Of all the many crimes of the Third Age perhaps the worst was the Moonburn. As we all know, back in the First Wane, Dara-Ni was refuge for the River People and the Dara Happan refugees (fleeing from the collapse of the Dara Happan Rebellion). Dara-Ni held a firm alliance with the elves of Rist and the barbarians of Sylila.
And so, in 1/44 (1291), the Emperor ordered a Moonburn begun, modeled on the earlier Char-un event (the Skyburn). The different forms of Lunar magic required five years to complete the spell, and allowed the defenders to prepare some countermagics as well, which dampened the final effect in comparison to the original Skyburn. Many portions of the land were untouched.
The elves of Rist, caught without allies and in open ground by the Lunar Army, were killed or forced to leave their native land. They kept their old centers which survived, but most of the race abandoned their roots and moved into haunted Dorastor.
Lunar colonies were planted at Rist, and warfare against Dara-ni continued.
It is feared that the elves have not forgotten the Moonburn.
Rist had an area of approximately 6200 square km, so more than 6 times the area of the lands claimed by the Colymar Tribe. Although some of the groves survived because of elf defensive magic, this was still destruction on an incredible scale. Let’s put aside the tens of thousands of sentient beings that died horribly – this was also vast physical devastation of trees, animals, and you name it.
Runners up for the worst crime are: First Battle of Chaos and the Skyburn. Those early Lunars knew how to make an omelet!
The Skyburn and Moonburn were certainly horrible crimes. The First Battle of Chaos seems like a fairly normal violent ancient battle. Why do you rate it as such a “crime”?
On the third day, the Lunar forces stood desperately on the defensive while the Inner Circle magicians finished their long search for the Goddess. The army formed into a large square atop a hill, where the exhausted magicians and the horseless Char-un took refuge. The Carmanian commander threw his infantry against the fortified position and managed to breach it with his own leadership and magic. The Char-un reserves fought poorly on foot, and the Carmanian cataphracts had reached the sacred Lunar band and even slain two of the Mothers before the search was completed and the Red Goddess appeared.
She came riding atop the demon known as the Crimson Bat. This was a creature from Chaos itself, with unearthly powers and abilities even when constrained to the Middle World. Never before had a mortal exhibited such control over a Chaos creature, but the Carmanians were not heir to such knowledge. The Goddess rode among them, spreading appalling death wherever she went, and driving many mad who were unable to defend themselves against the mind-warping properties of this Chaos influence. The sad survivors of this fight wandered madly off in a group, and roamed the countryside for generations as a dangerous band of crazed and semi-chaotic marauders known as the Mad Sultanate.
The Carmanians who managed to escape went home with tales of Lunar evil, and in their way of thought saw that as Truth. Proof was easy to present, and the Carmanian Empire began girding itself and seeking allies against this force in the world that flaunted its power over abomination and evil. Nations and peoples who had previously stayed neutral in the war quickly joined the Carmanians in their fight against the Lunar Queendom. This fanatical and unthinking hatred and psychic fear of the Lunar potential would plague the Empire for all of its centuries of existence.
Glorantha Sourcebook, The Battle of Chaos, page 155
The Lunars unleashed for the first time ever the Crimson Bat. Thousands were driven permanently mad, turning on friend and foe alike, and a Chaos horror for the first time ever was controlled by a mortal.
There’s nothing like this – even Tainan’s Victory in its hubris still worked within the laws of the cosmos. The Red Goddess went outside of that and brought something from “outside.”
And everyone recognized this changed things. Nations and peoples who previously stayed neutral or even sympathised with the Lunars joined the Carmanians. Their Dara Happan allies were horrified and would rebel in a generation.
The Lunars survived this because the power they unleashed was POWERFUL. No doubt about it. So powerful that within a few years the Red Goddess was able to beat the representatives of the Old Gods into submission at Castle Blue and force the Old Gods to acknowledge her existence. That’s big time power. And nothing ameliorates war crimes like complete victory.
But virtually every Gloranthan not a follower of the Lunar Way would still call the summoning of the Crimson Bat a crime against the cosmos. Not just Orlanthi and Praxians, but the Elder Races, Pentans, Malkioni, you name it. But thanks in large part to the Crimson Bat, the Lunar Empire is powerful enough to outlast that outrage and survive. And because it survives, you have to deal with the Lunar Way.
And what of those who loved Her? They had looked too, yet they saw only their radiant goddess, hovering there upon the back of a hummingbird, with Her extended hand bestowing blessing and healing. Those dead worshippers in the tent saw Her with their dead eyes, and they sat up, healed, and they joined in the song of praise and love that Teelo Norri was singing. Out of that canopy, beautiful music swelled, and men and women who had been struggling a moment before were filled with joy. They raised their weapons and sang as well, and watched as an army which had been trampling upon them a moment before all dropped their weapons and ran, if they did not fall dead.
I am not entirely sure that is actually what people at the time truly saw. Just as I am pretty sure that Mesoamericans did not see the blood gushing out from wounds gained in war as flowers (icniuhxóchitl).
But I am sure that is how the Lunars of the Seventh Wane describe it. And perhaps it is how modern Red Goddess initiates see it when they see Jar-eel riding the Crimson Bat.
I am not sure that the followers of the new Goddess who is Mortal saw that when the newly deified Red Goddess emerged from Hell riding the Chaos demon called the Crimson Bat. I suspect for most of them it was a d100 SAN loss experience.
As an aside, don’t get me wrong. The Lunar Heartlands are a great place to live. The Lunar Heartlands are an orderly, well-governed place, where famine, wars and banditry are rare, and where there is a high amount tolerance for heterodoxy and different religions. I for one would certainly prefer the Red Emperor’s rule to the Bull Shahs or Sheng Seleris if I was an ordinary person.
But that peace and prosperity is built on a foundation of Chaos, war, and nightmares. That’s one of many contradictions the Lunar Way embraces. Good Lunars accept that – but it is also perfectly reasonable for others to hate it with a passion.
Like with the God Learners and the EWF, the Red Goddess directly challenged the Old Gods. As before, the powers of the Old Gods struck back and tried to destroy the nascent Lunars. But unlike the God Learners and the EWF, the Red Goddess was able to defeat the Old Gods at the Battle of Castle Blue and forced them to accept her existence.
To me this is a really remarkable difference the Lunar Empire has with hubris-doomed predecessors like the Broken Council, the God Learners, the EWF, etc. – the Red Goddess succeeded where all others failed. She did successfully transform Glorantha.
Why was the Moonburn was worse than the Skyburn?
Skyburn was awful, but it was at least within the normal cosmic structure (Sun is fiery after all). But the Moon is not a source of fire – I personally always imagined it as being something like the Thread from the Dragonriders of Pern – so it was not only genocidal (as was the Skyburn) but it also breached the laws of the cosmos.
But Skyburn and Moonburn were both awful genocidal rituals. And both done to destroy elf forests and give their lands to humans.