Written by Neujack, and first published on 2023-04-09
For today’s Athasian Survey Project image, I bring another view from the Silt Sea.
In our efforts to navigate around the Cerulean Storm, we hewed close to the Mountains of the Sun. According to the sages, this mountain range has stood in the middle of the Silt Sea for as long as their records have been kept. Their remoteness and the unreliable weather of this area have left the secrets of these islands largely untapped.
This image offers a slightly uncommon view from the southeast, facing away from the Cerulean Storm. Not much is visible from this distance, other than the barren surfaces of the mountainous islands that face towards the Cerulean Storm, scraped clean and worn smooth from millennia of silt storms even before the Tyr-storms came.
Looking at them now, it is hard to believe anything has survived there, but as the druids say: “where there is water, there is life”, and in spite of it all, some of the purest water on Athas can still be found in these mountains. That alone has been responsible for drawing countless explorers from the mainland to these unforgiving mountains, few of which return. I have been told there are a few types of creatures hardy enough to reside on this island in spite of the conditions, but they have no interest in visitors.
Sadly, in the shadow of this beautiful range, trouble caught up with us. We again saw the craft we had glimpsed near the Cerulean Storm, or perhaps we saw another one like it– an ancient, decrepit ship appeared from behind the Black Isle (a small island located between the Mountains of the Sun and the Cerulean Storm), and headed straight towards us to attack!
Back in the Consortium, we have many specialists from all areas of knowledge - psionic, arcane, and mundane. One such specialist focused on something the others had described as “death magic”. In my ignorance, when I had first met him I had confused death magic with defiling, and I had asked him why he had joined an organisation so dedicated to understanding the regrowth of the world, and he had told me of the control necromancy has over both death and life. We had become fast friends ever since then, perhaps not least because I was one of the few in the Consortium who was not intimidated by him and enjoyed his macabre stories, and perhaps because I was the only human member of the Consortium older than him, and he appreciated that I was so close to the end of my life. His name was Margaba.
It was at this time I recalled one of Margaba’s particularly outrageous stories where he described his experience with the undead fleets of Ur-Draxa. According to him, Ur-Draxa’s entire fleet still rides the silt, perhaps even better than before, albeit in quite a monstrous and unnatural state. They seem to be searching for something or someone, but nobody has ever been able to parley with them and survive.
My captain and crew responded quickly, racing through the strait between the two largest islands. The mysterious craft seemed to glide across the silt in ways which seemed different from any kind of psionically-powered craft I’d ever seen. They bore down on us even as our helmsman’s nose began to bleed from the strain of maintaining top speed.
As we came into range of the ship, they fired upon us. Our helmsman was as skilled a psion and craft driver as I’ve ever seen, but we could not escape every ballista strike. One jagged black-edged obsidian bolt found its way into the side of our craft, emptying nearly half our lower decks’ crew into the silt, and crippling our escape.
As they began to close on us, I could see more details of the ship and its crew. All of it seemed to be…ancient. The ship design seemed ill-suited to travel on silt at all, as it seemed to have been designed to float. The crew wore the kinds of clothes I had seen in ancient murals of the Cleansing Wars. Margaba had mentioned ancient undead from the Time of Magic tucked away in forgotten corners of the world, but I never believed I’d actually witness them. I believe he called them…meorties?
I knew the undead do not usually respond to mental contact, as they have no living minds, so I was surprised to receive a missive in my thoughts:
*“We know…who you are…and whom…you serve…
“You are…not ready yet, but…we will…see you soon…”*
And with that… they disengaged.
I spent the next three days not only doing the best I could to heal what was left of the crew, but also to try to stop a horrid disease which had begun to spread.
I am left with so many questions coming here, and am now beginning to understand that no amount of preparations on my part will make this journey safe for myself or any whom I travel with.
But one thing is clear: the Mountains of the Sun and surrounding silt sea are not safe for the living to travel.
Until next time, may the moons guide you better than they have guided us.
*(To the person who can guess where this image comes from Earth, I present a piece of the ballista bolt which struck our skimmer. It still radiates with necrotic energy, and it seems sharp enough to shave with. I suppose if you shaved your legs with it, the hair wouldn’t grow back…)