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‘What do you mean, they won’t leave?’ asked Ro-Shanon, Emperor of the Seven Kingdoms and Ruler of the Moonlit Vale, as he stood over the broken body of his killer.

‘They refuse, Sire,’ answered Ro-Gladius, commander of the Mundane Imperial Guard, and the Emperor’s oldest friend. He stood only several paces into the throne room, still frozen by the shock of the scene he had entered to witness. The report he bore shook in his hands as he read from it. ‘The aristocracy generally seem to think the scale of the threat is being overblown, and the citizens. . . well, they mostly believe that you’ll come up with some way to stop it.’

‘Some way to. . . Have they looked at the sky? Are they blind, or are they mad?’

‘They’re scared, Sire. But they have faith.’

Ro-Shanon shook his head in despair, his gaze still fixed on his assassin’s corpse. He should have expected this—all of this. He’d built too much of his Empire through miracles.

It hadn’t been enough to save him tonight.

The assassin by his feet had blown through the palace like a fever through the slums. They’d been shrewd with their infiltration of the palatial fortress, either choosing to breach the southern wall when Ro-Shanon’s defences were focused in the north—the most likely direction a Moonlighter assassin would come from at this time of night—or they’d laid somewhere in wait, biding their time until the Emperor was alone. Either way, Ro-Shanon had been embarrassingly unprepared when he felt the assassin’s vamblade slam into his back, too consumed by his brooding at the balcony to have heard his murderer’s approach. It had taken all of his skill, all of his thirty years’ experience as a Moonlighter himself to keep his feet and counteract the immediate effects of the poison he felt burning into his veins. But although the resulting battle had been brutally decisive, that first blow had already decided his Empire’s fate. He would only continue to rule it for as long as he could stave off sleep—the moment his grip over wakefulness slipped, so too would his control over the poison pulsing fire through his body with every heartbeat. Ro-Shanon would die and, in time, so would his people.

He’d been so close.

‘Would it help if I went down there, Gladius? Personally commanded them to leave?’

‘Honestly, Sire? Probably not. Beyond the general disbelief, some of the factories are offering incentives to workers who stay to keep the wheels turning—moonlighters or mundanites.’

Ro-Shanon bristled. ‘You know I hate that word.’

‘Sorry, Sire,’ Ro-Gladius held up a sheet from the stack he carried. ‘I was reading directly from the poster. Someone’s had them printed and plastered across the city—everywhere your edict to evacuate is being read. A month’s salary for a week’s work.’

‘Shar-Etus,’ Ro-Shanon snarled.

‘He’s certainly the one who stands to lose the most if the factories close,’ Ro-Gladius agreed. He gestured to the body at Ro-Shanon’s feet. ‘You don’t think he’s the one who—’

‘Who knows. It doesn’t matter,’ Ro-Shanon said, kneeling by the body and pulling aside the assassin’s face wrappings. He sucked in a sharp breath. His murderer was just a kid—she must have been barely seventeen. Probably trained in-house by one of the aristocratic families Ro-Shanon had ousted all those years ago or, as Ro-Gladius suggested, by one of the dozens of industrialists who were rapidly populating their own social class in the Moonlit Vale and throughout the greater Empire. What a waste of a life.

But then, Shan the potter’s boy hadn’t been that much older than this when he’d smashed through the palace walls and fought his way into this very room, had he? The moon had only been a distant speck in the sky back then, and it’d still given him the power to topple the oligarchs and throw them from the balcony where Ro-Shanon had been standing tonight. This kid had probably come here with that same fire burning in her gut; that unwavering knowledge that her actions were right and just. She was too young to remember the pogroms. The sham trials. The executions for no greater sin than the abilities of one’s birth. And with the moon where it was tonight, who could guess at the limits of those abilities she commanded?

But unlike the oligarchs of old, Ro-Shanon had those abilities too—and an extra thirty years experience with using them.

‘Let me bring Shar-Etus here,’ Ro-Gladius pressed, stepping forward and breaking his Emperor’s reflective moment. ‘I’ll have the truth from him by sunrise, I promise you that.’

