The arena’s architecture was magnificent, and like everything else in Ur, it was entirely coaxed. Trees and other plants had been encouraged to grow in the proper shapes, and far more quickly than their usual glacial pace. The old arena, abandoned, was already rotting away and would soon be noting but another load of mulch-soil for the farms.

Beneath a canopy of leaves overhead, the spectators watched as Neith was dragged out on a travois borne behind a grunting aurochs, the lashes of her recent imprisonment still fresh on her skin. Above, Iry looked down upon her smugly, clad in the robes of the high priest rather than his usual kingly garb. Duanna was beside him, draped in a queen’s raiment that had not even been resided to fit her yet.

“Behold, how the mighty are brought low before the eyes of Asiku,” Iry proclaimed, his deep voice easily resonating to the assembled people of his capital. “For her crimes against Asiku, against I, his priest, and against this city of Ur, which I rule, the one known as Neith will be executed here this day by Asiku himself!”

On Neith’s right, a coaxer stepped forward. He planted a small seedling, gently scooping the arena earth over its fragile roots. Then, retrieving a wooden container from the travois, he emptied its cargo of sticky pitch all over Neith–completely covering her in flammable liquid.

“When the execution plant reaches its zenith and grows its amber lens, immolation shall follow at the hands of Asiku and his mighty sun!” Iry looked down at Neith. “If the condemned wishes to speak, she may do so,” he added, indifferently.

Neith pursed her lips; a slight bubbling of the pitch was her only response.

“So be it.”

By now, the execution plant had developed its first leaves, and the amber lens that would focus the light–a modified fruit–had already begun to bud. But just as the first rays of focused light played across Neith, bringing a small bit of pitch on her shoulder to a near-boil, the sun was abruptly blotted out.

Iry’s satisfied grin turned to doubt as he, and everyone else, looked skyward.

A towering dust storm, the color of night, loomed on the horizon. The bitter fruit of Ur’s long depletion of its soils had bloomed, and it blossomed into destruction.

As the first stinging, lashing particles blew into the arena, and the crowd fled in terror, blinded and choking, Neith simply closed her eyes, let the now-cool pitch slide over them, and rode out the storm.

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