The colony ship Farreacher reached the rim planet Ariel in the year 2276, with five thousand colonists and the makings of a Terra-stock resupply outpost aboard. Native flora and fauna proved rather remarkably compatible with Earth-native species, with, initially, strict oversight to avoid indiscriminate ecological damage. In the end, Terran cats and deer happily roamed Ariel's wilds, equally happily eaten by the likes of Arielan norwolves and blue vultures.

Within a hundred years the planet was exporting Terran grains, cattle, horses, and a number of other more exotic creatures bred by enterprising xenobiologists, such as the genetically engineered nightwings, an intelligent native bird enhanced to serve as reliable messengers. The colony occupied a pleasant river basin dubbed Sevak's Land, after the captain of the good ship Farreacher. Yarom, the spaceport, stood upon a rocky plateau cut by the great river Tanis, down which came foodstuffs grown farther inland, and up which ran agile rivercraft which handily undercut the price of transport by flitter.

Gradually, far-flung farmsteads lost their taste for the technological wonders of Yarom, more interested in the rich soil and the price of grain on the galactic market. And so Ariel was defenseless when disaster fell, a disaster―though Ariel's frantic citizens did not yet know it―which had already overtaken the comforting web of worlds of which Earth was the heart. Pleas to the Fleet went unanswered. The Fleet was already fighting a losing war of its own.

The ships came without warning or mercy, descending on peaceful Ariel like a swarm of locusts. Hadí―the Anointed―stormed across the face of Ariel as Mohammed's desert warriors had swarmed across Africa seventeen hundred years before―and for the same reason. Religious zeal, spawned on a world most Arielans had never heard of, yet died cursing with their last breath. Phaser cannon against colonial rifles, atmospheric craft against horses, zealotry against bewildered anger; though the Arielans fought bravely, Hadí fanaticism was literally stunning. Instead of being daunted by traps set in Ariel's harsh southern wastes, the Hadí seemed to thrive on them, coming back out of the red sands with the name of their god on their lips and―it was rumored by shocked survivors―his image at their backs. The colony fell in a month.

What followed was a collective nightmare. The Hadí were not interested in converts. Their god demanded obedience, not worship. Ariel's easygoing democracy vanished into a tight-fisted theocracy few of Arielan blood were good enough to join. Dissenters were executed without trial. There was no street corner without its watchful soldier-priest, no merchant daring enough to attempt to bribe one to overlook a shipment not approved by the Hadí god, a snarling idol with an appetite for blood. Hadí law governed every aspect of life down to the times and places it was appropriate for a husband to make love to his wife, and priests were empowered to invade a home without notice to enforce them. Aberrations were punished by a public repetition of the offense before execution. No one protested; Hadí seemed linked to their god somehow. Even the least among them could conjure pain at will. The great could kill with a thought. Men feared even to walk through a Hadí's shadow for fear of what might follow them out.

Bewildered Arielans huddled in their scattered farmsteads and tried not to attract notice. They hid their children when the Anointed came through, for it was not unknown for families to be ripped apart, wives torn from husbands, children from parents, taken to the Temple and never seen again. It was rumored the Hadí used the women for breeding, and the children. . . some reappeared. And they too, could kill with a thought.

Rebellion bred quietly, as rebellions do. The wrong child was taken, and an angry farmer, Sarah Linden, rose from the redstone desert of Mosain to rally the scattered settlements. Farm by town by province, she wrested Ariel from the invaders, took back her daughter, and sent the Hadí fleet to fiery death in the heart of Falal, Ariel's sun. It took forty years.

