Written by Neujack, and first published on 2023-12-17
The Athasian Survey Project travels to the Dragon Crown Mountains.
Success! My friends, I am pleased to bring you the first of what I hope to be many clairvoyant missives from the air above Athas, in the name of the Athasian Survey Project.
As I had suspected, my Consortium contacts had done little more than get me in the door with the pterrax training grounds. To convince them to let me ride with one of their pterrax riders was a difficult task, even with my conveying to them the purposes of my mission and whom I served.
Of all things, what made the difference in the end was their discovering my name and the name of my father’s merchant house. It seemed one of their recently graduated pterrax riders was the descendant of the family my father and I had visited all those years ago, and this young pterran - named Odten Aandu - volunteered to assist me on my journey. Pterran lifespans are second only to the thri-kreen in their brevity, yet this young pterran advocated for me as if I were his long lost relative. And here I thought my esteem for their culture could not grow any further.
Not long after, Odten and I departed the training grounds and flew northwards, following a path which would avoid drifting too close to the Battle Wall or the Jagged Cliffs. The reason for avoiding the former was common sense - if we wished to sneak into the Kreen Empire unmolested, we should avoid any and all kreen military installations, and the Battle Wall within the Great Rift features their largest such installation. Of course, they would be watching the skies.
The reason for avoiding the latter was a bit more subtle - once Odten knew where I intended to go, he agreed that, in order to safely make it over the Jagged Cliffs and into the Crimson Savannah, we would do well to travel to the Rhul-thaun capital of Thamasku to request their permission to descend the Cliffs into the Crimson Savannah. The Rhul-thaun do not like outsiders flying over their homes, so they tend to police the skies around the Jagged Cliffs, making sure unauthorised flyers don’t venture into their territory. Going north to avoid the Rhul-thaun settlements (and their airspace) would surely make this journey far longer and far more difficult than it needed to be, and I did not relish another encounter with the obsidian orbs of Saragar, so we both agreed this was our best choice.
Our first move was to use the tall peaks of the Dragon Crown Mountains as cover from the Battle Wall garrisons as we flew north-by-northeast. This forbidding location had quite a fateful history which came to light some years ago through the brave actions of a powerful adventuring party (who allegedly had a personal audience - and assistance - from Hamanu himself). Not long ago, there was a brief period of time when all psionic powers were dampened and all masters of the Way fell ill. It seems the source of this worldwide malady was none other than the fortress hidden inside these mountains. According to the Consortium’s best scholars, part of a group known as The Order - an ancient and clandestine society of powerful psions - tried to use a powerful relic known as the Psionatrix to block all psionic power in the world. The Consortium has known about The Order for King’s Ages, seeing them as a sister organisation. They shared many of the Consortium’s ultimate goals but had irreconcilable differences of opinion as to the underlying causes of Athas’ problems, and thus their solutions.
Our flight path would take us as close as we dared to get to the high mountains without getting too close. Flying over these would prove impossible on account of the air elementals still guarding the abandoned fortress even now. Between Odten keeping us as far away from the Battle Wall as possible and my efforts to conceal our minds, I do believe we managed to draw no attention to ourselves.
At our closest point, I could just see into the Silent Forest within the crater, and even managed a glimpse of the white fortress of Dasaraches and its tower. Even though it has been abandoned since the Psionatrix was destroyed, Consortium contacts have reported the place is still fraught with danger. The forest remains strangely silent and lacking in any fauna (thanks to the forest’s particularly vicious carnivorous plants), and all users of The Way still report headaches and difficulty focusing anywhere near the old fortress.
Looking at this hostile forest from above, it occurred to me (certainly not for the first time) how aggressively living things on this planet have adapted to defend themselves, whether naturally or by forced mutation by unnatural forces. Perhaps a side effect of so many millennia of magical and psionic abuse has been this arms race between every living thing still clinging to life on Athas. Did these evolutions really make us stronger? Can we ever step away from this arms race, and if we did what would that look like?
I will leave you with these questions as we fly north. Until then, may the Moons guide you.
(To anyone who can guess the source of this image from Earth, I have my pack lunch from today’s flight which I can share with you. I have been told at the altitude we were flying, dropped dates can become deadly weapons…)
* Dragon’s Crown
* Scale Tail and Claw
* The Wanderer’s Journal