‘Leave it,’ Ro-Shanon sighed, rising from his crouch. He winced as fire lanced his joints and pain shot towards his heart. He felt a sheen of cold sweat break out across his forehead, and he turned away from Ro-Gladius. He mustn’t have caught quite all of the poison. ‘We don’t have the time.’

He strode back out onto the balcony, clenching his teeth as he fought to keep his legs from buckling. He leaned on the railing, glad he could use the action to mask his discomfort. The wind of the night tugged at his robes like the clutching hands of the oligarchs he’d consigned to history, returning to claim the Potter King and drag him back with them into death.

Twenty-eight years of war, and conquest, and suffering and here he was. Back on this balcony, looking over his valley—now bleached white by the unnatural light of the moon—and wondering how his people were going to survive what was coming.

‘How long, Gladius?’ he asked without turning. His gaze remained fixed on the moon, tracing the craters and the lunar dunes that had once been nothing more than shadows but were now so stunningly clear. ‘How long do you think it will take, following my death, for things to go back to exactly the way they were before?’

‘Sire! Don’t say such things, you—’

‘Say we can only half do it. Say we can’t stop the Cataclysm, or we stop it and I die, but everyone else gets to live. How long do you think it will be before snakes like Etus and Lao take their riches and turn themselves into a new aristocracy? How long do you think it will take them, when they no longer need their machines to hold on to their power, to start gathering up Moonlighters again and putting them to the sword?’

‘Never, Sire! You won’t let them.’

‘I won’t be here, Gladius.’

‘Well then, I won’t let them. Nor will your heirs—you haven’t got the excuse of being off at war anymore, you know. There’s still plenty of time left to marry you off before we start worrying about your legacy.

No, there isn’t, Ro-Shanon thought. ‘Humour me,’ he said aloud.

Ro-Gladius leaned on to the balcony beside his Emperor with a clank of scaled armour. Together, they looked towards the dozens of hulking factories that glowed with golden candlelight amidst the whitewashed moonlit city.

‘The truth is—I really don’t think things can be the same. Legalising moonlighters, putting them to work in the factories—the factories, Shan. You can’t stuff that djinn back into the well. We rely on them for so much now; our clothes, our machines, our whole lifestyle revolves around moonlight. Your tablets have done more for the world than any of your wars—night, we probably could have just sat here developing them and the other six Kingdoms would have come to us and offered you their crowns, in time.’

‘Perhaps,’ Ro-Shanon agreed. But how many moonlighters would they have killed while we sat here and waited for them to see the value of what we’d become?

He reached into his robes and removed the clay tablet he’d been infusing when the assassin’s blade had struck. He turned the palm-sized tile of unmarked clay in his hands.

He’d been only a child—a real child, about seven or eight—when he’d first encountered the phenomenon. One of his uncles had been visiting—a sailor, pressed into service at the start of some forgotten war fought for the oligarchs’ forgettable reasons, who’d found by the time the war ended that he was too old to learn any other trade and so had stayed on the sea. He’d beckoned Shan over to where he’d sat amusing Shan’s sisters with tales of his fights against desert island manticores and the seductive powers of the strange women who walked the ocean surface on fog-stilled nights and lured foolish sailors into the deep.

‘See here, young potter’s boy—I’ve some magic to show ye,’ he’d said, and then cackled at Shan’s sudden fear. He didn’t know that the boy who would be Emperor had only discovered his ability to connect objects to the moon scant weeks before.

‘Don’t worry, lad, this be no devil’s night magic—see here.’ He dangled a small box on a chain rope before Shan’s face. ‘This wee thing be the magic what brings me safe ashore to visit yer mam. Watch!’

He pressed the box into Shan’s hands and prised it open. Inside, a small wheel with coloured points marked on it wobbled suspended in its own miniature sea of coloured fluid.

‘Ye see th’arrows, lad? They alway point the same way, no matter how turned around ye get. Out on the deep, in squall or fog or calm, ye jus’ look at this ‘un to point yer way, every time.’ He guided Shan’s hands from side to side to demonstrate. No matter where Shan faced, the arrows rotated around to point in their cardinal directions. His uncle chuckled and took the box from his stunned nephew, placing it on the table beside them and drawing a deep draught from the clay mug Shan’s mother had set out for him—one of her own creations, like all the others of their household, pressed together from the awful and inclusion-filled clays they struggled to sell. He wiped his beard and set it back on the table with a slight wobble. ‘Ain’t never seen a more reliable magic in me life, boy—not even the time we landed on an island, way out in the middle o’ nowhere, right burstin’ with pigs. Pigs! But these weren’t any old porkers, see, they. . .’

