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And there came the Wretch, the Abominate, the First Apostate — so termed by its former brethren for the same sin for which they had flung it out of the heavens and into the sea of the material plane. It climbed out of the sea and anointed a prophet in its name. But he was not a leader of the spirit, nor a uniter of men. The Prophet of the Wretch was a slayer, a marauder, a destroyer, one who would rend cities and sunder capitals and spill the blood of gods. In this way, the BLACKSTAR was from the truest lineage of kings: a dominator.

Verse 120 of the Song of the Daeva


The year is 1182 BCE. The BLACKSTAR looks out over the horizon, and frowns.

How long has it been? Months, at the very least. Yes, months seems correct — many moons since he had watched Mamjul crumble into the sea, heard the roaring of the waves and the screaming of the innocents, and turned his back on the carnage. Even more moons since he had felt anything in what remained of his soul.

The horde had made camp for several days, celebrating the fall of the once-great city. The soldiers had spent the better part of their lives fighting the enemy: first the hated men of metal, and then the demonborne sorcerers. Now, they had rendered two of them into dust. Bonfires, drinking, songs of war drifting up from their vast camp. Their prophet does not partake.

Instead, he climbs.

Letting his cape, his armor, his black-wrought crown fall to the muddy dirt. Stripping to his bare, scarred back before gripping his fingers into the cracks between the great bricks and heaving himself up. Another hand follows, another foot after that. Nails and boots scraping against the rock. This was the gargantuan wall that the Daeva built at Thijam in a vain attempt to stop his arrival. Once, it was backed by the largest army ever fielded in history. It is a monument to arrogance — both theirs, and his own. The only thing on the other side now is water and dead men.

At first, his men think it a friendly challenge, from general to soldiers. Humiliating the grave of their enemy. They cheer him on. A few even try to follow him. They get a few feet up and fall backward, no worse for the wear; they all know they cannot hope to beat him. Their drunken laughter only wears off after he crests the height of fifty men, and they realize this is something deeper than juvenile challenge.

His muscles begin to scream when he crosses the height of a hundred men. His nails are ground to stubs, blood flowing freely every time he pulls himself up. His black leather boots are torn. He feels the pain in his body, and relishes it. He keeps climbing. Sweat falls into his eyes, and for a moment, his grip falters. His right hand slips and in that split-second, hanging a thousand feet above the ground, the BLACKSTAR recognizes the now-foreign feeling of fear.

Still, he climbs.

The year is 2003. Saint Hedvig opens her eyes, and floats.

There is blue in every direction. It takes her a moment to realize she is underneath the surface of the water, and to right herself facing upward. She can only feel the cool water on the third of her body that remains flesh and blood. Her fuladh wings spread out, thrice the length of her body, as her mind tells her to flap them and shoot out of the water like a vengeant angel.

But she doesn't. Fifty feet under the surface, she floats, peaceful for the first time in a decade.

Her once-blonde hair spreads out in a corona. Her rebreather hums along, allaying any fears of drowning — she had installed it when told by her master what her assignment was. She remembered his steely gaze, in the throne room of the Grand Palace of Amoni-Ram. The great map table reassembled, and a cohort of other Mekhanites looking toward her and her Emperor for leadership as he explained the battle plan. She finds herself unable to meet his eyes. She thinks back to another life.

The year is 1983. Doctor Hedvig Nussbaum looks out over the cityscape of Amoni-Ram.

She is quartered in one of the vast skyscrapers that tower over the ancient city. Astonishingly, the elevators still work. Her chambers are a mess; supplies, canned food, blankets thrown over beds that haven't seen use in two thousand years. For a historian, it is an utterly alien experience. Still, she loves it.

She sends emails to her old colleagues at -19 occasionally, exhorting the joy of working in Amoni-Ram. Of working with her hands to uncover ancient artifacts, to decipher the mystery of what happened to the most advanced civilization in history. Her researchers and personnel like working with her, and she enjoys their presence. Aram can be irritable at times, but he's not evil — just rough around the edges.

It's just about noon. Archaeological work won't get started for another hour or so; it's simply not worth going out in the blazing heat. She steps back inside from the balcony and grabs a bottle of water. She should take a shower. It's a slow day. Nothing to do but file some reports, and then a trip into the Undercity to excavate some ruins. Nothing dangerous.

The year is 1783. The man once known as the BLACKSTAR sits in the belly of a ship, rocked about by the waves.

