Written by Neujack, and first published on 2023-07-30
The Athasian Survey Project visits the village of Shazlim and the Dragon’s Bowl.
Dear friends, I have a clairvoyant missive to share with you from only a short distance away, in the name of the Athasian Survey Project.
From Altaruk, I made my way north along the trade road through Silver Spring to the very small village of Shazlim, the lone settlement on the cliff edge of the Dragon’s Bowl, a deep canyon just southeast of Urik.
Legend has it this large round canyon was created when the first dragon of Athas rose from the ground. The chasm stands empty and, save for the druid guardian of Lake Pit in the middle of the canyon bottom, uninhabited by anything more harmful than a kes’trekel.
In truth, this canyon has brought to this village a very interesting and almost unheard of phenomenon in the Tablelands– tourism. While this small village only has around five hundred residents, mostly from Trade House Inika and their families, its proximity to Urik and the novelty of its location near a remarkable benign landmark have led to it seeing quite impressive numbers of visitors and traffic.
For such a small settlement, Shazam is quite well-presented. That regular tourism traffic by nobles has made this odd little cliff settlement appear quite gentrified, almost as if it was designed to give pampered nobles a feeling like they’re visiting a “savage desert village” in a safe way. In spite of this village being an enticing target for every raider band for miles, the entire bowl is protected by very powerful magic from a strong spirit of the land. This is thanks to Enola, the guardian of Lake Pit and possibly one of the most powerful publicly-known druids in all the Tablelands. I’d known Enola from The Consortium for quite some time. Indeed, this day he was to be my contact for further instructions.
After paying too much money to an overeager half-elven tour guide, I was escorted down one of the precarious cliff edge paths. At that point, a fall from the cliff would be nearly 2000 feet, so the going was slow. By early sunset I stood before the incredible wonder of Lake Pit, one of the most beautifully curated oases remaining in the central Tablelands. Defilers have taken this to be an open challenge for King’s Ages, but its guardian is a seasoned fighter used to dealing with such rabble, though the fringes surrounding the oasis still show occasional defiling scars.
My guide told me he had clear instructions from Enola to allow no trespassers into the oasis itself, but with a bit of a bribe I managed to get him to leave me alone at last. I reached out and requested an audience with the guardian and soon we were standing together, enclosed by the densely verdant trees standing alongside the lake.
Considering he was nearly as old as I was, Enola was still a tall, strikingly handsome mul, wearing his age gracefully thanks in part to his half-dwarven heritage. I shared full notes and reports of my journey, and he updated me on the decisions of the Consortium. While I cannot share all of what we discussed, I can share this: The Consortium was starting to build up an estimation of the ecological devastation wrought upon Athas by the Kings Ages of defiling since the Cleansing Wars, but there still remained far too many anomalies which confused the full picture. These would still need to be investigated directly. And so the next leg of my journey had been decided.
My luck and diplomatic talents were to be tested on what sounded at first to me like a suicide mission. I was to journey into the Kreen Empire…
(To anyone who can guess this location on Earth, I will give you this small leather plush kestreckel tourist souvenir. It seems to be enchanted such that when you squeeze it, it makes the sound of the kestreckel mating call. I’ve been told by my Earth contacts its mating call closely resembles that of the California Condor. To me, however, it sounds like it’s being strangled…)