But little Shan the potter’s boy didn’t see, or hear the rest of what his uncle was saying. His attention was focused on the box—and how the red-painted arrow had spun away from its previously-fixed axis to point directly at the clay cup the moment it had come to rest beside it.

The tablet Ro-Shanon handled now, a lifetime later, was made from that same grade of inclusion-filled clay. Once only bought and used by the poorest class of society, this clay—under his hands—had reshaped the very world itself.

Or, it was going to, anyway.

‘Thank you, Gladius,’ he said quietly, before placing the unfired clay tablet on the railing between them. ‘I think I needed to hear—’

‘Of course, it’s all a moot point, isn’t it?’ Ro-Gladius said matter-of-factly, apparently not hearing his Emperor above the howling wind. ‘We won’t have to worry about all that after you stop the Cataclysm.’

Ro-Shanon’s hand froze in the air above the tablet.

‘You too, Glads?’

‘Pardon, Sire?’

Ro-Shanon pushed back from the railing and swayed in the breeze, his gaze fixed above, where the moon dominated the sky. He rubbed his eyes. They were beginning to feel heavy.

‘Where is your family, commander?’ he asked. ‘Did you get them to the shelters?’

‘No, Sire, I. . . well, I didn’t think you really—

‘Go on, then.’ Ro-Shanon sighed. ‘There’s nothing more you can do here tonight. Go and be with them.’

‘Shan—I mean, my Emperor! I can’t very well leave you after—’

‘Do you really think there’ll be two assassins sent the same night? Besides,’ Ro-Shanon said, stepping forward to the balcony’s railing, ‘It’s night. I’ve business to attend to. Moonlighter business.’

Ro-Gladius’ scale armour rippled as he bowed in defeat. ‘Very well, Sire. Thank you.’ He turned to leave, and Ro-Shanon heard him pause as he crossed the threshold between the balcony and the throne room. Right where the body of the assassin lay.

‘Shan, you’ll. . . you’re okay, right? You will stop the Cataclysm, won’t you?’

Ro-Shanon felt the sweat beading across his brow, and soaking his back. He felt the ice of the assassin’s vamblade still lodged in his back, buried from sight beneath the cloth it had torn through, propelled into him by its owner’s moonlight. He felt the fire of the venom beneath his skin as it pulsed there, straining against the confines of his body and the infusion of his own moonlighting abilities which connected it to the moon just as his uncle’s compass needle had been drawn towards his mother’s cup.

And he looked at the moon, so enormous that it dominated the sky—and was getting larger every day.

‘Tell your children they’ll be safe,’ he reassured his oldest, dearest friend as he sent him away for the last time. ‘Tell them. . . I know what needs to be done.’

Even through the whirling gale on the balcony, Ro-Shanon heard his friend’s relief as he let out the breath he’d been holding, and left.

Ro-Shanon waited several minutes, to ensure that Ro-Gladius had truly left him alone. Then, he set his clammy hands on the balcony railing and hoisted himself up. He stood, unsteady in the wind, teetering on the edge between his throne room and the yawning darkness before him.

And then he stepped forward and plummeted into the abyss.

*****

The snatching hands of wind clawed at Ro-Shanon even more feverishly as he tumbled down the sheer side of his fortress-like palace. The ground rushed towards him with terrifying speed, but he knew from hard-won experience that it was better to fall now, than to fall later.

As he neared the bottom of his fall, he turned his gaze back to the hulking moon above and reached for it with his senses. His Moonlighter senses. They stretched invisibly across the vast distance at the speed of thought, establishing a connection between him and the celestial body that was far stronger than any planet-bound gravity.

The speed of his descent slowed, then reversed, then increased as he began falling in a new direction. A new direction for down, just as his uncle’s compass needle had found a new direction for north all those years ago. He fell to terminal velocity, then concentrated and increased the moon’s pull on his body even further. His cheeks flapped in the wind, and he barked a laugh, immediately lost in the air behind him. He loved to fly.

