Written by Nels Anderson, and first published on 2008-02-02
Athas is a world of unrelenting danger and threats. It is a place where magic robs the soil and plants of its very life. A world where evil sorcerer kings rule with an iron fist, because they have the power of a god! A world where there is more desert than vegetated lands, because defilers (those who use magic and destroy the land when they do) use their art for selfish ends and think not of the consequences. However, in a land of such horror and death heroes are still born, and so it continues...
The halfling war party had been on forced march for three days and had just sighted their quarry, a lone figure covered in a dark robe, trudging at a slow pace obviously tired from his constant pace from the halflings. The quiet of the desert night were pierced by the shrill cry of a halfling warrior as he threw a barbed spear at the dark shrouded figure. As the figure turned in warning to the cry, the spear ripped into his abdomen, dropping him to the ground.
As the man lay writhing in agony, the halfling war party surrounded him and the short figure of a halfling decorated colorfully in feathers stepped forth saying," Ah Terran, so you finally decided to stop and chat with us. We've been missing you and what you stole from us. Now return the Staff of Mer and perhaps we'll end your suffering now."
Terran attempted to draw forth the power to cast a spell, but the pain was too much and he collapsed to the ground unconscious. The speaker for the halflings reached down at the dying Terran and undid his clenched fist which held a miniature staff of dark wood topped with a small black gem. The halfling deposited it into his pocket and started to issue the orders of return, however a wail was heard about three hundred yards east of the war party. The halfling dressed in feathers gave the signal to spread out and search out what was making the wailing sound. The halflings worked efficiently together and quickly surrounded the tiny figure which seemed to emit more sound than its small body should have been able to do. The lead scout looked questioningly at the leader wondering what he was to do. Obviously, whatever was making the noise was no threat to him or anything else in the desert. Suddenly the halfling dressed in feathers stepped forward and inspected what was wailing not more than three yards in front of him.
When he looked down, he gasped in amazement at a small half-elven infant wrapped in a coarse blanket of kank wool. He turned to his war party and addressed them, "I don't know what strange fate led us to this spot, but that over there is a baby of half elven parentage that was evidently left in the desert to die." After the leader said those words, the war party of halflings erupted in a buzz of conservation. That varied from, let's eat it, to we should take it back to the village and show the chief. All eyes fell to the halfling in feathers and after a few minutes of uncomfortable silence he said, "We'll take it back to the village, after all it is an infant and was more than likely left here to die."
With the small child in tow, the war party set off accross the desert.
Upon returning to the halfling village in the Ringing Mountains the halfling decorated in feathers went to the chief's hut. "I request an audience with Mer., I have returned with his staff and .. something else." With that the halfling in feathers went into the last room of the small hut and hesitantly handed over the small babe and the miniature staff of Mer.
"Lord Mer, I have come to return your staff and something else we found in the desert." Mer looked up from his small desk and let out an astonished gasp when he saw the small baby.
"What have you their Sillan?", Mer asked.
"Uh, it is a baby. We didn't know what to do, so we brought it back here, it was just laying there in the desert crying." Mer sat thoughtfully for a moment then looked up at Sillan, "I suppose the only thing to do is keep the child, after all we can't put back in the desert." Just as Mer handed the baby back to Sillan he looked up thoughtfully, "Call him Astir." Sillan nodded in agreement knowing that Astir meant "one of the mysteries." Sillan took the child and left the hut.
<h3>25 Years Later ...</h3>
Astir Sires woke from his fitful dream again, he hated it when the first day of his life was dreamed. It would have been impossible for him to actually remember, but Astir was a master of the Way, the art of the mind. He had used his powers to recall his first day of life and had regretted it since. All he had learned was that his mother had left him to die in the desert, and he had no idea where his father was or even who he was. Throwing aside bitter memories Astir reached up and put on his black silk robes and gathered his belongings for today was to be the day he started his journey to the Pristine Tower, a place of twisted evil and darkness. He picked up the staff of Mer wistfully thinking of the ringing mountains and his childhood. He had grown up happy enough with the halflings leading an almost normal life, however upon his seventeenth birthday he had decided to leave and find his true life. The village chief Mer, had been more like a father than anyone else Astir had ever known, even going so far as to teach him how to use his powers of the way. He also had given him his staff saying that it would be put to better use by him. At first Astir had not known the significance of the gift, but after years of owning the magical artifact he had come to learn how to use most of its powers. He also learned that it had been imbued with an intelligence of it's own and that is how he had started to become a shadow mage. A magic user that did not draw upon plant life to charge his spells rather he drew upon the Black for his magical powers which made him special indeed, because he had never heard of anyone being able to do that. Astir "threw" aside the wanderings of his mind and looked himself over in the mirror. He still surprised even himself when he looked into a mirror, half of his body including his face was a shadow of swirling darkness. He knew this came from his constant use of the Black over the years. Astir was known throughout the lands as the Dark Mage. He laughed at the thought of the name the people of Athas had dubbed him then sighed, gathered his spell book, put on his gloves to conceal his hands, and pulled his robe over his body, and the hood over his face, and stepped out into the bright sunlight of Athas. The heat did not bother Astir even though he was dressed in black from head to toe. As a matter of fact if someone would have paid close attention, they would have noticed that he did not even sweat. Another gift from his use of the Black.
