The outcast - By Simon Hawke
Table of Contents
About the Author
For Troy Denning with thanks for allowing me to come and play in his world.
With grateful acknowledgments to Rob King and Jim Lowder for their editorial support, and Heather Richards, Megan McDowell, Bruce and Peggy Wiley, Rebecca Ford, and Daniel Arthur for providing helpful feedback, and Pat Connors for helping to gametest “Hawke’s Gambit” on a group of unsuspecting victims at Tuscon XIX.
Special thanks to Adele Leone and Richard Monaco, who performed services well above and beyond the call of duty, and to Robert M. Powers, who kept telling me to cheer up, things would only get worse.
And a very special thanks to Bruce Miller, who extends extraordinary generosity to friends and doesn’t want anyone to know. They know, Bruce, that’s why they love you.
Hey, Cheryl? Hugs…
As the twin moons cast their ghostly light upon the endless wasteland, Lyra stood alone atop the Dragon’s Tooth, waiting for the sunrise. Once each year, for the past thousand years, she had made her pilgrimage to the summit of the highest peak on Athas to reaffirm her vows and dream the dream she would never, live to see. A thousand years, she thought as she shivered in her cloak. I am growing old.
It was nearly dawn. Soon the dark sun would rise to glow like a dying ember in the dust-laden orange sky, and its rays would beat down on the desert like a hammer on an anvil. Only at night was there any respite from the searing heat. The desert sands would cool, the temperatures would plummet, and the deadly creatures of the night would leave their nests and burrows to prowl for food. The day brought other dangers, no less lethal. Athas was not a hospitable world.
Lyra Al’Kali dreamed of the world as it once was, long before her birth. In the moments before dawn, she would imagine that the sun would rise over the horizon to reveal verdant plains stretching out below her instead of barren desert tablelands. The foothills of the Ringing Mountains would be forested rather than strewn with broken rock, and the song of birds would replace the mournful wailing of the wind over the ruined landscape. Once, the world was green. The sun was bright, and the plains of Athas bloomed. But that had been before the balance of nature was destroyed by those who thought to “engineer” it,, before the color of the sun had changed, before the world had been despoiled by defiler magic.
The pyreens were the oldest race on Athas, though with the passing centuries, their numbers had grown ever fewer. They recalled the Green Age in their legends, the stories that were passed on from generation to generation as pyreens matured and took their vows. There are not many of us left, thought Lyra. Each year, she encountered fewer of her kind during her wanderings. She was an elder herself now, one of the oldest pyreens remaining. Our time is passing, she thought. Even though our lives span centuries, there will not be enough time to restore the dying planet. We are too few, and we cannot do it all alone.
Each year on the anniversary of her vow-taking, Lyra made the journey to the Dragon’s Tooth and climbed the towering mountain. For any of the humanoid races of Athas—even the tireless, fleet-footed elves and the nimble, feral halflings—the tortuous climb to the summit would have been nearly impossible, but Lyra did not make it in her humanoid form. Only once, when she first took her vows, had she made the climb unaided by her shapeshifting abilities, and it had nearly killed her. Now, she was no longer young, and even in the form of a tagster or a rasclinn, the climb was difficult for her. Still, she continued to make it every year, and she would do so as long as she still drew breath. And when she could no longer make the climb, she would at least die in the attempt.
The first smoky orange rays of sunlight began to tint the sky at the edge of the horizon. Lyra stood upon the windswept summit, her long white hair billowing out behind her, and she watched as the dark sun rose slowly and malevolently to burn the desert tablelands below. As she had done a thousand times before, from the time she had reached her quickening and began the counting of her years, Lyra started to recite