He’d been only a teenager the first time he’d done it. It had been a night much like this one—minus the horrific strength of the moon’s light, of course. The air had been cloudless and crisp, and he’d enjoyed an unbroken line of sight to his far-distant source of power, and across the city’s night. There had been no factories back then, rising like blisters across the skyline. Only tile, wood and slate rooves, as far as the eye could see.

He whooped at the memory, letting the exhilaration of flight—well, falling, really, but falling with style—burst out of himself. That first time, and for much of his life since, flying had been a silent, solitary, and terror-fuelled venture. Shan the potter’s boy had needed silence for fear of discovery, torture and hanging, and Ro-Shanon the ruler of the Moonlit Vale had needed to maintain the regal air of the world’s most powerful Moonlighter. Which was hard to do if anyone looked up and saw you falling through the sky with your royal britches flapping about your ears. But now, tonight, he didn’t have to think about tomorrow. He didn’t have to think about discovery or disgrace. In a few hours, none of that would matter any more.

It had mattered the first time—he’d been discovered, of course. A clear night meant a clear line of sight for wannabe moonlighters and the public both, and he’d been horribly, near-fatally naive. He’d picked entirely the wrong time of night to fly, and instead of sending him across the city as it did now his first flight had sent him barreling straight up. A Moonlighting connection only worked one way—you could only increase the pull between an object and the moon or cut that connection entirely, you couldn’t simply dial it back once you’d started. Once he’d worked out the difference in relative strength between the pebbles and the clay he’d been practising with and his own body, his squawks of uncontrolled distress had been heard by half the guards and inquisitors across the city. They’d been waiting for him with pikes at the ready when he finally, haltingly, managed to fall his way back to the ground.

He’d killed his first man that night, that moment which had started it all. It seemed somehow fitting that his first and his last flight would both end in death.

His angle of ascent towards the rising moon had brought him to the edge of the valley, and the peak of Celeste Mountain, the closest intact peak of the range that had once stretched unbroken before some ancient calamity had gouged the Moonlit Vale into the planet. The ruins of the temple he was aiming for stood silhouetted against the eerie light of the moon—as did the forest of wooden stakes, pulleys, levers and wheels of the device he’d constructed between the crumbling stone.

Ro-Shanon cut his connection to the moon as he sailed towards the crest of the mountain, and for a moment he sailed sedately through the air as mundane gravity reached up to ensnare him once more. His trajectory arced gracefully over the edge of the temple ruins, and he landed with practised confidence near the centre of his device. Then he gasped and sank to his knees as pain exploded throughout his body.

Stupid, stupid, STUPID!

What had he just been thinking, about a Moonlight connection being all or nothing? In releasing the connection between himself and the moon, he’d released all of it. Including the grasp he’d had on his assassin’s poison, which had kept it circulating through the outermost parts of his blood system and away from his vital organs. He grit his teeth and strained to find a connection again, fighting through the pain.

When the assassin had surprised him with her poisoned vamblade—a moonlighter’s weapon, a thin stiletto-like knife loosely attached to a vambrace and accelerated away from its owner by infusing it with a moonlight connection—the only way Ro-Shanon had avoided immediate death was by instinctively reaching inwards and infusing the poison with a moonlight connection of his own. 

The poison had shifted around his body once the connection was made, seeping through veins and capillaries as each individual molecule sought to close the distance between itself and the moon, obeying the physical laws of attraction that Ro-Shanon had set to be greater than the force of his own pumping blood. But the only way that had been possible at the time—the only way—had been because the poison had been together in the one place.

He pitched forward, his weakened knees giving out entirely and throwing him to the ground. He clawed at the broken flagstones of the once-grand temple and dragged himself a few centimetres forward, towards the nearest leg of the machine he’d been building.

Moonlighting was a magic of grace and control, bounded by the strict and unbreakable laws of nature. A moonlight connection required physical contact, it had to be maintained or increased through constant will and, once dropped, it had to be remade from scratch.

