to Guthay

This is the journal of Zong-Tossu, a master ghav-urath (life-shaper) from the Rhul-thaun capital of Thamasku. Zong-Tossu was sent by the har-etuil (judgment-makers) along with a detachment of junior life-shapers and lawkeepers to investigate a mysterious ring of standing stones and the strange creatures said to occasionally appear within. The expeditionary force was accompanied by a thri-kreen emissary known as Cho’ka.

A NOTE FOR READER: The journals of Zong-Tossu, though fascinating, should not be taken as accurate. Even though he was considered a great ghav-urath, eventually many of his writings were dismissed as the products of severe psychosis by the ruling council of Thamasku and simply regarded as fiction or parody. It was rumored Zong-Tossu had a mental breakdown caused by his usage of the narcotic cam-rahn.

Zong-Tossu’s Journal entry # 1: The Awakening of the Gate.

“I am dictating this under great strain, as this place I find myself in is strange and confusing. I fear for the safety of my companions - I know not where they are, as we became separated when we passed through the gateway. Only Cho’ka remains, my silent yet fierce guardian… But first to fill in the details of the recent past: my name is Zong-Tossu, a ghav-urath of Thamasku, and if you hear this, know that I might have perished in this strange place, for as vibrant and colorful as it is, it is also exceedingly lethal in unimaginable ways.

I was tasked with investigating a ring of ancient monoliths located in the northern Ringing Mountains - apparently they had recently begun glowing and emanating strange energy. Several months ago, nearby inhabitants noticed unknown beings near the standing stones who seemed to instantly vanish when discovered. Our scouts have allied with a nearby tribe of Kreen, those insectoids who only in recent memory have risen from animalistic barbarism and become an intelligent people. These Kreen, who call themselves the Cho’Dasl, have sent an emissary named Cho’ka, which I am told means ‘seeker of hidden knowledge’.

As a master ghav-urath, I was accompanied by a handful of junior life-shapers and a detachment of vher-etuils - warriors outfitted with the finest shell armor and razor sharp arm-blades that Rhul-thuan lifeshapers can produce. Our expedition brought a pair of mighty gon-evuath, also known as sky-whales. Flexible howdahs were attached to the bellies of the behemoths - it was in these structures that we rode during our journey to the Ringing Mountains. Whenever brutish races assembled in warbands to threaten our gon-evuath with javelins and longbows, our fearless vher-etuils warriors would come soaring down from the howdahs on their fierce yin-eflan war mounts, impaling foes with their ‘flashlances’ or bombarding them with poisonous ‘spore bombs’. Fleeing survivors were ripped to shreds by the savage claws of the hawk-like yin-eflan.

We arrived at the hill in question just before the evening meal; it was a tall, windswept spur of rock high in the mountains. Cho’ka was the first to land with his yin-eflan, its powerful, razor sharp claws gently touching the rocky surface. Cho’ka set foot on the ground and began investigating the standing stones. With his antennae waving in the winds and mandibles clicking in a low “brrrrrrr” noise, he quickly walked to the giant monolith circle and placed all four of his three-fingered hands on the stones. Cho’ka closed his eyes and meditated upon the cyclopean stones before he suddenly sprang up with his mandibles clicking loudly! “Tak! Tak! Soft ones! We are fortunate, the stones fairly hum with psionic power, and that power is building to something! I believe whatever it is will happen within the next four days” Cho’Ka chittered, “and just in time to coincide with the next predicted lunar eclipse.“

And so we made camp: the warriors used the epoxies and polymers from their symbiote scarabs in their possession, and built a camp from the customary cartilaginous ribs and rubbery flesh coverings to keep us dry and something soft to sleep on. Our fleshy cocoons would keep us warm even when the cool night winds swept the hill. The moons came out that night - Guthay, golden and crimson, was waxing full, while jade Ral was waning.

And so we waited, mostly consuming our cahm-rahn rations, which I have always felt a chore to eat - with a salty but bland flavor, and a pasty consistency I disliked since I was a child - it has always seemed only fit for sustaining symbiotes. By the third night we were going mad from the sparse fare, so the vher-etuils rode their yin-eflan into the forest and skewered a plump forest spider - thank the ancestors, we ate like princes that night!

For four days we rested, staring into the horizon to watch the thunderheads in the distance and shooting stars rain down at night. Guthay and Ral danced in the night sky, Guthay growing more full and Ral’s light diminishing with each night. Finally the fourth day ended with a twilight of brilliant gold and azure blue, and the moons rose up into the sky. Ral was waning gibbous but full Guthay shone brilliantly, herred and gold light rising high in the sky; at midnight, the shadow of Athas swept over Guthay.

As the last of Guthay’s light diminished behind the shadow of Athas, the monoliths began to flicker with a blue ghostfire. Arcs of lighting crackled around the circle of stones and suddenly a swirling maelstrom of the darkest purple formed within the ring of stones. I grabbed a loose stone from the hilltop and tossed it at the vortex - it vanished immediately. Cho’ka ran up to the vortex and put his hands to his head as he focused his mental energies - suddenly the vortex opened fully and I could see a wondrous sight before me: a vibrant jungle, with a towering canopy of scarlet and indigo, of thorn covered trees with a bronze bark and rich scarlet leaves.

All at once, the hill gave a mighty rumble and lightning began to arc violently from stone to stone. With a great shudder, the southern flank of the peak sheared off, taking several of our vher-etuils with it. Monoliths began to list crazily as the vortex became hazy and began flickering - the hilltop was crumbling all around us!

Cho’ka turned to me, still focused on holding the portal open: “Go! The eclipse is already fading; take the warriors and life-shapers, I will be the last. Quickly now or the gate will close!”

The remaining vher-etuils sprinted across the hill as fast as they could. The junior ghav-uraths quickly followed, with their scarab pistols drawn and I was close behind. As I crossed the spiraling vortex, the strange energies made my head spin and my innards lurch. When I landed on the wet forest floor, I fell to my knees and expelled my previous meal! Once I had finished and finally looked up, I saw the rain forest was a riot of colors: small winged reptilian creatures flew about, snagging neon insects from the air and devouring them in a moment - dragonflies, flickering like jewels in the distance with their lustrous carapaces.

Cho’Ka came rushing through the sputtering vortex but as he crossed the vortex suddenly slammed shut and hurled him to the ground. His mandibles clacked in fury: “By Kano!!” vibrated Cho’Ka. But quickly Cho’ka’s discomfort was forgotten as he stood fully erect and witnessed the majesty of the vista before him.

We stood atop a hill, with a great forested valley before us. The trees were decked in brilliant scarlet foliage and gorgeous teal ferns grew on the forest floor alongside vibrantly colored mushrooms. Groves of indigo bamboo grew in wide clumps and vines with brilliant flowers hung in profusion.

Beyond the forested valley, a great marshy sea reached out to the horizon and above, in the humid night sky, we could see a darkened and unknown sphere. Searching the skies, I still saw all the same familiar stars, and jade Ral - though it was now a crescent moon - was unmistakable. Looking back to the darkened world above, I could just make out the shapes of the Sunrise Sea and the Jagged Cliffs - I was looking at Athas! I knew then that we must somehow be on Guthay.

To be continued…

Rhul-thaun Warriors by Jim Crabtree