After Kalak's Fall, Athas Will Burn
Angry, Distrusting Wizard
It’s been ten years ago to the day.
It’s amazing to me how I know that for sure, considering all that’s happened. My mind has mercifully blurred, distorted or completely blocked out so many days… so much time. But the dull aches and pains that have dutifully and tirelessly accompanied me this past decade seem to be radiating at a new level this morning, almost as if in homage of the anniversary… an unwanted pet, excitedly wagging its tail at the mere hint of that memory.
Some things simply refuse to fall out of your mind. They refuse to fade away…
As I sit here, clumsily repositioning my leg to find the least painful position to settle into, the face of my old lord flashes in my mind. I refuse to name him here. Nor will I name my homeland or anyone else for that matter. I’ve learned to keep those words in my mind alone.
He was more than just a lord. He was my mentor, my guardian. In truth, he was more of a father to me than most fathers are to their true sons. He had taken me in at a very young age and taught me everything… honor, duty, compassion, and most importantly, strength… not just of body, but of mind and heart as well. His focus in life was to inspire his people and to lead them down a path to something better. Yes, he was a titan on the battlefield, but it was in everyday life where he sought to impact the world.
He was a great man. And I did everything to make him proud. I took up a sword as soon as I was strong enough to do so. And as hard as I trained in combat, I studied even harder in the library. Combat tactics, history, the natural world, different types of people and traditions… it all fascinated me. But my best lessons came from watching others, especially him.
When I was old enough, I was enlisted into the guard. Sparring with the others during training drills is where I made a name for myself. I was far from the strongest, nor was I the most agile, yet I could beat them all. Don’t get me wrong, I was a fairly imposing character. But it was by out-thinking them that I got the edge every time. Combat, to me, was just as much a mental game as it was a physical contest.
As I rose up through the ranks, I gained the respect of most of my peers. I was getting pulled into the political world and being exposed to more diplomatic and city management aspects of the job. I was riding pretty high as all of the goals I had set for myself were becoming realities. My reputation in the city was growing and life couldn’t have been better.
And then it happened.
A night of celebrating a little too hard at the corner inn turns into a morning of complete confusion. Sunlight pouring through the window shocked me from my slumber. As I blinked myself to consciousness, I immediately realized that the window was not my own. My first attempt to shield my eyes met some resistance, which I for a moment chalked up to the horrible hangover that was parading around my skull. It soon became apparent to me that I was tied down.
I scanned the room, which seemed to be some kind of old, abandoned cabin, with no real furnishing besides the table that I was bound to. Out the window I could see a number of trees, which told me that I was very far from home.
In my sapped state there was no way to free myself so I spent the next hour or so scanning the room, hoping to find any detail that might shed light on things. The structure was dilapidated and the roof was full of holes. Gnarled ivy limply hung down the walls, brown weeds snaked through the floorboards with animal dropping scattered among them. My weary eyes fell onto the only scrap of color hidden among the dingy mess. A lone flower jutted up from the floor in the corner, yellow with flecks of red. It stood proud and strong… defying the gloominess of this broken, miserable place. I stared at it for hours, making sure that it was the last image in my mind as I closed my eyes.
I was jarred awake as my body swung forward. Two figures stood before me, faces covered in masks. The table I was on was hinged and could be brought to an upright position. It occurred to me that there were typically only two uses for a table like this. One was to heal injury. The other was quite the opposite.
I asked the typical questions… Who are you? Why are you doing this? What do you want from me?
Silence. They did not speak. One of them finally put his fingers up to his lips in a “shushing” motion.
As I opened my mouth to protest he flicked his finger in my direction and an unseen force clamped down on my throat, reducing my protest to guttural gurgles and nonsensical noises. After what seemed like a lifetime, the force released and I gasped breath back into my lungs. Tears filled my eyes, as if the pain wasn’t blinding enough. But through the tears, I noticed dried up pieces of the ivy, flaking off and falling to the floor all around me.
I had seen this before. I know what this was… a misuse of the arcane arts. The summoning of power at the expense of the world. The ultimate crime of defiling… and it was far from over.
