Ancient when the world was still young, the zikkuract was a weathered step pyramid made of black basalt blocks hewn by hands far greater than those of mere humans. A simple ziggurat of it's dimensions would take a priest-king's slave army generations to finish. Yet the fact of it's existence is a shadow of the great wonder that exists today. After a dream sent to them by the gods, the hierophants placed at the capstone a starstone block enchanted by ritual and invoked ancient, incomprehensible powers causing mirrors to smoulder and shadows to run like ink. When libation was made, dark shapes loomed amid the congregation for an instant, plucking the faithless out in an eye-blink leaving only a few drops of blood on their neighbour. The ziggurat trembled and for a moment, all was as blood. Then everything was back, and everything had changed..
The apex of the ziggurat was plunged into shadow yet shafts of light came from each side and from above. These illuminated dark basalt walls and a ceiling yet each wall and the ceiling had a stair sunken into it, leading away. The stair in the ceiling was almost a mirror of the apex of the ziggurat. A hierophant realised that the walls and ceiling were in fact the apex of another ziggurat. Curious he touched one of the walls and found himself lying on it, when he stood up, he was perpendicular to the wall and parallel to the apex where his fellow worshippers watched in awe. He moved from one wall to the next, as he touched them his body fell to the new floor. Finally he walked up to the edge of the ceiling and touched it, then he stood up on it and hailed his peers from above them, his hair and robes unperturbed though he was seemingly upside down. The hierophants named the phenomenon zikkuract, blending the ancient name for ziggurat with an arcane term for a shape that exists in many places.
On his return, warrior-slaves were dispatched to investigate each of the walls and the ceiling. When the priest-king and the hierophants left they saw the basalt block atop the ziggurat and marvelled. Scholars were sent with them and reported that the hierophant was correct - each wall was the apex of another ziggurat and that the stairs led to different places. The northern wall revealed an icy ruined city amid tundra where the air was thin and three moons hung in the sky. The eastern wall revealed an abandoned city in a bright desert lit by two suns that punished any warrior clad in metal. The southern wall revealed a creeper-choked ruin in a lush jungle under a green-tinged sun. The western wall revealed a lone black ziggurat on a basalt causeway over wine-dark seas. The ceiling led to a great city with a smoking sun overhead and the horizon curving upward in every direction. Each of the ziggurats now appeared to have a great basalt block atop it forcing anyone seeking entrance to use the stairway.
The priest-king ordered further exploration. He realised these places could make his kingdom wealthy and make him great. The hierophants warned of dangers from the other places yet the priest-king knew that if he did not explore, when word of this wonder spread then his enemies would seek to conquer him. He would call for heroes to explore these places, sending soldiers and scholars to claim these lands and envoys to treat with any ruler who they found. The priest-king and hierophants decreed only the worthy would be chosen and this led to much intrigue. Spies for other priest-kings reported great activity at the site of an ancient ruin where a black basalt block had impossibly appeared atop an ancient ziggurat. Soldiers and scholars were travelling in and out of the ziggurat. This was a matter of great import for the other priest-kings who sought to know why the gods had chosen this priest-king for favour?
(inspired by this post by Planet Algol who is hitting them out the park at the moment).