What madness, to love a man as something more than human!
St. Augustine, The Confessions
Could we, I said, somehow contrive...some one noble lie to persuade, in the best case, even the rulers, but if not them, then the rest of the city?
Socrates, The Republic
Year of Ascendence 227Ullessar.
Few names have ever commanded such respect, such adoration, such honor... such fear.
Millions praise him as king and god, millions more curse him for what he has done.
The Ullessian Thearchy was built upon his name, an Empire spanning the known world, from the frost covered mountains in the north to the vast deserts of the south. A theocracy that forged an age of peace and brought advances in living, trade, magic and wealth.
Ullessar commanded the greatest armies ever known and threw down the mightiest of kings from their thrones.
He built his age upon the bones and toil of those deemed too weak to be worthy, and upon the souls of those who refused to accept his rule.
Every city felt the touch of his Cult; the name Ullessar was spoken with reverence and fear by all. He was to be worshipped everywhere.
No one grew up without hearing of the man who had defeated the ancient dragon and became a god.
Such was the power of this one man, this single being, that those who followed him most devoutly were altered by him, uplifted, enhanced, made into his image for a new man-kind: the Elves, perfected men and women, who suffered neither age nor disease nor doubt. Faster, wiser, stronger than men. Chief among them were the Thirteen, the Demigods, the mighty lieutenants of their god.
Ullessar, the man who took hold of the world and remade it in his own image.
Now, he is gone.
The Demigods, appointed rulers of the land, profess that all was well, that their master is simply working in secret for the welfare of all castes.
But cracks are forming in Ullessar's creation.
Deep underground, half breeds of elfkind's outcast children gather and grow strong, bastards of human and elven blood, united by a will to survive, and a thirst revenge.
Meanwhile, in the deserts of the South, a group of elves have turned from their hidden god to a darker master, and a new power gathers its strength, wielding forbidden magics not seen since Ullessar wiped them from the world.
In the west old gods return to retake their land from the so called Scion of Humanity.
To the Southeast, two hands above and beyond the world begin to reach across the sea from islands long thought unpopulated.
At the edge of the great plains, creatures long thought contained plot to escape...and to feast.
To the Northeast, avarice turns a hungry eye across the ocean towards the crumbling polity.
The peace the world has long known is coming to an end.
The Call to Obeisance rang throughout the humid morning, a low, melodious horn blast that blotted out the human clamour of the marketplace below.
Sinjha ignored it. Only high-castes and elves were called to the Temples every St. Wyr's day, to make their offerings of fattened thagas calves and to be washed with the oils of ablution.
Some lucky devotees would be chosen by lot to copulate with the Temple priestess, which- besides the act's obvious appeal- was said to grant a follower of Ullessar fortune in business, statescraft and war.
For her part, Sinjha was long past envying the high-castes- or the elves whose boots they licked, for that matter- just as she was long past praying to come back as one their illustrious rank in her next life.
The gods were indifferent to the cries of mortals, and if she came back as an elf-queen or as a galley-slave, she would remember none of her present life, like she remembered none of her past lives now...so what did it matter?
Whatever the priestesses and the clerics and the high-castes preached to the contrary, Ullessar was gone or no longer cared. He had abandoned his people to their fate, and there was no longer any reason to bother about the lives to come.
You had to survive the here and now as best you could, she thought.
Igiv snored loudly into his oiled mustaches beside her.
His silk pillows were covered in drool.
She watched the fat bellysleeper gasp and snort, her face expressionless.
He disgusted her, to be sure...but he was rich, fond of his pretty new bedslave, not unkind and, being a low-caste himself, he did not spout the entitled nonsense of the Cult... and that was the best Sinjha thought to hope for in life.
The prayer-call faded, and the sounds of the market once again filled the bedroom. Sinjha slipped from the bed and wrapped one of the expensive Belkos-made shawls Igiv had purchased for her around her shoulders.
She walked to the window, pushing aside the ornate hangings, and looked out onto the only city she had ever known.
Alma sprawled before her, like a courtesian well past her prime. It was a metropolis of slant-roofed hovels, soaring pagodas, broad, stinking canals, and the monolithic ziggurats of the Ullessian temples.
Narrow, crooked streets and alleys ran between the buildings and innumerable, crisscrossing waterways of the city; land and canal alike alive with travelers, holy men, merchants, whores, performers, lowcaste riff raff... and the poor.
Sanjha watched a juggler standing on a flimsy raft in the narrow canal that bisected the market pavilion beneath her window. He tottered precariously over the filthy water as he threw his torches high into the air and caught them again.
He looked up and saw her- the beautiful courtesian looking down from the rich man's window- and overbalanced, going head first into the mire.
She looked away, bored, from the buffon splashing in the canal. Her was gaze drawn as ever up past the beautiful battlements of St. Ethar's Mansion- now a museum of the Thearchy's conquests- to the Temple-Palace of Ullessar.
It dominated the far side of the Zedaun Straits, a step-pyramid of mountainous -truly godlike- proportions.
It loomed over the city around it. Indeed, Sinjha liked to think the word loom had been coined to describe the sinister, constant, motionless action of Ullessar's Temple.
It was said whole cities of the very highest caste elves inhabited the lower steps, and the upper levels were filled with carefully tended gardens and forests representing all of Ullessar's conquered lands, from Jenuya to Faros.
The Council of Thearchs, nearly gods themselves, dwelled in palaces at the very top, lording over the whole earth from an artificial perch in the clouds.
And somewhere, perhaps far in the depths of the monstrous construction, was Ullessar himself.
Could he hear the prayers uplifted to him daily through all that marble and gold? Sinjha wondered, and not for the first time.
She found herself -despite all her affected indifference to spiritual questions- hoping that he could, hoping that he was working in some secret way for the perfect world that he had promised to bring, that he had shed oceans of blood to build, hoping that he cared about what happened to those who lived outside his Temple's walls, even the lowcastes and forgotten ones. The lonely, pathetic, forsaken and unloved.
She hoped he knew who she was, and that he cared. That anyone cared.