It is dark and storming outside and the ship rolls with the sea, but he has been assured by the captain that they are coming into port soon. The stateroom holds a dozen other bodies — some in suits, some in dresses, some in robes, one in armor. A piece of paper sits on the table between them. The entire room rises and falls with the waves, as muffled thunder is audible from the ouside of the ship.

A well-dressed woman with a strong nose is looking at her pocketwatch. The group waits in tense silence. She turns to the man and nods. The man raises his quill and makes a sharp, decisive signature across the bottom of the document. At midnight, the Foundation comes into existence. The man who was once the BLACKSTAR, then Franz Williams, is now the Administrator.

A quiet but determined mutter goes through the room. The twelve other bodies are now the Overseers of the Foundation, Alpha through Mu. They have a sacred mission: to protect humanity from the horrors of the anomalous.

After a thoughtful pause, the Administrator reaches down and scrawls a simple mark onto the parchment — a circle, impaled with three equidistant inward-facing arrows.

The year is 1990. Robert Bumaro sits on his throne, chin resting on one hand.

He is unrecognizable. His once-thin frame is now thick and stocky, his arm and leg crafted out of the finest fuladh in the city and engraved with scenes of ancient victories. He flexes the fingers experimentally, deep in thought.

The throne room is blessedly empty. Outside of the palace, he can hear activity; the city is a fraction of a shadow of its former glory, but it is still more lived-in than it has been in centuries. Here, in their sanctuary, the Church of the Broken God have begun to rebuild. New followers arrive semi-often, and many of the once-empty buildings have been converted into living spaces. Bumaro is a shepherd once more, and his flock is thriving — he leads the daily prayer, and the loyalty of his people is without question.

And yet he remains disturbed.

He does not let the flock or Hedvig or Preserver see it. But his dreams are increasingly troubled. Dreams of a man in black-wrought armor and a cape marching a vast dark army across the face of Asia. Dreams of the Foundation betrayed and torn apart by itself. Dreams of a new Occult War.

He continues staring at empty space, waiting for a sign from his Goddess.

The year is 2003. Saint Hedvig opens her eyes.

She is facedown on a beach. She sits up, water leaking from her metal limbs, and blinks. It is a long, uninterrepted stretch of sandy shoreline, and the treeline a few meters in. She looks around. There is no one here but her.

She thinks about Bumaro. She doesn't know why, but the thought makes her ill. The primal need to return to Amoni-Ram & her Emperor, the one she has felt on all of her other 'crusades', is absent. She lies back down in the sand, faceup. She feels more wetness on her skin, raises a metal-jacketed hand to wipe it away, and stares at the hand in slow shock as she learns she is still capable of crying.

The year is 1181 BCE. The BLACKSTAR sits in the shadow of the mountain.

They are north of Thijam now, far north. The last Daeva settlements that had escaped his cleansing blade are up here, nestled in the cracks between these towering, snowy mountains. There are no mountains where he comes from, so he decided to create one.

The mass of bodies underneath him have been dragged by his men from where they were slaughtered in the streets of Jilar, Kirralam, Muqtap. The cities razed into dust and their corpses dragged here, in a gargantuan pile, as an everlasting testament to his dominion.

At least, that's what they are said to be. Privately, this is an apology. He has obliterated their culture, their history, their entire civilization. The Daeva are nothing now. But here, packed together and covered with snow and rocks — they may become something greater in death.

And so he sits on the mountain, the weight of so many corpses and so many sins beneath him, and offers a quick prayer as he looks out over the distance. Though he knows it is impossible, he feels he can see the final prize somewhere in the distance — Black Aditum, mausoleum of the Prophet-King Iun. He feels nothing. When hunting Amoni-Ram, he felt the deep lust for chaos gifted to him by his God. When rending Mamjul, he felt a grim determination, knowledge that the task was necessary. Now, he feels nothing. Just weariness.

Still, he pulls his blade from the snow, gives one last pleading look at the Black Moon hanging low in the sky.

It does not grace him with an answer.

The BLACKSTAR turns, and marches on.

For while the Scarlet embodied nature and gifted life, and the Steel embodied progress and gifted technology, and the Flesh embodied death and gifted continuation — in this way the Wretch also came to embody an integral piece of man's soul. Yes, the Black Moon embodied the chaos of creation and gifted control. And it gifted this mastery over reality itself to the BLACKSTAR, plucked from the flock to be a god amongst men.

And it was only in the face of death unprecedented that the faith and resolve of the man known as the BLACKSTAR began to crumble.

Verse 121 of the Song of the Daeva

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