The Burnt World of Athas

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The Journal of Zong-Tossu, Entry 7 - The Predator Sea

This is the journal of Zong-Tossu, a master ghav-urath (life-shaper) from the Rhul-thaun capital of Thamasku. Zong-Tossu was sent by the har-etuil (judgment-makers) along with a detachment of junior life-shapers and lawkeepers to investigate a mysterious ring of standing stones and the strange creatures said to occasionally appear within. The expeditionary force was accompanied by a thri-kreen emissary known as Cho’ka.

After being taken to the village of the spider-folk and being condemned by the chitine queen, Zong-Tossu, his group, and their spider-folk captors have traveled to one of the shallow seas of Guthay.

A NOTE FOR READERS: The journals of Zong-Tossu, though fascinating, should not be taken as accurate. Even though he was considered a great ghav-urath, eventually many of his writings were dismissed as the products of severe psychosis by the ruling council of Thamasku and simply regarded as fiction or parody. It was rumored Zong-Tossu had a mental breakdown caused by his usage of the narcotic cam-rahn.

Standing at the edge of “Predator Sea” as we were, the chitine warriors cut down lengths of bamboo from the grove around us using stone axes and spun them together with their webbing to produce rafts with surprising skill and speed. The spider-folk then wove great sheets of webbing and attached them to poles that rose up from the rafts, creating graceful sails to propel the craft. After fashioning paddles from driftwood, the spider-folk slowly paddled us across the tranquil, marshy waters. I marveled at how knowledgeable these forest-dwellers were with the construction of the particulars of sailing. As we slowly left the shore, the golden marsh grasses began to recede and a series of long rectangular shapes revealed themselves beneath the shallow waters. They appeared to be made of stone and extremely ancient, judging by how heavily eroded they were; our captors were, however, too busy catching the winds with their sails for me to inquire about the submerged shapes.

We sailed peacefully for days across this foreboding, yet still peaceful, sea. Occasionally, several of the large flying reptiles with their alabaster wings, and ruby-red crests and wottles would be seen overhead, diving down into the water only to return to the air with some type of small sea creature in their long, fanged maws. Other than briefly pausing to circle above our raft, these giant flyers ignored us as we began our voyage across the shallow sea.

I awoke one night to see the strangest sight - off in the distance, several tall, glowing, electric-blue pillars rose out of the water. As our makeshift craft sailed closer to these pillars, the morning light revealed that these were the bioluminescent legs of titanic slow-moving creatures - great beasts with impossibly long necks and tails. Cho’ka translated that these massive creatures were known as “colossi” and that they wandered across the Predator Sea to lay their eggs on sandy islands and beaches. Through Cho’ka, the chitine told us that these creatures migrated across the sea to reach new shores and feed upon the lush forest foliage. While crossing the sea, they usually fed on sea grasses and great mats of kelp. They also had great viscid tendrils that would extend from their undersides, presumably with which to feed on water borne algae and tiny animals. As we traveled alongside them, I saw there were small heads atop the colossi’s long necks, each with a mouth filled with rows of blunt, peg-like teeth that might act as a comb to pluck leaves, fruits, and nuts from the tallest of trees. The colossi’s legs and necks appeared to be long enough to allow them to cross through the rather shallow sea with ease. Flying reptiles would actually land and nest on the mighty shoulders of these colossi, with whole generations of winged sky predators brooded on the backs of the titans. The flanks of the largest and most ancient of these creatures seemed to be dyed white from the droppings of what must have been generations of nesting chicks.

We sailed across the sea among the great herd of colossi for two more days before the spider-folk felt we were at little-enough risk of escaping to cut us loose from our bonds. We were given free reign to swim and bath ourselves in the sea water - Tr’Shadai and I happily leapt into the refreshing waters to swim between the slow-moving legs of the mighty titans. To see the mucilaginous tendrils hang from their bellies like strange vines in the slow moving dreamscape of the sea was quite a sight. The chitine spun web ladders to let us surmount the colossi, and I climbed upon the back of one of these beasts to look out at the setting golden sun, watching the pinks and purples fade across the horizon as twilight faded to night across the sea. Many of us actually found refuge on the back of this mighty colossus, sleeping in the old, abandoned nests of the flying reptiles - after so many days in captivity and aboard the cramped raft, a measure of personal space was a welcome luxury.

