From about 450 ST to 740 ST area now known as Safelster was part of a political entity that called itself the Autarchy or the Empire of Peace, but was known by outsiders as the Stygian Empire or Arkat’s Dark Empire. Despite the passage of some nine centuries, Safelster is still haunted by the ghosts of Arkat’s empire and the question of Arkat still drives theological and political conflict.
1. Was Arkat a superhero whose secrets are the key to religious insight, magical power, and unity? Sounds right to me, but what are those secrets – the God Learners sealed Arkat off and nobody has been able to contact him in nine centuries. So which secrets? Arkat was a Brithini, a Hrestoli, a Lightbringer, a Troll, and some even say a Chaos monster. Many groups claim to know the real secrets or at least the most important ones. But all these stories, all these esoteric truths, they all contradict each other.
2. Well maybe we just need to find a descendant of Arkat, give him Arkat’s stuff and let him sort it out. But Arkat ascended eleven centuries ago. Who knows who his children were, and let alone their descendants? Maybe by now that includes almost everyone!
3. Maybe Arkat’s secrets are lost to humanity. But the trolls served him and were his enforcers. Maybe we can just pay the trolls to rule over us and keep the peace. We just need to feed them and accept being ruled by monstrous nonhumans who are accompanied by demons, shades, and plagues of insects. Who eat humans.
4. Hey, I’ve reconsidered. Maybe Arkat was a monster, driven to betray even humanity in his war against Gbaji (who admittedly was even worse)? Then the Rokari are your team. The main Rokari power is Tanisor, formerly the very center of the Autarchy. The King of Tanisor wears the Serpent Crown of Seshnela and plans to conquer and rule all of Safelster! Huzzah!
5. Wait, the King of Tanisor is a big fat jerk! Can I have another option? Sure:
a. let Argin Terror loose and we don’t have to worry about any of this theoretical nonsense! One the Son of the Devil can free himself of the spirit of his mother, he’ll conquer everything and we’ll live in a realm of Nightmares. But at least no politics!
b. OK, Argin Terror sucks. There’s a lot of Orlanthi tribes to the north. They say let Arkat be Arkat and that we should just make new heroes that do their own thing. We have no idea what new powers those heroes will wield, what those heroes will do, and whether they are great or terrible, but just roll with it. Its inevitable anyways, what with the Red Moon in the sky, the Dragon that tried to eat it, and so just let the Hero Wars rip!
c. We can go way back to before Arkat. Back when we rode ponies and live in harmony with the horse herds. The Horse Queen led us, and we were all happy, brushing the shiny manes of our ponies or something. OK that’s not really practical for 3 million people and far fewer horses than that, but boy that Horse Queen was glamorous!
Maybe we need to look at Arkat again?
Arkat was the devil – the great betrayer. Rather than be ruled by the Bright Empire he devastated and nearly destroyed the world. He betrayed Orlanth, then Humakt to join Zorak Zoran. He turned beautiful Dorastor into a ghastly waste and left a trail of ruin behind him. Yes, all true. But Arkat defeated Gbaji, whose so-called Bright Empire brought death, disease, suffering, war, and plague to everything it touched. People became vampires, sacrificed to the Lords of Terror, willingly embraced Chaos, and did a lot of even more terrible things. And that is also true.
The riddle of Arkat defies easy answer. Just when you think you have it answered, it finds a way to turn itself around.
More than anything it was pondering the riddle of Arkat back in the days of Cults of Terror that sold me on Glorantha as being the peak of fantasy literature. As they say, his riddle defies easy answers. It is perhaps best approached as a personal Rorschach test for the reader – as your answer says more about you than it does about Arkat.