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Sheng and the Black King

- Martin Laurie

The Crowning of the Black King

When the host of Sheng came south at last, the people of Alkoth stood ready.
For years they had prepared themselves for this day:
They had followed the rituals of siege.
They painted the ash of victory upon their faces and bodies.
They burnt the scars of strength and endurance into their flesh and bone.
They chanted the hundred names of Shargash and enacted all of them to gain his powers in each.
They placed their hands upon the Green Wall and gave of themselves so that its wards and defences remained vibrant and ready.
They sat within the smoke of the Enclosure to feel and smell the skills of their Mighty ancestors.
They listened to the Drum Beat of Senderesh and many wore garb of Killing to better slay their foes with their own death.
They ate the flesh of their enemies, taken in raid and battle, to swallow their soul-stuff so that all their weaknesses might be apparent and their strengths given to the Devourer.

All the world of Yelm stood watching as the host of Demon Lord Sheng came at last to the Green Wall to bring the unbreakable city to surrender.

Great was the barbarian host.
Mighty in numbers.
Ruthless of cause.
Deadly in skill.
Swift of purpose.
Potent in magic's.

Their ancestors, allies and demons rode with them or roiled above their heads and about their snorting mounts. Each wore the feathers and charms of their Shamans, bestowed with strange powers and primal forces. All carried a powerful bow that they could shoot like Lukarius. Scars covered their faces and bodies from dark rituals, tests of manhood and the vagaries of battle.

At the tip of the vanguard rode Sheng Seleris and his warband. Each was a disciple of his ways. Each was a growing demigod, worshiping the divinity of their Demon Lord of Discipline. Their steeds pounded the ground with such force that trees shuddered and parted before them like waves before a prow. At Sheng's passing, the very rock and earth trampled beneath his mount groaned in fear. The stars looked down upon him with trepidation. They glittered uncertainly, in fear of his potentials and plans.

Sheng Seleris knew nothing of fear. He cared only for discipline and submission. He rode the world to seek his dominion and destiny. Alkoth had resisted all efforts to parley, surrender or fall to his warlords - a dozen had been executed for their failures against the Green Wall. A wall harder than any iron. After years of war, the city still held its independence and with it, Henjarl and the folk of the South Oslir. Such defiance could be born no more by the Demon Lord. He rode the world in a day to lead his host to the final conflict with the god called Shargash.

Within the Green Wall the Red King and the Green King enacted their last joint rituals, overseen and directed by the King of the Dead. That dark King was the walker of paths, the seer of deep places and lost souls. He commanded the Lords of Ash and the Lords of Death. He knew the names of the ten times ten demonised deities captured by Shargash in battle and bound to the service of the city. He was master of the bridge between the living and the dead, the gatekeeper to the realms of the underworld and the imperceptor between the savage dark of his deity and the blissful worship of his people.

As ever, the defences of Alkoth were deep and layered and none inside the walls felt fear at the coming of Sheng, only a savage joy at the feeding the Devourer would know.

Yet

The first defence of Alkoth was swept aside:

War came to the swamps of Biselenslib and she was wounded gravely by the magic's of the Demon Lord. As the host of Sheng rode without fatigue to the edge of the swamp Sheng steeled his will and saw the world as he wished it. The horde rode as if the plains of their homeland stood firm beneath their mounts. Through the power of their remembrance and the discipline of their demigod leader the land itself changed on their path. Like an arrow into the heart of the swamp the horde rode without slowing, without pause or respite. The very earth beneath them losing its moisture and turning hard and baked like the chaparral of their distant origins.

Their causeway to battle created itself before them and the Jara moaned in fear as their goddess shuddered from the rape of her body. Unhindered, unslowed the host of Sheng rode to the wall of Shargash where the Muster of Alkoth and the allies of Henjarl awaited them.

Yet

The second defence of Alkoth was swept aside.

