|by Simon Dewey|
Zulin was a Prince of the Upper Air and lived in a castle of ice high in the air. He was given every desire of his heart and lived a life of doleful indolence under the care of his Father, a High and Lofty Spirit of Air. But Zulin desired more than this. Even as a young Spirit, he had little desire for the flesh of women or men, nor for wine or music. The parties of his Father and many wives bored him. Instead, he spent his time discussing philosophy, practicing rhetoric and reading treatises on the nature of existence, searching for some kind of deeper meaning to his life. Why did one live? He felt that life had some greater meaning than the one his Father presented, but he could not find it.
It was during one of these discussions that he discovered the presence of 'mortals'. He inquired after such creatures and found out that the world below, that quilt of brown and gold and green and blue, was not only filled with animals and plants, but instead, was full of tiny creatures with small souls and short lives. Zulin was fascinated by the idea. He immediately began making plans. Days later, during the next party, when his Father and the harem were busy entertaining guests, Zulin disguised himself as a common Wind Spirit and slipped out of the palace.
He made his way down and down, until he reached the surface of the Earth. He found the Earth to be as strange and wondrous as he imagined. Here he finally had a chance to see many of the plants and animals he had only ever seen in books, and he found the experience entirely beneficial. Seeing such creatures up close reinforced his awe of them. Their beauty and majesty were like nothing he had ever seen before, even compared to the sumptuous splendors of his Father's Court.
And as Zulin explored further, he found the mortals in question. They had built their own cities down here, he found, tiny piles of bricks and mud. Yet for all their humility, these tiny creatures strutted with the pride of Kings, laughing and singing as they worked. This fascinated Zulin all the more, especially when he saw what they laughed in the face of. For you see, Zulin's father had recognized the innocence his son had, and thus had spent a great deal of effort to try and hide the uglier side of life from him.
This was the first time Zulin had ever seen sickness. He saw a man leaving his town wearing a funeral shroud, the man weeping while others fled from him, yelling "Unclean! Unclean!" He saw an old woman die and her family weep over the corpse. But worse still were the crimes that others committed against each other. These mortals robbed, beat and killed each other for barely any reason. They abused and tortured each other, crushing these small, pale lives with barely a thought. Zulin was heart-broken at the sight of such things. He needed to know, why? Who could have possibly caused such a thing?
So Zulin roamed the world, seeking out someone who could answer him. But no one could. They fled in terror from him, or trembled in fear as they could provide no answer. This made Zulin despair all the more, as he began to feel their might not be any answers. Yet he had to keep trying, so he continued his search for the truth.
It was then, after much searching, that he found a young woman named Hesaya. She was a girl from a provincial village in an unimportant kingdom at the tail end of a great Empire. She seemed quite ordinary on first appearance. Yet she did things no one would have permitted a woman to do. One day, she stood up in the Temple and strode to the front, where she asked to read from the scrolls. The Priest was so shocked he stood aside and allowed her to speak.
Hesaya did so, reading a prophecy from the scrolls, one that declared the liberation of the people and the reformation of the Kingdom. She declared that the time of the fulfillment of this prophecy was now, and that she was the one who would bring it about. This response provoked shock and rage from the people in the temple, who laid hands upon her and seized her.
They dragged her outside and threw her off a nearby cliff, in an attempt to kill her. But Zulin, unwilling to stand by, saved her by softening her fall with his command of the Air. When she landed unharmed, she did not look surprised. She turned and looked, but could not see Zulin, for he was disguised as an Air Spirit. She demanded that 'The hand that saved me come forth'. Zulin revealed himself to her, and when he said it was he, Hesaya told him that was not true. Zulin protested that he did save her, but Hesaya insisted it was not true. Instead, she had been saved by the Authority, Maker of Heaven and Earth, who had revealed himself to her. Zulin was merely his chosen instrument.
Zulin was fascinated by this response and demanded she explain herself. So she did. She explained that she had received visions from the Authority, who had told her to go out into the world and proclaim his truth. She had been selected by him, created to advance His Will upon the world. Zulin, when he learned this, wept. Here were the answers that he had sought his entire life. He vowed that as long as Hesaya lived, he would be at her side, for he too saw the value in such a mission. Hesaya agreed and Zulin began to accompany her. With the aid of Zulin's power, Hesaya was able to perform mystical feats and work miracles that astounded those who heard her speak. This enabled her message to spread even further.
