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Sandstorm is a stand-alone novel by Christopher Rowe.
|“|| Think this desert's dangerous?
"Knowledge of the sword is useless without knowledge of the world."
Cephas has no memories of how he came to fight in the gladiatorial arena of the floating earthmote called the Island of the Free. All he knows of the world beyond, he has gleaned from stories the master of the games reads to his followers while Cephas waits in his cell for the next opponent.
"You are wise to realize you must trust me. You are wise to find this terrifying."
From a distance, Corvus Nightfeather and his Circus of Wonders have watched the Island of the Free, piecing together its weaknesses and its defenses. And watching with interest the young genasi gladiator whose feet have never once touched the earth.
"Now open this book again. Now begin anew. There is more yet in these pages."
For the first time, Cephas can harness his inborn powers and control the stones and dirt beneath his feet. But Corvus has plans for Cephas that extend beyond the circus's shows: he knows who Cephas really is and that people are searching for the genasi in brutal Calimport.
In the time period after the Spellplague in 1385 DR, the lands of Calimshan were ripped asunder by an event known as the Second Era of Skyfire. Following the Spellplague, the Calimemnon Crystal, the magical prison of the efreet Memnon and the djinn Calim, shattered. The released creatures immediately resumed their hostilities that dated back to the First Era of Skyfire, circa
–6500 DR. In the wake of the return of Calim and Memnon, many of the residents of Calimshan, presumed to be human, cast off their long held disguises and revealed themselves to be genasi. These descendants of the elemental powers pledged themselves to either fire or air, took over the port cities of Memnon and Calimport respectively, and joined the war between the efreets and djinns.
The Second Era of Skyfire lasted until 1450 DR, when both Memnon and Calim were banished to the Elemental Chaos by an unknown event. They left in their wake a devastated Calimshan, torn by the remaining djinns, efreets, and genasi warlords. The genasi of Calimshan were notorious for their treatment of humans as slaves and their constant fighting across the Calim Desert. The only bastion of order in the region was Almraiven, the last human-controlled city, which was ruled by the archmage Acham el Jhotos, also known as the WeavePasha. Once an intellectual center and home of magical research, Almraiven had survived the Spellplague, and after that calamitous event, Acham had worked tirelessly to protect the city from the ravages of the conflict between the djinns and efreets.
Eventually, the windsoul genasi Marod el Arhapan became the Pasha of Calimport, but his passion was for staging gladiatorial games in the arena that his family had rebuilt after Calim’s departure instead of governing the city, a duty left to his vizar, Shahrokh, a skylord of the djinn. Marod married Valandra el Shelsper, an earthsoul genasi who had been born into a family in Calimport enslaved for generations, but she had escaped her fate by manifesting into a windsoul. When Valandra gave birth to an earthsouled son, Cephas, in 1460 DR, her secret was revealed to Marod, who also learned that his wife had been aiding the Janessar, abolitionists who fought the slave trade all over southern Faerûn. An enraged Marod first made Valandra a slave, then tricked his champion gladiator, Azad, into killing her in the arena. After Valandra’s death, Marod made Azad a household slave whose primary task was to read bedtime stories from the book Founding Stories of Calimshan to Cephas. Azad soon led a slave revolt and escaped to eastern Tethyr, where he and the other former slaves founded a small settlement known as the Island of the Free on an earthmote over a canyon near the Omlarandin Mountains.
When Azad escaped from Calimport, he also abducted the young Cephas, and over the years he had his wife, Sheneerah, train Cephas to fight as a gladiator in the arena that was built on the earthmote. Cephas became a skilled warrior and used Azad’s double-headed flail in his fights, most of which he won. The arena was rigged with a canvas floor so that Cephas was never able to come into contact with the ground and was thus unable to use his earthsoul powers. When not in the arena or training, Cephas was often confined to a small chamber, forced to wear thick sandals, and could walk only on wooden walkways so that his feet would never touch the earth. For many years, Cephas was forced to endure these hardships and continually tried to escape the earthmote, but none of his attempts were successful.