The drums of Alkoth echoed their Doom-Beat against the Horde yet the Pentans had a music of their own and called it Arrow Storm. Like the buzz of a hive or the whispers of a whipping wind the arrows of the Horde made black mist of the sky. A weather of wounding, a sleet of suffering. The Muster of Alkoth staggered. Shield and scale stopped much but the power of the Archer was in their arrows and many warriors of the Destroyer fell. Returning arrows, javelins and darts left horses unmastered or masters unhorsed but the exchange was uneven, unfair and unjust.

With Senderesh fury the Kill You warriors of Alkoth came forward in counterattack and the Horde retreated before them. Each sought death that day to kill their foe in return but the exchange was uneven, unfair and unjust. Parting like the reeds before a charging bull, the Horde of Pent swarmed around the Kill You devotees and let fly their shafts. Magical robes of bronze hardness shrugged off much but against that hail of ending, severance came quickly. Instead of taking a warrior of Sheng with them, the Kill You each took many arrows instead.

Sheng Seleris sat idle only as long as thought was needed for he had not won the world without some measure of strategy or sense but his nature boiled for battle. With a leap his horse lurched to the charge and his Warband rode with him. His dread horse was called King-Hoof for Sheng had once set a hundred Kings in a row from a hundred broken realms and trampled them to death with that very mount. It was a scion of the deepest pit. A horse of black night, saturnine muscle, fiery eye. Each of his warband rode a similar, if lesser, mount. The never tired, grew hungry or feared the darkness for it leant them succour, surety and strength.

Leaping to the charge the Warband rode like the scouring low wind, the tearing gust that sweeps the ground clean. Into the side of the Muster they rode. Into a wall of humanity they hurled themselves Weapons skittered off them, magic's petered out. With draconian verve the Warband made the magic of slaughter. Blood spray, corpse rain, abattoir mist.

Fearless of Death though they were, the Alkothi learned to fear Sheng that day. He was the nightmare within Death. The soul fear, the rule of terror.

Like a rock stressed beyond itself, the Muster broke apart. Shattered. Scattered, like leaves in a storm. Like ashes to the wind. Victory seemed certain as the Horde pursued the remnants to ruin.

Yet the day was not lost for one part of the Muster hardened like diamond under the pressure and stood obdurate against the tide of battle. The Red King and his Maces, the Green King and his Eleven's, stood together symbolising the dual strength of Shargash - destruction and renewal. They did not run. They did not hide. They placed themselves before the Impalers Gate and welcomed the Horde onto the red-hued maces and flaming spears of purity.

The Red King had summoned the power of Kazkurtum from the underworld to match the hell strength of Sheng Seleris. With the Destroyer of the Underworld manifesting in his foe, even Sheng saw reason to pause.

The Green King summoned a thousand ancestors of the fallen to do battle with the ghosts of the Horde. Screaming and wailing, the denizens of the Underworld battled above and among their living counterparts. Thus, was much of the strength of the Horde lessened and their onset slowed.

Sensing the danger of defeat, the Warband withdrew from their scattered pursuit of the broken members of the Muster. As if by hidden signal, they converged on their leader. Then Sheng Seleris led them against the defenders of the Impalers gate who held it as sanctuary for the retreating Alkothi.

With cacophonous impact the Warband struck full upon them. Relentless rage, frothing fury, pitiless battle arrayed an orchestra of ire beneath the Red eye of Shargash. His drumbeat grew in power at the feeding of his hunger.

Yet

The third defence of Alkoth was swept aside.

Sheng Seleris slipped into Hell down a spiral of soul-stuff. He sniffed and borrowed then dived deep as if plunging for a glittering pearl. Passing through many layers of existence, he found his thread and surfaced back into the battle that raged around him. Back, but not into his own body. Instead his soul burnt bright in the body of the Green King. The Green King whose ancestors were Shengs ancestors when the Golden Perfection of Yelm ruled the Universe. Sheng Seleris walked the many millennia of that ancestry in a moment and manifested in his kinsman. The Green King was open, he was funnelling the spiritual heritage of his people into battle and had no defence against the intrusion. His body was stretched to the limit containing the energies of a thousand ancestors. Filled suddenly with the power of a demigod it burst asunder in an emerald flash.