Which would be fine if the poison was still together, as it had been at the moment it entered his body. But it wasn’t. Now, that poison flowed through his blood in incalculable directions and densities, and no Moonlighter in the kingdom would have had the skill to snare each and every individual droplet before it killed them.

At least, no Moonlighter playing by the rules.

He neared the spindly wooden leg of his machine and reached around it, snapping off the clay tablet inset on its far side. Unlike the tablet he’d left on the palace balcony, this one had been properly fired.

Holding it in his hand, he flared his Moonlighting abilities and reached for the moon.

*****

Discovering the potential for certain grades of clay to pattern magnetic fields had been only the start for young Shan, the potter’s son. Years of experimentation at the wheel had taught him all manner of ways to surreptitiously explore his Moonlighting abilities—a little infusion here, and little infusion there and his ceramic creations had met unbelievable standards of finesse or sturdiness, depending on how the moon orbited relative to the wheel. But it wasn’t until the first time he’d tried levitating himself with his Moonlighting—levitating,  not flying, so he’d tried it in the safety of his workshop—that he’d discovered the breakthrough which had taken him from being a master of clay to the ruler of the known world.

The pots he’d infused with Moonlighting power had retained that pattern of infusion when they were fired.

He’d discovered this because, when he’d crashed into one of his shelves and instinctively lashed out with his Moonlighting senses, he’d found himself surrounded by a maelstrom of whirling pottery all leaping in his direction—towards him, and the moon hanging in the sky far behind him. The total destruction of his workshop had led him to try his next flight outdoors and. . . well, the rest was history.

In the years since the workshop incident, Ro-Shanon had perfected the art of. . . well, not infusing the clay, not like a Moonlighter would do with a blade or a stone, sending it off towards the moon at a speed dependent on the strength of the connection the Moonlighter gave it before letting it go. He was encoding clay with his Moonlighting. The pots of his workshop hadn’t retained the actual power he’d put into it—they’d been aligned to the moon, somehow. Or they remembered that they’d once been attracted there. Either way, when his Moonlight connection was dropped, it left an impression in the clay as definite as a potter’s thumbprint—and when the clay was fired, it stayed preserved that way until the next time a Moonlight connection was made through it—or another encoded clay object it touched—and it went back to operating with whatever strength it had been infused with last.

Pottery had made way for clay tablets, like the ones the older merchants still used to ratify deliveries. At first, they were more easily concealed than a jug or a chalice and later, when he’d needed to develop ever more complex systems of networking their power, he’d found this more modular design endlessly useful.

Ro-Shanon reached inwards with his Moonlighting senses. This time, holding the tablet and using that physical contact to reopen its connection to the moon, finesse was not required—it was as though two moonlighters were concentrating on sweeping his blood. It was the difference between fishing with a rod, and trawling the river with a net.

His hand throbbed as the poison gathered there, drawn towards the moon through the clay tablet. It wouldn’t last forever—but it would last long enough.

Relying on his own Moonlighting power now that the poison was contained, he snapped the clay tablet back into its housing on the machine’s leg, and staggered towards the heart of the ruins. There, each of the seventeen spindly legs of his creation joined together at their central nexus, and it was there that he planned to die.

This machine, haphazardly built alone over the course of weeks, was much closer to the early, prototype devices that had won him his first few wars than it was to the sleek, efficiently-designed masterworks that chugged in the cities of his Empire day and night. The commodification of his designs had brought them a long way from the tinkering of his workshop; modifying ballistae to shoot impossible distances, or to cut down entire flanks of an army in a scaled-up version of his assassin’s vamblades. The machines of industry produced everything from building materials to high-end luxuries and—funnily enough—pottery.

The industrialisation of Ro-Shanon’s Moonlighting technology had resulted in far greater benefits than simply making new things, too. It had given the small legion of Moonlighters he’d trained to operate his machines of death somewhere to use their skills once the Seven Kingdoms had been united. It had given them a chance, for the first time in their persecuted history, to accumulate wealth. To be indispensable. To be respected.

And in doing so, it had doomed the world to annihilation.