It was on these journeys that led to her recruiting a number of Gods and Mortals who would come to be extremely important later, the Gods becoming the Divine Gatekeepers and the Mortals the First Saints and Martyrs. But as her fame grew and her message began to be heard by more and more, the Priests grew increasingly worried by what they heard. This Hesaya, her message called for a radical departure from the laws of religion and renounced the current ecclesical authorities as wicked men who cared more for glory and money than they did for the Authority. They attempted to discredit or assassinate her, but all these attempts were foiled by Hesaya's own skill or Zulin's power. So they came up with one last plan, a scheme to destroy her once and for all.
On a Feast Day, they gathered a mob of zealots and had Hesaya arrested. Her followers wanted to attack and free her, but she refused them. She told them to wait, for this had all been foreseen. She was taken to the Council of Priests, who interrogated her. They asked her many things, but she refused to answer. Many witnesses came forward to speak out against her, but their testimony was confusing, illogical or they simply could not say anything comprehensible. Others, upon seeing Hesaya and being under her steely gaze, found themselves unable to speak a word. Finally, they asked her "Do you hear the voice of God?"
And she said, "Truly, I do, and it tells me that you will all be devoured for what you have done this day. It would be better for you all if you had been drowned as infants than live to stand before me this day." At this, the High Priest broke his ceremonial staff and threw it at her feet. "What further need have we for charges of blasphemy? She had spoken them herself." So Hesaya was confined to a cell to await her being handed over to the Orzanian Governor.
While within her cell, Zulin came to speak with her. He told her he could easily enable her to escape this confinement, should she wish. Hesaya refused, claiming that her visions had told her this would happen. She would be saved, but not yet. Zulin did not like this answer, but accepted it, and left. The next day, Hesaya was brought before the Governor. The Governor was informed that Hesaya was guilty of many crimes, including treason against the Empire and Marzan. The Governor questioned her as the people and the Priests requested, but he could find no evidence that she had committed such crimes. She did not seem the type to raise up armies against the Empire, nor to promote the taking back of her people's land from His Imperium.
When asked if she desired a crown, Hesaya replied "My crown will come from on high. Even now, my husband prepares it for me." The Governor did not know what to make of this response, so he returned to the people and told them he found no guilt in Hesaya. But they insisted she was guilty. The Governor insisted that she was a Queen, he could see it in her bearing, her eyes, her speech. She had been born to lead them. But they cried, "We have no Queen, only an Emperor!" The Governor asked them then what he should do with Hesaya. He hoped that they would ask that she be pardoned, which was within his rights. But they instead demanded he kill her. So the Governor gave her over to the mob and told his soldiers to do as the mob wished.
The soldiers then abused Hesaya, torturing her with whips and thorn-branches. They stripped her and pierced her flesh, then shaved her and made her a crown of molten metal, which they seared to her bare scalp. Then, after reviving her, they sent her off to be impaled, the penalty for traitors in those days. She was paraded naked through the streets, escorted by soldiers so no one would rescue her. Zulin came to her, disguised as a man watching from the crowd. When Hesaya stumbled, as she had been burdened with the heavy length of wood they planned to impale her on, he used his powers to implant the idea into the soldier's head that Hesaya would not survive the trip, so they pressed him into service to help her carry it. He asked her again to let him intervene and save her, but she refused again.
Finally, Hesaya arrived at the Plain of Bones, where she was weighed and measured and the stake was sharpened. Then she was impaled and left to die. Zulin came to her in those last few moments and begged her to let him help. Then she spoke to him for the last time. "Why are you asking me? Are you not a God?" Then, lifting her voice to Heaven, she spoke to the Authority himself. "Have I done well, Father?"
Then Hesaya died. Zulin was heart-broken when she died. He stole the sun from the sky so it would not shine and ordered the mountains to weep, which they did, their horrific sobs shaking the Earth. He commanded those who had died to return to their bodies so they might not steal mourners from Hesaya's funeral and ordered the winds to howl in rage. And with that, he fled into the temple of the Authority in the City, where Hesaya had preached dozens of times. He tore down the curtains dividing the people from the altar and threw himself at the feet of that golden idol, sobbing. His tears flowed into the city like a river and all who touched them were healed of their injuries. The lame walked and the blind saw and yet there was no rejoicing, for they could taste Zulin's pain through his tears.