The victors stood among ashes when it was done. The Hadí had fought savagely and, at the last, without regard for anything but destroying what they could not have. The spaceport was gone, blasted to rubble. Communications were dead. Farreacher was scrap and the Hadí starships captured by Sarah Linden doomed to slow death for lack of spare parts. Metal-poor Ariel had never achieved industry; there was no hope of manufacturing the means to rejoin the galaxy beyond Falal. Whole towns had disappeared. Refugees clogged the roads and crammed every ship left afloat. The euphoric sense of brotherhood shared by the survivors quickly faded in the reality that there was nothing left to share. Savage riots rocked Yarom when word spread that even the harvests had failed. Fumbling attempts to recreate planetary government using the highly efficient Hadí bureaucracy resulted in more rioting.

The backlash against the religious taint was as vicious as the Hadí themselves. Collaborators and suspected Hadí sympathizers were murdered in the streets; families of priests died to the last infant. Only the grim competence of Sarah Linden's militia prevented wholesale slaughter.

Those who dreamed of a return to life-as-it-was were bitterly disappointed. The long-awaited day of freedom, with its looked-for revival of tolerance for older traditions, came and went on a tide of rawer memories. Advocates of a kinder God stepped forth to share his blessing with their fellow survivors―and died of the outrage of citizens who did not appreciate the notion of trading one set of priests for another. The very mention of God sparked bloodshed.

The believers fled, south to the barren wastes of Nemistak. Sevak's Land, now known as Sevakand, turned a contemptuous back on them and fought to rebuild itself. But the land was too wide, the resources too few. The long-promised advent of civil government never came. A succession of military governors turned the control dome high above Yarom into the Citadel, a soaring bastion of military might. Year after year they fought to stave off disaster; little by little power solidified in the hands of a few commanders tasked with keeping order and distributing Sevakand's precious food. Sarah Linden's proud militia degenerated to a ruling caste with hereditary rank. Three generations later, a scrambling quest for power began among disgruntled officers who saw no chance for promotion. Commanders withdrew whole regiments of marines and fought to carve themselves fiefdoms. Once again the harvests failed, trampled under the feet of invading armies.

What remained of Arielan society dissolved into a bloody struggle for land, resources, fiercely hoarded technology. Great Houses that had begun as defended farmsteads rose to rule nations, climbing on the strength of private armies and knowledge ruthlessly guarded from the neighbors. House Mreens held off invaders; House tongues weeded out the spies of other Houses. The strongest ruled, and anyone caught outside the pale of the Houses died, or fled to the Crizani tribes in the desert and learned to pray.

A thrice-great grandson of Sarah Linden's ended the chaos. One by one the warring chieftains went down to Aravon's army, uniformly cursing the fabled luck at war that seemed bred into her bloodline. From anarchy he forged an iron autocracy supported by eleven provincial governors, the strongest of the warlords who remained. But even he could not hold single-handed what he had won. Years of rebellion finally resulted in a difficult compromise, a Golden Charter thrust upon House Aravon by a consortium of lords too weak individually to challenge its rule. It was a Magna Carta of sorts, creating a permanent autocracy rather than the roots of a democracy. But it was law, a central government overseeing what in essence had become a dozen separate countries. The abiding competence of House Aravon kept them from each others' throats, reducing the bloodshed to occasional flare-ups of arrogance and the never-ending chase after will-'o-the-sand Crizan raiding into the southern marches after food and horses.

Three hundred years after the Hadí, the galaxy beyond Falal was all but forgotten, the technology of the Founders reduced to archaic remnants marveled at by children. Knowledge was a trade item, cautiously proffered by rival Houses, or jealously hoarded within the thinly-tolerated temples of the thousand gods which had risen to replace the Hadí One. Men scarcely realized what they did not know, but it is man's nature to quest for knowledge. Priests, having no respect save that earned by what they knew, thirsted after knowledge and power together. An obscure cult venerating an obscurer god went looking for his heartplace among the queer trembling red rocks of An-Utah―and thereby changed the world. 

Overview
Map of Ariel
The Citadel
Glossary
History of Ariel

Portraits

FATE'S ARROW

The Mask of God by S. A. Bolich

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The Mark of God by S. A. Bolich

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The Heart of God by S. A. Bolich

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