The aquatic world of Guthay was a sight to be seen. Vibrant coral reefs were visible beneath the surface, and multitudes of colorful, prismatic fish, strange shelled creatures, and various other sea creatures swam in massive schools around the plodding legs of the colossi. Great floating mats of kelp drifted by, with various species of fish and crustaceans poking their heads out to watch for predators before darting back in again. The flying reptiles began to wheel around us at this time, watching us closely and warbling amongst themselves.

Tragically, there was not much to eat - we tried to catch fish but neither we nor the spider-folk were fast enough to do so by hand or spear. The chitine constructed fine fishing nets using their webs, which we used to catch the occasional fish or frog, but without anything from which to fashion hooks, the catchings were slim. Many of the fish we did catch, the spider-folk informed us, were dangerous to consume, due to the various poisons and parasites these creatures had in their systems. Eventually, many of us took to waiting near the nests of the flying reptiles and feeding on the half-eaten and discarded fish and shellfish. Thankfully many of us still had our purification siphons, which easily filtered seawater to fresh as we drank, though apparently the chitine could drink it with no ill effect.

Several days into sailing amongst the herd, one of the colossi began to plod along more and more slowly, eventually beginning to trail behind its titanic kin. After several hours of this, a number of mounds of seawater could be seen in the distance, heading in the tired behemoth’s direction. Soon these surging mounds of water caught up to the ancient colossi and, with a horrific bellow, purple blood stained the nearby waters as what appeared to be huge predatory reptiles tore into the titan’s legs. As the waterborne predators shredded the wounded limbs, ripping great hunks of flesh away with savagely powerful rolls of their bodies, the colossi stumbled to its knees before falling over onto its side in the water. With this, the marine predators fell upon the titan’s belly, disemboweling the beast and then consuming it from the inside out.

Hearing its bellows of pain and watching as it was pulled beneath the otherwise peaceful waters, I could not help but think of how I had slept upon the creature’s back just two nights previous, and I wept for the gentle giant. When we had left the savage marine predators and their gruesome prize far behind, and I had regained my composure, I asked Cho’ka: “What do the chitine call those predators?” Cho’ka turned and addressed one of the nearby spider-folk. The chitine chittered at Cho’ka, who nodded and returned, and clicking his mandibles said: “Those predators have no name because the spider-folk have never seen them so close up. They normally avoid all predators, as much as possible, believing that to name them is to invite their wrath, calling these only ‘the maws of the sea’.” I could only look out over the sea in horror - all of the predators in this vibrant jungle world seemed to be so terrifying that they either could not be named or were given the most honorary of titles and treated as demigods by the chitine.

We sailed peacefully for days after that, venturing across the sea from atoll to atoll, unmolested further by the ‘maws of the sea’. The colossi, and therefore we, rested upon the atolls at night whenever possible. When we rested upon an otherwise unremarkable atoll one night, when the clouds parted and Athas unexpectedly shone full, the titans began to stir and grow restless. Suddenly, a swarm of chittering shelled creatures burst out of the sand on the far side of the island and began swarming up the legs of the colossi, biting and stabbing at them with mandibles and claws.

We quickly began to defend the titanic beasts, fighting off the vicious isopods as best we could. Those flying reptiles nested upon the colossi also began to pour out of their nests atop the titans and consumed the isopods before they could threaten the flyers’ helpless eggs and offspring. Many of these strange arthropods were slain, though they were quite vicious. The spider-folk stabbed at them with their two headed spears and Cho’ka used his claws to split their carapaces open and gut the vermin. I and the other Rhulisti used whatever was at hand to combat the isopods, using stones, driftwood clubs, and the like; several of the vher-etuils were even lent spare chitine blades to help defeat the creatures. Though they were killed in droves, the isopods still took their toll - a handful of spider-folk warriors and Rhulisti were slain, tumbling down into the shoals to be devoured. Many eggs and hatchlings were lost, and the mourning calls of the winged reptiles could be heard all night, as the nesting mothers called out for their missing offspring.

When the golden sun rose into the heavens again, we and the colossi resumed our journey. By midday, we could see the coast of a great island in the distance. The spider-folk began humming in unison and one of them chittered at Cho’ka for quite some time. His chitin still scratched and cracked in places from the battle last night, the thri-kreen looked me in the eyes and translated: “They say we have arrived to the Island of the Pariahs, where we will be given as tribute to the so-called ‘star children’ that make their home here.”