The Burnt World of Athas

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Dear friends, I thought I should give you all an update on my journey, in the name of the Athasian Survey Project.

Approaching the city of Thamasku proved somewhat easier than I had expected. The Rhul-thaun keep themselves aloof from the rest of the continent, doing nothing to encourage any sort of tourism from the Tablelands and still remaining at a stand-off with the Kreen Empire. However, given the proximity of several oases surrounding the shelf where Thamasku is located, the city does occasionally see visitors. While the Rhul-thaun have entirely their own unique currency and they have a low opinion of mechanical and non-living tools brought by outsiders, they can be bartered with. There are even a few goods they do respond positively to, such as the gemstones and potion fruits I had brought with me on advice from colleagues in the Consortium…

No first time visitor from the outside can ever really know what to expect when visiting a Rhul-thaun village, let alone the grand and ancient city of Thamasku. The Rhul-thaun use a distinctive brand of artificing known as “life-shaping,” a process by which they craft strange living creatures to serve their every need - from tools, to clothing, to their very homes; due to the unique and remarkable nature of this technique, their entire existence often seems profoundly alien to outsiders. Indeed, Thamasku almost seems to be grown into the forest itself. This explains why this image I have sent of the outskirts of the city looks so deceptively primitive.

What you see here is the view from the south along the southeast side of the lake. Between the weather and natural camouflage, most newcomers wouldn’t see most of the major inhabited structures until you were nearly right on top of them. And at that point, it almost feels as if you’ve been swallowed by the jungle.

I had learned my pterran companion Odten’s merchant house had been to Thamasku previously, and he told me of a clearing house on the edge of the medina where we could request a guide for our visit. So we set down just outside the city proper and made our way to the market district.

As we navigated through the narrow and twisting halfling-sized paths between the living, stone, and wooden buildings, I could not help but notice the ever-present feeling of claustrophobia. It seems the Rhul-thaun not only design dwellings specifically for individuals of their stature, but they also seem to consider space to be at a premium and clearly have no concerns with feeling crowded. The structures seemed haphazardly placed, with the alleys weaving between the structures. I must admit I was quite curious about Rhul-thaun architecture, since this was the first time I had ever seen a life-shaped structure. So I tried to examine the buildings as I passed beside or through them. Most were small open spaces with large windows peering out into the forest beyond, and walls and windows seemingly formed without a single straight line or sharp edge in sight.

When we reached the clearing house we sought, my companion inquired about hiring a guide. We were told in rough trade language to “Wait here.” It was only after quite a significant amount of time that another person appeared - a balding, middle-aged Rhul-thaun with an unctuous face. When we asked him to assist us in finding the supplies we needed, he introduced himself as Jem-oglahr, gave us a greasy smile, and said in overly polished trade language “Surely! Follow me, my friends!”

He led us back out into the medina, which turned out to only be the first of the city’s three markets: the food market (mainly selling fish), the crafts market (where we were), and the life-shaping market. As Jem-oglahr took us to the life-shaping market, our way through the city was so convoluted - moving along streets, alleys, and tunnels between buildings as we did - that I struggled to keep up. He eventually brought us to a trader with whom he seemed to be very familiar. At first, the trader acted like he didn’t have everything we were looking for, but after a look and a few comments from our middle man, his attitude changed and he disappeared into the back of his shop. When he returned, he presented us with all our desired goods, all very well-packed and wrapped up in the Rhul-thaun’s fascinating cloth. I am certain we were charged an extortionate amount for what we acquired, but I also am certain we had little room to negotiate in our circumstances.

We did not stay in the city any longer than we had to - the Rhul-thaun made no effort to make us feel welcome in spite of doing business with us. So we acquired our goods, made arrangements with the clearing house to ensure we would be able to cross the Jagged Cliffs without being challenged, and then set up camp outside of the city.

Tomorrow, we cross the Jagged Cliffs into the Crimson Savannah. Until next time, may the moons guide you.

Thamasku City Outskirts by Neujack

* The Wanderer’s Journal
* Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs

(To anyone who can guess this location from Earth, I offer an item I purchased in the market. I have been told it is a genuine life-shaped device which can tell you the weather: you place the small round stone object on the ground, and if it gets wet, it is raining…)


Been playing Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs since 1987. Been playing Dark Sun since it was released. Returned to Athas in 2020 for its expanded timeline and geography.