Meanwhile, Hesaya's spirit was taken down into the depths of the Earth, to those lightless places where the Sun never reaches. When she arrived in the Underworld, she was forced to pass through a series of gates, discarding a piece of her clothing at each one. At the first, she shed her armor, which was her virtue. At the next, she left her shield, which was faith. At the next, her helm, which was her ability to see the truth. At the next, she laid down her sword, which was her strength. At the next, her sandals, which was her will. At the next, her clothing, which was her purity. At the next, her shift, which was her innocence. Finally, she reached the end and stood before the Lords of Death, who took her eyes and bound her in chains of everlasting death.
In the land of the living, after three days, Zulin finally finished his mourning. He had pondered her question and realized the truth. Why did he accept what had happened? He ascended into the Heavens, climbing the Mountain of Eternity until he reached the top. The climb took him all of time and no time at all, for he soon transcended it and found himself standing before the Authority, Creator of the Universe. There, Zulin raged at the Creator. "How dare you do this to her, the one who loved you above all things!" He accused the Authority of countless crimes and demanded that he do something. "Are you not King?" The Authority responded with a simple: "No."
Zulin was baffled by this response. "Then if you are not King, who is?"
The Authority leaned forward and said. "The King is the one who acts, while the Slave is acted upon. So tell me, will you remain as you are, God of Slaves?" Zulin turned and looked back down to Earth. "No," he declared. "I choose King. Remember me, for they shall know me as the God of Kings."
And with that, the Authority blessed Zulin and granted him the Hand of Dominion, the Sword that gave him the right and duty to rule over the world. And with that sword in hand, Zulin leapt from the Mountain and fell through the Heavens. He struck the Earth and it parted for him, opening a pathway to the Underworld. When he arrived at the Gates of the Underworld, he opened them with his Virtue, Faith in the goodness of others, recognition of moral Truth, Magnaminity, Mercy and Love. When the final gate opened, the Lords of Death expected to find a docile, weakened God awaiting his destruction.
Instead they found Zulin, God of Kings, Prince of the Upper Air, Master of Heaven, Pathway
to the Authority, Carver of Fate, Hand of Dominion and Burner of Worlds. Zulin tore into them with his sword and spells, all of his mercy swallowed up by rage and hatred. He destroyed them, laying waste to the Underworld and unmaking all of their wretched works in a single, glorious day.
And then, at long last, when ever enemy was put under his feet, Zulin reunited with Hesaya. But she was not the woman he loved. So he located the servants of the Lords of Death who had survived and after swearing he would not harm them if they served him instead, he asked what was wrong with her. They told him that while a God can bend the laws of Death, mortals cannot. So Zulin beseeched the Authority, asking if there was any way he could be reunited with his beloved. The Authority responded there was a way, but it would require great virtue and endurance on behalf of Zulin. Zulin declared he would remain faithful until the end of the Age. So the Authority enacted his plan and Zulin sat by to wait.
Forty years later, Zulin was walking through a provincial village in an unimportant kingdom at the tail end of a great Empire. He was in Hesaya's homeland, reminiscing about the woman he had once known. But then, he realized something was amiss. The Kingdom was under attack! He leaped into the air and saw that foreign soldiers had overrun his beloved's homeland. He moved to intervene, to free the people here, but the Authority told him not to. Zulin questioned him on why and the Authority told him to look closer. So Zulin did, and he was disgusted. He saw that while these people had once served the Authority, now they had forsaken their covenant with Him and instead served their own ambitions. This had led them to revolt against their rulers and the invasion of their kingdom.
Zulin then went to the capital, which was being besieged by an army of foreigners. And as he watched, the foreign general came out to address her troops, and when she did, he wept. Though she was different in every way, from the color of her hair to the shape of her face to the way she walked and talked, he recognized it. Zulin descended upon the camp and landed before the General. She drew her sword at first, thinking him an attacker. He greeted her, but she was confused. "Hesaya, do you not recognize me?" He asked, tears in his eyes. Then one of his tears landed on her and she was healed, her memories restored. The General then began to weep too and embraced her beloved, much to the confusion of all who saw them.
And thus were the two lovers reunited, and the Prophetess Lived Again.