Of the Gods themselves and those that worship them.
Some worshipped violence in the dark times; others, the Metal Gods.
There was much dissention and speculation, as there always is with religions in their infancy, as to their origins and motives on the Blackened Earth. Some argued they came from the murky corners of the sky, others that they rose from the earth. A few supposed them conquerors, toppled from their seats of power by the Ancestors in a war that had shattered the world, while many more considered them guardians and protectors of those that remained to walk this scorched planet.
And there were fewer still that altogether shunned the Metal Gods, and removed themselves to secluded pockets of the world, though it is not hard to find solitude in the endlessness of the Wastes, and were named Godless for their blasphemies. For those that did believe, however, the Gods were a rusty beacon of hope amid the lightless and painful drudgery of daily survival.
Still, there existed schisms between the pious, for what is religion without discord? Such divides were born of childish disputes; as worship of the Metal Gods spread, their hierarchy was debated. To what end it mattered little, though some men must always be seen to be right, out of fear that they be lessened otherwise.
Argraf, the Many-Armed was widely named as the First among the Gods, for his skeletal effigies are, to this day, most numerous.
Father of the Blackened Earth, he had commanded such worship from the Ancestors that towering, identical idols were erected in his honour, every few hundred metres for miles and miles across the vast expanse of the Wastes.
It is said that Argraf was the first of the Gods to show himself to mankind, and it was he that emerged from the earth to shield the last of the Ancestors when the stars fell and ended the world.
Then there is H’waya; dread serpent beloved by mighty Argraf. While the Father sheltered his children from the oblivion that rained down upon them, it was she who devoured the infernos that had raged across the young world. Her belly full of fire, the ground beneath her became charred and black as pitch, and her path can be traced in the meandering swathes of once-molten rock that criss-cross the land.
As yet, men swear they have seen her coiled body glowing on the horizon of the Poisoned Ocean in the east, where she slumbers, awaiting Argraf’s return.
The superstitious, plentiful as they are these days, still refuse to build a fire higher than a man’s waist, lest the heat of it awaken H’waya and she come in search of it, thinking the world is ending once more.
That being said, I encountered, late last year, a cult in the northern reaches of the Arid Sea, who sought to summon H’waya with the largest bonfires I had ever seen, and the blood of the unwilling I had been hired to find.
They had not been the most numerically superior group of Doom Preachers I have ever come across, but they were amongst the most vile in the practice of their beliefs. Though I do quite like that term they have adopted for the scattered bands of itinerants who ceaselessly decree the end is nigh. One day I am certain they will be right.
Still, this particular group died painfully, begging to be burnt as I cut them down. Those that did not successfully immolate themselves on their huge pyres I left laid atop the salted flatland, for whichever scavenger was lucky enough to find them first.
Forgive my digression; the journey has been long and stories of my past heroisms keep me entertained.
Third among the Metal Gods is Solora, the Gardener, as she is sometimes known. It was she who planted the fields of towering white flowers that can be found if one knows where to look amid the shifting sands.
She is worshipped by those who see the Blackened Earth in a gentler light than it appears, and who cherish life and growth in a world of stunted decay and death. They are optimists of the highest order; dreamers and fantasists, men and women who seek paradise in the eternity of the Great Wastes. I have found many of their colourfully-garbed corpses in my travels, far from what civilisation is left to us, but heard only whispers of a verdant garden to which these fools flock.
Last among the Iron Deities is Recan, the Long-Necked, the Watcher, called the Corival by his more fervent supporters. I count him last only because there exist so few titanic idols in his image, though those that remain dwarf even Argraf’s grandest monuments.
This has led to many an overzealous tongue declaring Recan the greatest among the Gods. Such tongues do not remain attached to their hosts for long afterward.
I can, however, see their point, to a degree. From the previous night’s encampment, several miles to the south, upon the Salt Bluffs, I could see all of what has become known as Recan’s Rut; a small and dirty town nestled at the feet of the most monstrous testament to any God I have ever witnessed.
To the west, a deep scar runs through the land, which gives the town the latter half of its name, and hems in the bulging girth of that cesspool, whose inhabitants claim this tribute to the Watcher is beyond all others in existence.
But I am not here to see the Corival. No. I am here for the same reason the town itself has doubled in size over the past three months, spilling into grey-brown puddles of tents and slums, crawling with the mindless devout. Though I’ve come for a much darker end than they. I am here to kill the man they’ve come to see.
To Be Continued.