The Mercenary Queen
The Book of Maruk
In the beginning, there was nothing but a deep black void that filled the heavens. Into this void walked Maruk, the master craftsman and Creator of All. Maruk saw the darkness and frowned. Darkness did not bode well with Maruk. In the darkness he could hear the hissing of demons and monsters of the void. Into the darkness he brought with him a single ember. The ember was dim, but in the darkness it was bright as a beacon. The darkness hated the ember and tried to extinguish it, but Maruk refused to let falter. Instead he brought it to the cold, lifeless forge at the heart of the darkness. There, Maruk kindled a flame, which became a fire. As he stoked the billows cramp the flame grew brighter, pushing back the darkness. The coals of the Great Forge grew hot and Maruk withdrew a single shapeless mound of creation from his pouch.
The darkness wailed as the light burned it, forcing it back further and further. Maruk paid no heed to the howls. He drew forth his great hammer and his tools, setting them on the Obsidian Anvil that he fashioned all of creation with. The orb of creation He tossed into the forge and waited, working the fire into a fury. Then, with his tongs he reached into the flames and drew forth the glowing orb – our world; the world of Kharnarmak – the Flame of Maruk.
Every time his hammer fell to shape our world, sparks would fly from into the darkness and gave birth to the stars. The Great Forge burned hot and furiously, causing Maruk to sweat. It rolled down his brows and off his nose and chin, falling onto the burning globe and formed the seas and oceans. His great hammer laid low the valleys and lifted high the great mountains. Twice more he put the orb into the flames. Twice more he hammered and formed it until it was the perfect image that had been birthed in his mind.
He set the world into its place in position to the Great Forge. There it followed its course, floating around the forge like the rest of the worlds that Maruk would create. There it cooled in the glory of the forge and as it cooled condensation formed lakes, rivers, and streams.
Maruk saw his handiwork and knew that it was good. And so he turned to his helpers, the Chosen of Maruk and showed them what he had made. They rejoiced, for there was no maker like Maruk. He turned back to the fire and drew forth another orb of creation and began to heat it. This Maruk would fashion into the Bright Stars that would fill the heavens near Kharnarmak.
The Chosen watched in awe as he fashioned each world one by one – all but one. His name was Tomarfal, and he was jealous of the Creator’s work. He believed in his heart that he could work such wonders himself. He listened to the whispers in the dark telling him that the light was too bright, that it would burn the worlds of creation and devour all that Maruk put upon them. Even as the last world hung in the heavens, Tomarfal believed in his festering heart that he should be the maker of all things. He raged whenever someone reminded him that Maruk had made him, forming him from fire like all the Chosen Ones except the Great Ones. The Great Ones had been formed from Maruk’s very thoughts and stood as his great champions. Tomarfal hated them too.
Day and night Maruk worked, forming the beings that would inhabit his world. Each he gave a portion of his own image and heart to. Each loved Maruk with every fiber of their being. The last of these creatures – Man, Maruk formed completely in his image. Man would be his testimony on Kharnarmak. They would bring all others to true relationship with him.
Though man was born in his image, the High Born were born of Maruk’s hopes and dreams. The High Born were to be the keepers of Kharnarmak and guide even the humans in the true path of righteousness. When all was done, Maruk returned to his great flaming thrown and sat upon it to observe his work. When he saw all he had created he said it was good. So he rested, and took delight in all his hands had made.
It was while Maruk contemplated and took joy in his handiwork that Tomarfal came to the Great Forge, and taking Maruk’s hammer, he plucked Kharnarmak from its place and set it on the Obsidian Anvil. He thought to place his own mark upon Kharnarmak and prove once and for all that he could do just as good as Maruk. And so, he struck Kharnarmak with Maruk’s hammer. The world shuddered and trembled under the terrible clang. One thing Tomarfal had forgotten was to heat the orb so that it would bend to his will. Instead, it rang with a terrible vibration and the mountains erupted with fire. The seas boiled and the people wailed.
Their cries caught Maruk’s ear. He rose from his great throne and came to his forge to find Tomarfal there, hammer raised to strike again. Instead, Maruk snatched it from his hand and demanded to know what he had done. Tomarfal coward before the Great King of Creation and pointed to the darkness, declaring that the shadows had made him do it – they had told him he could be as great as Maruk if all he did was take hold of the hammer and fashion Kharnarmak anew.
Maruk was furious and cast Tomarfal into the darkness, decreeing that he would never return. He turned back to Kharnarmak and wept over what had been done, but the blow had wrought its damage and there was little that could be done but to remake the world again. That would kill all that lived upon it and Maruk would not do that. Instead he soldered the damage and fixed what he could to keep his creation intact.
The echo of the ringing blow went out throughout creation, spreading its destructive power throughout the void. It opened cracks within the very fabric of the universe and opened gateways through which the shadows could venture in. Maruk summoned his Great Ones and his Chosen ones and summoned them to war. They drove back the shadow, closing doors and gateways to keep the tide back, but the Shadow worked like water, wearing down the greatest of stones. It cut its way back into creation and tainted everything it touched. It was then that Maruk realized the pact Tomarfal had made with the creatures of the abyss. Now he rose as their leader and swore vengeance upon Maruk.
A great battle was fought in the depths of the abyss. Fire and darkness crashed together as Maruk fought Tomarfal and his legions. Eventually, the Legions of Light prevailed, casting Tomarfal from his lofty place and shattering his ebony blade. Tomarfal was locked in chains and the shadow cringed in terror. They were no match for the might of Maruk.
Their damage though had been done. The gateways could not all be shut. The taint that covered Kharnarmak had permeated into its very bones. Maruk brooded over what had been done to his creation. He wept for the creatures he had created. In that moment he thought of a means by which the damage could be undone. He would set that plan into motion and it would restore Kharnarmak. Yes, it would do. And so, Maruk taught his craft to the Dwarves and taught his words to the Humans. He gave the High Born the skill to see what must be seen and do what must be done. Though the gateways were open, they could be guarded, and so he set chosen guardians among his creation to watch those gates and patrol their pathways, and he told none but his Great Ones what he planned to do to save his world.
- Excerpt from the Book of Maruk