Dismay. Lament. Vengeance! With a roar of bloody fury the King of Destroyers, the Red King, assailed the physical spirit of Sheng like a tornado. Mighty demi-deities of the Warband were blasted from his path, struck by the Skybolt, smashed by his crimson mace.

Sheng Seleris saw that the power of Kazkurtum was in his foe and saw his enemy’s error. Sheng Seleris was the Empty Rule. He was the Emperor of Nothing, the Lord of Devastation. Yet his foe attempted to use the powers of the Underworld against him. Powers he had long ago mastered and subsumed within himself. Instead of a weakness to be exploited, Sheng was possessed of an unbreakable strength when assailed in that way. The Red King swung for Sheng but his mace hit nothing.

"Your place is not here oh Lord of Destruction, you have done your work." said Sheng Seleris. "Go to your rightful place!" And the earth opened as it had for Shargash during the first Ending of the World. The ending where Emptiness ruled and Shargash fell through the cracks of doom into the Underworld. So it was with the Red King as he fell into the earth. Earth split like a hungry mouth for him in answer to the call of his nature and the path of his God.

Then the Muster of Alkoth groaned at their loss but a presence came among them and they fell silent once more, ready for battle, willing for conflict.

The King of the Dead walked from the walls and with him came the ten times ten Demons of Alkoth. Each a deity in their own right, each defeated by Shargash and bound to his service in ages past. Each controlled by the words of power which rolled form the lips of the King like a litany of revenge.

Even the mighty Warband of Sheng Seleris recoiled. The Horde of Pent shivered in fear and named their ancestors a ward against this foreign power.

Yet

The fourth defence of Alkoth was swept away.

Sheng Seleris moved his spirit into the midst of his foes and it engulfed the King of the Dead like a thick cloud. Coalescing into a bright star of power it rent a hole in the very air and pulled the King of the Dead with him.

Deep into the depths of darkness they fell and fought. Each knew the mysteries of death, each was unafraid of the night of the soul. The King of the Dead had walked the many paths of his god and battled grimly for his people. Sheng Seleris would not be denied victory and so struggled all the harder for his foes’ truculence. Deeper and deeper they fell the floor of existence and then Sheng saw that the mysteries of the King of the Dead ended with the paths of his myth. Laughing he took the King farther, beyond those paths. He took the King through the veil of mysteries into the light of truth and understanding. He showed him the crystal clarity of his god, worshipped in many forms, seen by many peoples but still the Destroyer, still the Devourer.

So great was this revelation that the King of the Dead wept at the knew knowledge. He walked the paths with Sheng and ceased his struggle. He sought more and Sheng Seleris showed him. Thus the first transcendental heroquest of Shargash was enacted and the significance of the cycle and the mysteries of their god lay within reach.

A moment later they stepped back into the material world. Stepped back into the midst of battle as if they had just left instead of spending an eternity in understanding. With Sheng strode the last King of Alkoth and all watching wondered for he called and end to the combat, as did Sheng. He went among his people and told them of his visions. He told them of the utter darkness and the bleak pits which he had walked and told them of the insights he had been given and the knowledge of his God that was forever theirs.

The people of Alkoth called him the Black King thereafter for he had seen beyond the final darkness. As Red masters Destruction, Green masters renewal and the spirit - so the Black can walk all paths back and forth and see beyond them into the great mysteries of Shargash.

The Black King called a truce with Sheng Seleris and swore to obey his rule as long it existed in return for his teachings and those of his Zolathi. Sheng Seleris agreed but ordered that Alkoth would war for him against his foes and he would appoint a Red King as he willed it.

Turrog was the first and he was one of the greatest of his Bursts. He is remembered and venerated even today.

So it was that Alkoth fell to Sheng Seleris without ever falling at all.

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September 11, 2000

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