The Burnt World of Athas

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The Journal of Zong-Tossu, Entry 2 - The Walking Islands

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.

After stepping through the vortex within the ring of standing stones, Zong-Tossu and his retinue find themselves is a strange new land.

A NOTE FOR READERS: 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.

“Tearing my eyes from green and distant Athas, I looked to my entourage and saw the shock and weariness on all their faces - we needed a safe place to rest.

I noticed three of our number were missing. Was it some phenomenon or anomaly when traversing the vortex? Amongst the missing was my star pupil Tr’Shadai and two vher-etuil guards, the stout Jari Tlekiee and the swift, lithe Xelno. I could only hope that they were safe, wherever they were, for I feared that this alien place may present unknown dangers.

Cho’ka silently motioned for us to be quiet and led us deep into a grove of bamboo. The vheur-etuil fanned out as we proceeded into the indigo tangle of giant plants, impressively stealthy in their half-shell armor. The junior ghav-urath retrieved various symbiotes from their hide bags, primarily “bond locusts”, which make a powerful polymer from their abdomens, “dry cloaks”, the thick cloth-like symbiotes which wrapped themselves around the wearer and “grasping hooks’’ - rope-like symbiotes able to grapple surfaces with their claws to aid in climbing. In quick order we crafted sleeping cocoons and comfortably crawled in these suspended hammocks to rest. After only a short time, I reawakened, restless and intensely curious about this new world. With the slow rise and fall of the dry cloak-cocoons, I knew my companions were still in a deep sleep. I stayed awake and looked around: several ghav-urath still stood guard around the camp and Cho’ka was still and quiet, appearing to be deep in meditation.

I quietly slipped from my cocoon to the forest floor, dropping face first into the damp ground cover. It smelled of mold and decaying vegetation. The leaf-litter was filled with gently glowing lichens and fungi that were a riot of bio-luminescent colors. I quickly pulled my chameleon cloak from my symbiote bag and deftly covered my body with it, using it to sneak out passed the sentries.

It was still day on Guthay and both Athas and Ral hung in the sky. Athas was massive in the sky, fully half of which was shrouded in darkness. On the visible half, great blue seas and verdant green continents could be seen. In contrast, Ral’s dark blue-green surface was still in shadow obscuring any visible features. Standing here on Guthay, I could imagine that Ral was covered with rich oceans with scattered atolls and islands.

As I quietly walked through the bamboo tangles, I came to a vast marshy sea of bronze and gold-tipped grass with teal colored shoots. This strange moon was so exquisitely vibrant and polychromatic! It reminded me of the mosaics of colorful coral and mollusc shells crafted by the lifeshapers in honor of Rhul-Thuan civilization.

Crossing the tall grass, I could hear the faint whistling of the seed pods as the wind gently blew through them. I was then held mesmerized as the strangest sight rose before me! Islands of floating grass slowly drifted with the currents, crossing from the grassy marshes into the open sea. As I traversed the marshy soil, swarms of glowing krill and clusters of anemones retreated from my advance. Strangely, one of the floating grass islands starkly changed direction and headed instead in my direction. I observed this island of mud and marsh grass move closer and closer to me. Small flying reptiles swept from the island in chaotic dives through the night sky, seemingly hunting the multitudes of insects that surrounded it. I could hear their faint chirping and clicking as they chased their prey.

As the floating island grew closer, I could hear a deep rumbling followed by a high note from the water. The sounds astounded me, both powerful and peaceful at the same time, they vibrated my bones but were also pleasant to my ear. Did this strange world have whales? I had heard of whales in my childhood but they were long thought extinct. Could it be that strange lunar whales might swim among the floating islands, feeding like they did long ago when Athas was blue?

Then more of these floating islands ceased their movement and began to approach the shore. They moved extraordinarily slowly but with such elegance and serenity against the alien sky. As I gazed across the sea, I could see a small sleeping body. Tr’Shadai, my pupil! I scanned the area repeatedly, but none of his entourage were to be seen. Quickly, I raced back to the camp to raise the alarm. I had found a possible survivor!”