In 1479 DR, the kenku assassin and spy Corvus Nightfeather discovered Cephas’s lineage and devised a plan to rescue him from the Island of the Free. Corvus’s raid to free Cephas was successful due to the help of his allies: the ranger Mattias Farseer and his pet wyvern Trill, the goliath Tobin, and the twin halfling rangers Shan and Cynda. Once he was freed, Cephas agreed to travel with Corvus and the circus that the kenku managed. Cephas was given the role of strongman so that the current strongman, Tobin, could fulfill his dream of playing a clown. The circus traveled to the earthsoul genasi settlement of Argentor, whose peaceful inhabitants helped Cephas learn to harness his earthsoul powers. Meanwhile, Corvus, who was working as an agent for both Acham and Shahrokh, informed both his masters that he had Cephas in his possession. Upon learning the location of Cephas, Shahrokh and Marod sent a company of elite minotaur warriors to capture the lost heir of Calimport. The minotaurs attacked the circus at Argentor while it was performing for the settlement, inflicting heavy casualties on the villagers and circus members, but they were ultimately defeated and slain.
In the aftermath of the minotaur attack, Corvus opened a magical gate to Almraiven that Cephas and the other prominent members of Corvus’s band traveled through. Acham knew of Cephas’s heritage and wanted to enspell him with death magic that would kill Marod when the young genasi came into his father’s presence. While in Almraiven, Cephas met the windsoul genasi Ariella Kulmina, a swordmage from the genasi nation of Akanûl, who taught him to manifest into a windsoul. Shortly after the group’s arrival in the city, Cynda and Tobin were captured by renegade members of the Firestorm Cabal and magically transported to Calimport, where the two were immediately prepared to fight in the arena. Deducing that Tobin and Cynda had been teleported to Calimport, Corvus and his companions, accompanied by Ariella, fled Almraiven and traveled across the Plain of Stone Spiders toward the Calim Desert and Calimport. Munaa yr Oma el Jhotos, the vizar of Almraiven and the WeavePasha’s eldest granddaughter, enlisted the aid of a powerful bound demon known as the Spider that Waits to track down Corvus’s party. The Spider that Waits caught up with the group near the Shining Sea, and Mattias and Trill decided to remain behind to fight the demon and sacrifice themselves so that Cephas and the others could escape.
Cephas and his companions journeyed into the Calim Desert, where they were quickly intercepted by Shahrokh and his djinn allies. After surrendering to Shahrokh, the group traveled to Calimport in a magical ship consisting of sand that the skylord conjured. In Calimport, Cephas and Ariella were taken to Marod’s lavish floating palace, and Cephas was reunited with his father. Due to Cephas’s life as a gladiator and slave, he hated Marod for organizing gladiatorial games and enslaving people of various races, and neither father nor son showed any affection for the other. While Shan was taken to the gladiator stables, Corvus was imprisoned and stripped of his magical items by Shahrokh, who later made the kenku a slave. Corvus soon made contact with a resistance group in Calimport, and they helped him locate Tobin, Cynda, and Shan. After Cephas decided to orchestrate Marod’s downfall, he learned the location of the magical stone that kept his father’s palace airborne. Once Cephas destroyed the stone, the manor began to descend rapidly toward the packed arena below. Meanwhile, Corvus was confronted by Shahrokh, who wanted to know the location of a magical book in the kenku’s possession that was needed to complete a powerful ritual that could free Calim. Corvus explained to Shahrokh that when the skylord had imprisoned him and destroyed his magical items, the extraplanar space that the book was stored in was destroyed. In order to learn this information from Corvus, Shahrokh had been forced to first make a deal with the kenku, who made the skylord command all of the djinns to leave Calimport for a day, preventing the mighty beings from stopping the palace from falling. In the ensuing panic and chaos of the falling palace, Corvus, Cynda, Shan, and Tobin were able to escape. The four were reunited with Cephas and Ariella after the manor fell and destroyed the arena. In the ruins of the arena, Cephas faced Marod in single combat and swiftly killed him. After leaving Calimport, the companions traveled back to the Island of the Free in order to end the slavery on the earthmote. Cephas confronted but did not kill Azad, who explained how he had been tricked into slaying Valandra.
Shahrokh had the djinn work with the efreet of Memnon to find Corvus’s lost books, as one of them was needed to finish the ritual to return Calim. However, Memnon also would be released in the process, and the Third Era of Skyfire would begin. It was likely that the book that could free Calim was hidden in Acham’s laboratories in Almraiven, since that was where most of Corvus’s magical items materialized after Shahrokh destroyed the extraplanar space that they had been hidden in.