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And then there were three cities for the three Old Gods
Scattered and sundered to the corners of the continent
In the sands of the desert with sun glinting off the metal lay
the sister Mekhane with the first of the great Rams on her back
The fruit and the trees bore witness to the signing of the pact
Between the sorcerers and the brother Scarlet, giving rise to
Mamjul and Korar, resting in different realms on the land
And at the edge of all of Aditum curled the rotting corpse of
the sister Yaldaboath until the misstep of a wayward slave revealed her
And of course there was the fourth, but of them we will not speak.

Poem from a mural in Amoni-Ram, translated from Mekhanite


The BLACKSTAR looked over his hordes, at the great walls of Amoni-Ram lying sundered and broken in the distance, and frowned.

The sun cast a strange glow over the tableau. Amoni-Ram’s golden towers shone, even through the smoke of the shelling. The camp was set up some distance away from the walls proper. Soldiers massed around bonfires, drinking and cavorting. Celebrating the shattering of the city’s east gate, which had given way under the artillery some hours ago. The mostly-human among them slept in preparation for the horrors tomorrow’s incursion would bring. All stiffened and rose to their feet when their commander exited his tent.

There was a stiff night wind coming in across the desert. It ruffled his hair and sifted through his beard. He took a seat on the sand dunes, his back to the battlefield. Amoni-Ram’s gates were broken, but the siege would not be over tonight.

He looked up at his moon. The sun was still up and would be for some time, but the moon he looked at was not the same moon that would rise in several hours. It was an ugly thing high in the sky — impossibly round and dark, like staring into a bottomless pit. Around it, a soft corona of red light, glowing through the smoke and haze drifting from the city walls. When he looked at it, he could hear his own blood pounding in his ears.

He put his hands together, bowed his head, and prayed to it, thinking back to the first time he had seen it.

He must have been young. Yes, young. Not a child, but not yet a proper man. He had lain with his woman, but he had not yet killed with his bare hands. He had been a farmer. Or a fisherman, perhaps. After so long, remembering his life before the moon was like remembering a dream from the night before — a handful of details mired in uncertainty and confusion. Picking apples in a fog-ridden field.

He was young, and his father had also died young. He had never been taught of the proper way to address a god should he find himself unlucky enough to be in one’s presence. As is the nature of such things, this was exactly where he found himself. Out, doing the simple acts of man, when the time escaped him.

Caught up in the act at hand, he found the sun on the edge of setting and home nowhere in sight. Only unfamiliar, menacing surroundings — fear gripped him and froze him. Naked in the eyes of the predators, he scrabbled up a rock face and into a small cave overlooking a beach. The water was cool and still that night, and the waves had long since retired. The sun fell into the abyss, and in his hole he felt sleep grasp at his frayed nerves. He pushed it, and pushed it, and by the time he realized it had overtaken him he was already asleep.

And he dreamt. He dreamt of things long past, of the first men capturing fire, and of things yet to come, of a massive palace in a land unknown. Of war on a scale yet unheard of. Of massive hordes and steel armies clashing at the base of a mountain that would collapse, crushing them both. Of himself, hefting a black saber, and bringing it crashing down to earth, sinking the world. Of unchecked destruction and agony.

As he dreamed, he smiled.

He opened his eyes and things were different. He was lying by the shore of the beach. The sun had vanished, and the night was dark. Not the soft blue darkness of moonlight, but of a colder, more watchful darkness. He looked out over the water. The reflection of the moon on the sea was warped and twisted, spreading every which way like a dying hand. And looking into the sky, it was.

The twisted moon furled and unfurled, looking down at him, bathed in its red light. It invited him to join it. And so he slipped from the sand and waded into the warmth of the sea, into the reflection of the moon as it drew closer and closer. He felt it grasp him and slowly snake up his chest, around his throat.

