The Burnt World of Athas

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My friends, I am feeling well enough to share with you another message in the name of the Athasian Survey Project.

I have been bed-bound for a week now in Nirik, but what dreams I have had! I still recall the secrets of dream travel from my days of training at the Nexus, and they have served me well even as my body convalesced:


…As I came to awareness, my head swam as I gripped the clay pot, retching violently.

Chala was sitting next to me. There was a look of compassionate pity in her soft blue eyes, but her lips looked like they were straining to hold back the floodgates of laughter.

“Now you know why I’ve never baked for anyone before…”

With tears in my eyes, I stopped long enough to breathe. I managed to choke out the words “The cake…was a sweet gesture-” before the coughing started again and I was forced back to the clay pot.

Chala gently massaged my upper back. “Once you’ve cleared your stomach, I’ve learned a new discipline I can try on you. I think I can heal you with it.”

This was certainly not what I had expected from our first date. But given her capacity for getting us into trouble, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised.

In between heaves, I had a moment of awareness. We were in an alleyway outside a drinking hall in Silt Side. I had successfully persuaded our schoolmasters at the Nexus to let the class throw a party.

As I saw the round crest on her cloak pin, that silvery symbol of splashing water against a cliff face - which I would later grow to forever love and resent - I then realised I was dreaming of the past.


As I slipped into lucid dreaming, I searched the ground, finding two golden threads where I had expected them to be. One was attached to my own source, leading towards the west where I knew my body now lay in a distant kreen village, and the other attached to Chala’s own heart. Looking at her young face gave me pause. Even as a gradually fading memory her blue skin was as perfect as a still pool of pure water. It hurt to see her, even in my own mind’s eye, but I missed her. Perhaps it was a desire to see my old beloved once more, or perhaps it was out of curiosity. I gently picked up her thread and followed it south.

Before I knew it, I had reached the Vanishing Lake. I did not know what to expect or where I expected to find her, but I was committed to my course of action now.

At this time of the year, the Lake was at its lowest ebb. I arrived at a small trade village along the western side. Around me I could see a modest marketplace just beyond a cluster of rickety farmsteads built upon the edge of the sticky red mudflat.

The fact this area is settled at all is an indication of just how precious a commodity water really is to the people of Athas. For centuries the spring at the center of this lake has been waging a battle against the surrounding silt sea, resulting in a seasonal cycle of absorption and regrowth. Over time, the colourful brackish water has achieved some truly strange alchemy that has confounded many scholars. No body of water of any kind on Athas looks or behaves quite like it.

I recalled a folktale among the local farmers which claims that back at the end of the Green Age, a water spirit (elemental?) which inhabited this lake fell in love with a nearby earth spirit. When the Ravager was waging his destruction upon the planet, they gave their lives to preserve the delicate balance of lake and land. Their love child is said to be the guardian of this aquifer, still fighting against the relentless march of the silt to this day. Being unable to commune with the spirit of the lake, I can only guess as to whether this was just a romantic tavern story or truth.

As I gathered my bearings, I realised I was in the artisans’ section of the marketplace. The unique colour palette of the Lake’s water and the hardy plants which have adapted to lving there have inspired visiting artisans and the local craftsmen for generations. The woven ponchos and pottery made here are dyed with a signature series of uneven radial patterns matching the colours of the lake and surrounding mudflat.

Following Chala’s thread, I came to a market stall. The thread led to the back of a heavy and hunched figure - that of an elderly tarek. I was at first quite confused, as Chala was a genasi, but then her strongest discipline had always been the arts of body control. She was having a conversation with a small group of nikaal traders which I couldn’t quite make out at this distance, and I did not want to get any closer for fear of making her aware of my presence.

As I strained to hear anything from the discussion, the group broke into an argument. Among the shouting, I could just make out one of the nikaal say: “But the End is inevitable! We have seen it!”

This was the point at which the old tarek woman turned and shambled away.

Oh Chala…What have you gotten yourself into?


I am sharing this with you all in hopes of getting your help in understanding what they meant. I hope to be well enough to travel next week, but we shall see. Until next time, may the moons guide you.

Vanishing Lake
Vanishing Lake by Neujack

To anyone who can guess the source of this image from Earth, I have an exquisite authentic woven poncho in the colours of the Vanishing Lake, made by local craftsmen with traditional practices and using only the finest local plant fibres and natural dyes. I believe a Tyrian merchant would estimate the retail value of this at two bits…

* Valley of Dust and Fire
* The Wanderer’s Chronicle
* The Will and the Way


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.