The other figure flicked his finger and I went rigid, head pinned back to the table. I couldn’t speak. I could barely breath. I saw them both reach towards me but could no longer bend my head forward to see what they were doing. Then the pain started. It was so severe I couldn’t discern where they were hurting me. It felt like it was everywhere. I could still see the little yellow flower in the corner. I focused on it, trying to keep my mind there…anywhere that wasn’t with the pain. But as the suffering increased the flower started to sag. Its color began to fade, as did any semblance of hope that I was holding onto.
I turned my gaze out the window, my last attempt to escape this reality. I didn’t think it was possible to experience any more pain than what was being inflicted on me but I was wrong. As it cranked up to another level, my consciousness began to waiver. The image of the trees outside began to jump and distort. But it wasn’t just the trick of a mind under distress. They were dying. And as they died my agony reached new, terrible heights.
And then, darkness.
When I awoke, I was still on the table, which was reverted back to the prone position. I wasn’t bound, and there was no sign of the figures who had tortured me so horribly. It took a lot of energy to sit up. When I went to swing my legs over the side to stand, I collapsed into a heap on the floor. I looked at my legs and was shocked at what I saw. They looked wasted away from what they had used to be. Scarred horribly, my left slightly twisted. As I inspected the rest of my body, I found more of the same. But the funny thing was, my wounds had all been treated and healed. I pulled myself up and carefully stood. The dull ache that would accompany me for oh so many years decided to introduce itself.
I then noticed something new… something I’m sure wasn’t there before. Something that was clearly left behind for me. On the floor, just in front of the door, lay a small mirror.
As I slowly limped my way over to it, I contemplated its meaning. I had been tortured but no questions were asked. It appeared that I was being released and maybe a ransom was paid. But if a ransom was all they wanted, why torture me? I picked up the mirror and confirmed what I already assumed. The face that looked back at me was not one I recognized. Scars zigzagged everywhere. My nose was crooked with a pronounced bump at its bridge. My one eye sagged slightly. Though it functioned perfectly, it had turned from brown to a sickly pale blue.
What had they done to me?
I threw the mirror aside and threw the door open, stumbling my way outside. What I saw there was almost as shocking as the image in the mirror. The land was just as deformed as my face. The trees were gone… as far as the eyes could see. Great holes in the ground were all that remained. The ground was barren, dried out and collapsed into an uneven minefield of sinkholes and gullies. The wind gusted periodically, kicking up little black dust devils that ushered away the remains of what was once lush, thriving forest.
And thus was my rebirth into a new life. I tried to return to my old life but was turned away at the gates… the same gates that I once defended so proudly. My old comrades looked right through me, seeing only the alien face of an unwanted vagrant.
The next stop was slavery and a one way ticket to the wastes. My crippled body didn’t offer much value but my intellect kept me alive. My head for numbers and knowledge of the land made me a useful asset for the slavers. In all honestly, I probably would have died had I not ended up with them. Food and water were almost impossible to come by.
That journey ended when a kindly old merchant purchased me for an amount that I’m embarrassed to admit. He saw something in me… an unseen potential… an ability to use my mind to compensate for my body. And there began my study of the arcane, the same arts that had taken everything from me.
It was a life of secrecy. The merchant sold residuum, the building block of arcane ritual… and the most severe contraband in these lands. We were part of the black market. The underground of what my new mentor called a misunderstood art. He taught me the ways of arcane harmony. A way to draw power without sacrificing life.
He was a great man.
And, sadly, that part of my life ended too soon. I buried him on the cliffs overlooking the wastes, our favorite place to sit and reflect.
My attempts to carry on with his trade have failed. My face is not exactly one that people find easy to trust. And unfortunately my candor is not exactly the most pleasant at times. I simply do not trust others to use this power properly. I know what it can do.
So I’ve returned here… to the cliffs… to reflect one last time… to abandon our trade and find out where this new power can take me.
Ten years ago to the day.
Who did this to me? And why?
More importantly, what do I do now?