It reached an arm out and whispered in his ear; explanations of the scenes he had seen in his dreams. That he was destined to greatness, something far greater than the life of a fisherman. That the world needed a warrior, a champion, something to defend it. Someone capable of killing in the name of. But that it could offer him things: safety, power, control.

He thought of how just a few minutes ago the darkness had frightened him, assured him of his own demise.

He thought of humanity. A fledgling species, scattered across the world to far east where the sun rose.

He thought of the legends he'd been told as a boy. Of heroes that rose to the call when no one else would. Those brave few who received the opportunity and shaped the world in their image. Kings and conquerors.

In the deafening silence, all he could hear was the steady rhythm of the dark water lapping against the shore, glowing in the red light. Overhead, the black orb seemed ever closer, approaching him curiously. The shimmering tentacles groping the edges of his being.

He whispered out a soft answer, and the moon smiled. It withdrew for a moment, and in that moment he suddenly heard something else — something fast, violent, angry, rushing through the water — something underneath him.

Something wrapped around his ankle and pulled him into the depths.

The dark serenity flipped into violence. He thrashed, blind like a sick dog, throwing his arms in every direction as he was shaken back and forth. His lungs screamed and the water poured into his mouth, nose, ears. His mind cleared and as he fought against the current he became aware of a voice, somewhere deep inside his mind.

Yes, struggle, it said. Struggle is the natural form of creation,

And so he struggled, beating his fists against whatever was gripping his ankle.

This is the chaos of the primordial womb. You are not thinking of morals or principles or mighty laws.

He felt his fingers scrape against something hard and solid. A scale, perhaps. He wrapped his fingers around the edge.

They are all extraneous. There is only the inescapable cycle of violent struggle. This is how we all come into the world. This is what the world is.

He pulled, his muscles screaming and dying. He pulled as what remained of his vision began to blacken and fade. He pulled until it gave way with a disgusting pop and the grip slackened.

Survival is the only law.

He felt himself float up, back to the surface. His head broached the water and he breathed in, deeply. The water was as impassive as ever — no sign of a life-or-death struggle under it.

Look, child. Strike the deal in blood.

Something else was floating in the water before him, the red light glinting off its wetness. It was no creature he had ever seen — a misshapen mass of flesh only slightly larger than his torso. It gurgled and aimlessly waved two vestigial limbs at him. Its eyes glinted in the moonlight.

He felt a heaviness in his hand. A short, black dagger, glass-like. He raised the knife and looked into the thing's eyes.

Kill it. Take your place in the cycle of violence. Take your birthright.

The deal was struck.

He woke again, this time returned to his cave. The sun was rising over the horizon, spreading its light into his surroundings. And he saw, in the back of the hollow, a burned-out fire and a short black dagger cooling in the soot.

It sung to him, and in the song a fable could be heard. One of a rising sun and a falling moon, and of the moon’s rise as the sun ran past the horizon. He put his hand around the hilt, and felt a presence high in the sky, whispering one thing: “Welcome, BLACKSTAR”.

Hundreds of years later, he sat on the sand dune with his complement of guards at a respectable distance. He prayed to the moon for guidance, for assurance that all this butchery was what he was meant to do with the army and the power given to him.

The moon stared back at him, impassively. Daring him to show weakness and fear again.

None came. The BLACKSTAR’s eyes narrowed and his gaze hardened. He stood, turning his back against the emptiness of the desert. On the horizon, Amoni-Ram burned.

The Mekhanite Empire would fall, and the BLACKSTAR would be the one to bring it to its knees.

And before the Old Gods fought their war and broke the sky
And laid the foundations for the next civilizations of the earth
There were once four. Four gods and their four cities
But of the fourth was committed an act of heresy
In raw defiance of the oldest laws that underpin our world
And as the world came apart, his brethren acted
They cast out their fourth and labeled him as unclean
The Abominate, the Wretch, the First Apostate
He fell from the heavens and landed deep in the waters of the West
Drowning while the war in the heavens raged on unabated.

A previous verse of the poem, reconstructed from a shattered ceramic mural.

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