Ro-Shanon reached the centre of the ruins. He’d chosen this spot as the epicentre of his project due to its commanding position on the mountain—the long-dead moon worshippers who had built this place had ensured that whatever room this had once been, whether it was a ceremonial place or a throne room much like his own, it had enjoyed an unimpeded view towards the moon. Back then, the glowing pale speck would have been small in the sky. Now, the seat that Ro-Shanon had constructed had a front-row view of the end of the world.

It should have been obvious, really. Ro-Shanon had always known there was something of a two-way connection each time he relied on Moonlight to send something moonwards. He knew from his years developing weapons for his Moonlighter soldiers that the weight of the materials would affect how rapidly it could be accelerated with a Moonlighting infusion. But the objects he was infusing were so minuscule compared to the size of the moon that it had never really mattered—the moon was so massive that everything would be moved towards it, no matter how extreme his war machines became.

But when he began to develop the industrial Moonlighting machinery, he’d realised he could integrate the design with another, older piece of technology. One he had relied on since he was old enough to shape clay. The potter’s wheel. Unlike his weapons of war, whose capabilities were still restricted by their relative direction to the moon, machines in a factory needed to be static. Bolted into the floor, and cemented into the world. So he’d designed them on a wheel, which could track the moon’s position across the sky and allow them to point moonwards at every moment of the day. Uninterrupted industry. Constant production. And an unending, ever-increasing pull on the moon by a growing number of objects unyieldingly fixed in place.

He shouldn’t have been so surprised when the wise women who ran the Empire’s astrological endeavours came to him and announced that the moon was falling out of the sky.

Perhaps it was always fated to happen—perhaps, over the course of hundreds or thousands of years of Moonlighters tugging away at the distant orb, it would always have been drawn groundwards. But perhaps, with such a series of tiny tugs, the Moonlighters of the future would have had generations to plan for the Cataclysm; to amend or arrest their dependence on their Moonlighting.

Perhaps in generations—but the wise women’s calculations had given him two years. That was fourteen months ago. His solution was going to have to be a lot more dramatic.

Ro-Shanon collapsed into the chair and began connecting the ceramic tubing stored there to the various arms that ran to encircle the mountain peak. 

It had taken him months to build this, alone at the top of the world. He’d felt almost silly, sneaking into the construction yards around his city and purloining the materials he needed from the innumerable new factories being built by anyone with an idea for a product and a Moonlighter in their employ. As Emperor, he could simply have requisitioned any and all of the items he needed to construct this device. But to do so would have meant revealing the machine’s existence to the industrialists of the city—and their Moonlighters, who undoubtedly would have been tasked with ferrying the materials to the top of the mountain with the power of their Moonlighting, just as Ro-Shanon had done. Moonlighters trained by Ro-Shanon, yes—but if any of them caught an inkling of what their Emperor planned to do with this device, he wouldn’t count on whatever loyalty he’d earned by giving them back their lives. Not if they realised he was going to take that power away from them again.

His hand felt as though he’d dipped it in fire, and he realised he’d broken out in a sheen of cold sweat again. He connected the last of the ceramic tubes and slumped back into the seat. He only had to hold out a little longer.

Ideally, he would have had a few months yet. He’d planned on having the extra time to finish moving the device’s arms into position, to infusing more tablets with his Moonlighting power and positioning them so that once he’d started the process, he could step away and let it continue on its own. He’d intended to be there for his people, to lead them into the new era he was about to create just as he’d led them into this one. But the assassin’s blade had destroyed all that. If he had any hope of averting the Cataclysm, it would have to be tonight. H e wasn’t ready—his machine wasn’t ready. It was still in its early phase. He’d intended to redesign it, to strengthen it once he’d settled the arms into their proper places.

He just hoped that he’d done enough.

Ro-Shanon, Emperor of the Seven Kingdoms and ruler of the Moonlit Vale settled his royal behind into a comfortable position and pressed his palms against the clay tablets he’d inset into the arms of the chair. He closed his eyes, took a series of deep breaths, and committed to his death.

*****

It happened slowly, at first.

Ro-Shanon reached through the hundreds of clay tablets he’d networked along the arms of his device, which he’d used to dig deeper and deeper into the sides of the mountain over the past few months. Using that physical connection with the soil and rock, he infused the peak of the mountain itself with one massive, incredibly powerful Moonlight connection.

