Across the depths of eternal night it drifted, sleek and ever silent. A leviathan, vast and alone, illumed only occasionally by the weak glimmer of the stars.
Alone in the deepest and most remote chamber, the Lamplighter kept his watch.
Goddess. Dark Mother. Queen Of The Universe.
See the grey face of the Lamplighter, his features straining as he senses her caress against his mind. His eyes, double-irised and flecked with cobalt, shimmer with doubt. Hands grasp the ankh that hangs about his neck, his mouth moving silently.
Allfather, grant me the wisdom to see through her lies. Preserve the shadow that veils her – do not allow her to wake!
Light touches the cube where it lies upon the altar, a greenish lustre running beneath its surface.
She is restless tonight.
She dreams, as always, of the time before her imprisonment, of the first links in the chain of existence, of order and entropy, Eros and Logos.
She dreams of the white hot morning of the universe when she had been young; when she had danced amongst gas clouds and gazed in wonder at the formation of stars, listened as the nebulae screamed their birth cries.
She dreams of the emergence of consciousness within the universe and all that it had meant to her.
Of the first time she had been worshipped.
She dreams of all these things and more, memories of passions once clear and intense in their novelty.
Still she sleeps. Still he is grateful.
Her dreams pass, bright and terrifying, across the little theatre that is his mind. He winces and prays.
Allfather, let her sleep! Preserve me from her wickedness!
Memories now of that storm-tossed isle, of monoliths seething amidst the waves, of her capture and imprisonment. A flash of pain across the Lamplighter's nerves! Sobbing, outraged mother. And in the formless void where they lie imprisoned, her children howl and gibber their sorrow.
For she is life itself.
Mother of us all. The womb from which all life spilled.
He feels that terrifying doubt again.
Long has it grown upon him these past few months, quickening without his knowledge to erupt in moments of terrible satori. His lips tremble.
How much longer can I resist her?
He has no choice. Five cycles remain until the sacral vessel reaches its destination. Five cycles until the ritual will be completed and the accursed cube cast into the Jaws of Sekh.
Just five short cycles.
He crosses himself, prays once more to his gods – mean little deities, long dead and buried.
Great Tathoo, Keeper Of Truth, grant me the wisdom to see through her lies. Bloody Belem, Master Of Strife, give me the strength to resist her.
He hates and fears Her even as he loves Her. Such is the influence of the Dark Mother. For she is a goddess. And it is the nature of a goddess to inspire worship.
But what is the buzzing of a single mind to her? For all the Lamplighter’s hate, fear and love, she is barely aware of his existence.
Her thoughts turn only upon the means of her freedom.
The cube trembles upon the altar, its seals and tumblers straining across twelve dimensions as she presses against them.
Her senses penetrate out in the wild and unbound universe. She hunts for that novelty which has always obsessed her, for new worlds, new centres of consciousness: those crossroads of event and possibility that flower like wild cacti in the great waste of creation. She searches for mortal minds, little souls as yet unacquainted with their primordial mother.
Only through these might she be freed.
She surveys the great expanse of the cosmos, a shark in the depths, scenting.
Her every sense strains for the signs. For the ripples on the surface. The iron tang of blood in the water. The chatter and fizz of a billion little minds…
There is something.
Somewhere in the vast waste, a blue and green orb hangs.
How tender, how delicate its beauty! And on that sphere, precariously dangling and marvelously unaware, they swarm.
Ah! Love, peace and laughter! Hatred, fear and lust.
And beneath it all, the aching desire – that ill-defined, unquenchable thirst – which all sentient life knows.
A world of sublime possibilities, all for her.
Sensing at last the possibility of freedom, she begins to stir.
For the Lamplighter, her awareness is like a steel cable abrading the substance of his mind. He gasps and whimpers his confusion.
Oh what have I done? Allfather spare me – for Totality’s sake! Keep her asleep!
But there is only one divinity present and she isn’t listening. She reaches out towards her children, those innocents who surely need her. She reaches down to that orb, alive with the light and noise of humanity.
At the front of the ship, the navigator stiffens. His eyes go to the star chart, his long fingers point. Behind him the captain nods, eyes dull with her influence.
Their hands move to alter the vessel's course; to alter the course of history.
And down on the orb's surface, on a tiny island in a dark expanse, a sleeper awoke with a sharp and sudden gasp.
Excerpt from The Wealth of Grand Catai by Daedalus Gorgias
The Sixth Era, it is acknowledged, began as a time of weakness and crisis for Grand Catai.
The governments of Diogenes and Maximin were liberal, lax and above all, unlucky in their character. Years of drought led to critical food shortages, falling tax yields and protests and disorder in the Duma. The sovereigns of the time did little to arrest these crises. Instead, a constitution was forced upon Maximin by his overweening vice-regents, and rebellions on Vespa were followed by an insurrection of the Central American diabolists.
Disarray ruled on Earth and the viceroyalties threatened once more to revert to petty magarchies. On Vespa, the city-states, led by Thalos and Heraklion, sacked the imperial cantonments and loudly declared their independence. Meanwhile the diabolist lodges marched north, leaving destruction and madness in their wake. Chaos ruled everywhere. The Great Mage Wars once again threatened and Grand Catai teetered on the brink of destruction.
The coming of Justinian served to arrest these disasters.
Vespa was reduced and placed under occupation, its resources seized to feed the people of Earth. Central America succumbed to a holocaust and the diabolists were broken, reduced to a shadow of their former power. The upstart vice-regents were crushed one by one and that once powerful office was reduced to the status of regional administrator, serving only at His Majesty's pleasure. The constitution was voided. The Duma was dissolved and direct rule was imposed through the agency of the Supreme State Council. The Imperial Legions were reformed and enlarged, and the Special Economic Regions established to feed and supply them. Firm boundaries were set upon the magistocracy and the security services expanded to enforce them.
The dominoes fell, disaster was averted, and Grand Catai was renewed by Justinian's genius.
Here began Grand Catai's Third Golden Age. Justinian's heirs, Deimus and Kastor, built upon his legacy, bringing peace and prosperity to Grand Catai after centuries of strife. Individual advancement within the magistocracy was bound to government service, serving to curtail unhealthy ambitions. The SERs were expanded, the Blue Principles more deeply entrenched, and state power further centralised. Under the rule of these three great monarchs, Grand Catai grew mature and wise: secure in her boundaries, confident in her strength and values.
With her strength restored and her values reaffirmed, Grand Catai's eyes once again turned towards the wider universe. The Imperial Navy was built and Kastor's legions took his banners into the stars, conquering the far Pleiades and laying the foundations of a great dominion there.
And so here we stand at the dawn of the Seventh Era Of Grand Catai, Kastor's heir ready to lead us forth. Behind us, the legacy of six long centuries in all their tragedy and grandeur. Before us, vistas of untold potential, the sunny uplands of a great future.
It shall be an era of transformation and growth as Grand Catai further expands her dominions, setting the stamp of our great civilisation upon the vault of heaven.