Astir made his way to the front gate where he was to meet up with a caravan heading in the general direction of the Pristine Tower. He knew the caravan would never head directly towers the tower, but it would be safer to travel with a group of people while he could. After even a great mage/ psionist could fall prey to the predators of the wastes.
After waiting close to an hour Astir saw the head of the caravan make its way toward the front gate also. Upon seeing him, the lead driver waved him onto the wagon he was driving. The arrangements had already been made, Astir was to travel with the caravan and provide protection to it if it was necessary in exchange for transportation near the Pristine Tower. He knew it would take close to two weeks to get to his drop off point, and he guessed that they would meet little trouble since the route they were traveling was a well-traveled one.
The journey was a quick one and Astir's speculations had proven true, the only resistance they had met was a small group of raiders that was easily driven off by the caravans guards. After Astir was dropped off he said goodbye to the caravan leader saying thanks and started off toward the West where the tower lay about two days' journey.
The first day was uneventful walking, but as night neared Astir could hear the screams of the predators in the desert surrounding the tower. He elected to keep traveling through the night deciding that it would be safer to get this over with. His whole purpose on going to the Pristine Tower was to meet Shadar, King of the Shadow giants, a being from the Black and the same place Astir drew his magic from. He hoped to strike a deal with the shadow people to teach him more of the Black and to join up his fight against the Sorcerer King Hammanu, the Lion of Urik.
Suddenly, Astir was thrown to the ground, he rolled with the blow and rolled to his feet again. He was already drawing the energy to cast a spell when he looked up and saw his adversary, a twelve-foot tall giant creature. Its body was covered in dark black scales and its hands ended in long talons that dripped blood from the blow it had dealt Astir in the back. Astir had little time to ponder how the creature had snuck up on him, he leveled his hand at the monster and uttered the incantation "la exeran val da sartuere" a black ray shot forth and started to envelope the large creature as he was consumed in a swirl of darkness, then his body was pulled into Astir.
Astir dropped to the ground panting, it had never taken this much energy to cast a spell before, however Astir credited it to his closeness to the Pristine Tower. No sooner had he thought that than the world started to spin and he was surrounded by darkness and a very real sense of falling. Then he hit the floor. Astir lay there groaning, wondering what in the eye of Rajaat had just happened.
"One minute I'm in the desert, the next I'm falling through this darkness and now I'm in some kind of underground whole," Astir said to no one in particular.
No sooner had he finished those words than a giant of a voice replied, "Ah, so I would assume this is the mighty Astir, the Dark Mage of the Dark! Well-let me introduce myself, I am Shadar, King of the shadow people and this is our home. What brings you to it?"
Astir shifted uncomfortably and looked around, he was not really distressed to find out his captor was Shadar after all he had just saved him a whole days journey. Astir drew himself up and proudly said, "Lord Shadar, I come requesting your aid in the use of the black and I ask for your alliance with me to defeat Hammanu, the sorcerer king."
At first Shadar's only response was silence. "Astir you ask much and know so little. I'll tell you what, if you can defeat one of us in battle I will help you in your fight against Hammanu, and learn you more in the way of the Black." Not knowing what else to do Astir looked up and replied, "I accept".
The air suddenly turned cold even to Astir who had never felt chilled, and a shadow of huge proportions drifted toward him, not knowing what else to do Astir leveled his staff at the shadow that slowly approached him and whispered, "Mer, Shadow meld." Suddenly his entire body turned black as a shadow just as the shadow giant enveloped him, Astir was set ablaze with pain. He realized if he did not do something soon he would be destroyed the same way he had destroyed the creature in the desert. His only chance was that of the Way, in which he was a true master. He attacked the shadow creature's mind setting it ablaze with pain by imagining it being swept over by magical fires. The shadow fought back however and vanished the fires as quickly as they had come. Astir then materialized his body into the plain that represented the shadows mind. He drew forth the power from his mind to encompass his body in a set of full plate armor, luckily Astir got his armor up in time to deflect the javelin of energy thrown by the shadow giant. Astir realized he had no way of defeating the creature in magical combat or in mind combat. Astir was no match, he realized suddenly there was only one chance for him to survive. His body and that of the shadow giant was still entwined together in the "real" world. He brought his mind back to his own body and started to conjure on of the first spells' he had ever learned, darkness. Just before he finished his incantation he said calmly, "Without light, there can be no shadows." With that he finished his spell and the room was covered in darkness. The shadow giant had no where to go except into Astir's body, if he did not flee he would be destroyed and since he was already entwined with Astir's body he could not flee. Astir tried to keep the giant from entering his body, but it was no use it was too strong. Their minds collided and became one as did their bodies. Astir, within seconds knew more of the Black than he had been able to learn in twenty-five years of life. His body grew to seven feet tall and the part of his body that was already shadow became darker if that was possible. He looked up to see Shadar standing at least six feet over him.
"Ah Astir, I see you figured out how to beat your opponent. I trust you understand, we had to know if you had the intelligence to go with the courage. I see that you do. Now let us speak of our alliance and our vanquishing of the Sorcerer King, Hammanu."
Astir met the gaze of Shadar's cold blue eyes with his own and said, "Actually I've already decided upon a plan...."