The ground rumbled beneath his machine, like the earthquakes he’d heard of in the province of Kamphir. He heard the sharp crack of breaking stone and rending earth. And finally, he felt it. The unmistakable sensation that what used to be up had now become down.

The mountain was no longer bound to the gravity of the world. It had become fully bound to the moon—and had begun falling towards it.

Ro-Shanon opened his eyes and looked over the edge of the nearest cliff. Far beyond, he saw the golden lights of the factories growing smaller and dimmer as his segment of mountain accelerated into the sky. He had no way to tell how much of the mountain he’d been able to snare—just as he had no real way to tell if parts of the mountain were coming loose as he rode it towards the moon. He could only hope that they weren’t and that the people of the valley below—those faithful, foolish people who refused to heed his call to evacuate the city—weren’t being crushed by debris raining down from the maintain.

He shook his head and cleared his thoughts. He had no time for regret. He had no time for guilt. He only had time to fly.

The mountain’s rise began to even out as the massive mountain fought against the wind and the pressure of the air. Ro-Shanon dimly remembered something his uncle had once told him about the way a ship was designed to cut through the ocean—and although the tip of the mountain was narrower than its base it was hardly in the same league of sleek, efficient design for speed.

But the mountain had an advantage that the best ocean cutter could never enjoy. It had Ro-Shanon, the greatest Moonlighter of his time, for its pilot.

He roared his defiance at the crushing wind that threatened to tear him from his seat, and forced his will through the network of clay tablets and into the mountain, doubling the strength of its connection to the moon. Then doubling it again.

It was getting harder to breathe. Ro-Shanon could barely keep his head up, and felt something pop in the small of his back. He lost his concentration on the poison sequestered in his hand, and the fire of it racing towards his heart and mind nearly overwhelmed his senses. With his vision blurry from wind and pain, he forced his gaze one last time towards the moon, and increased his speed again. The pale orb stretched from horizon to horizon. It was all he could see. An endless ocean of white. He focused all his remaining strength on increasing his speed, faster and faster and faster again.

He swooned and saw no more.

*****

From the valley, the impact of the mountain with the moon was both horrifying and wondrous.

Roused from their beds and drawn from the factories by the sound of Mount Celeste tearing itself from the ground, the citizens of the Moonlit Vale watched as the mountain shot towards the moon at increasingly ludicrous speed. Fire rent the air in front of its path, and the night was filled with a roar unlike anything heard in the history of the world.

But soon after, the flame and the sound disappeared, and the confused citizenry began to wander back inside. It had been strange, no doubt, and they wondered what it had meant but it seemed, for all intents and purposes, to have been over.

Ro-Gladius didn’t go back inside. He stayed, and watched the skies as the minutes ticked by. He looked around and saw that nearly all who remained in the city streets were Moonlighters—each wearing an expression of fear and concern. 

Ro-Gladius turned to send his family back inside, when his eldest daughter gasped and pointed to the sky. He whirled, and his breath caught in his chest.

A shadow was growing on the moon.

It started small, like a blemish on the surface. But from that point, a series of spiderweb cracks began to lattice outwards and the shadow increased in scale. In the centre of the shadow, a red glow began to flicker, which followed the fracture lines growing across its surface. Then, to the crowd’s incalculable horror, the entire moon began to split apart.

It took hours for the cataclysm to reach its zenith, and the pale white light of the moon to dim. But so it did, plunging the Moonlit Vale and the entire world into a nighttime of darkness. In the inky skies, fragments of the moon could be seen glowing red, colliding with one another and exploding into smaller and smaller shards as they raced each other across the sky.

It wasn’t until months later that the fragments began to fall, lighting up the now eerily-darkened night with flashes of fire, and raining new horror on to the world. It wasn’t the cataclysm they had all feared, however—so great had been the impact when Ro-Shanon rode the mountain, that the trajectory of many of the large fragments had been turned from their murderous path, and now skipped off each other in the heavens, sending themselves farther or closer, but avoiding the fall. 

The ones that did fall brought devastation with them. But it was a devastation that some would survive—that some could survive, where before there had been only doom.

And though Ro-Shanon had no way to know it, he would have accepted that it was enough.