History 03: The Awakening of the Gods

Vrin gih Dha’s rise to power set many events in motion, but none more world-shaking than the appearance of five new gods.  Though their cults began in five disparate places, all originated in centers of human community within the wider territories of the skinchangers and beast-folk.  Thus they were considered the humans’ gods—to either have spawned from humanity or been awakened by humanity’s presence.

Some of their names have been lost to time, or else withheld from the start due to the gods’ own secrecy, but it is known that the first to rise was the northernmost: the entity that called itself the Rule of Law.  It—or he, as Law was often considered—first manifested on the plainsland north of the Danarine wetlands, where the ogres’ farm-slaves and servants had toiled to feed their masters’ empire.  Legend claims that he rose from the depths of a lake that had been muddied and bloodied almost to destruction by the human-ogrish war, and in his wake all the armor and weapons of the fallen combatants rose as well, to move as his phantom honor guard.

Alarmed, the humans of the nearby villages attempted to stand against him, but he and his armors did not fight them; they simply began repairing the buildings and streets that the previous conflict had destroyed.  As the angriest of the humans had left to pursue the ogres into the north, those left behind soon calmed and joined in the repair efforts, some even daring to speak with Rule of Law despite the fact that his manifestation was a fifteen-foot tall metal statue of only vaguely human features.

Law never proselytized.  His purpose, as he explained to those who asked, was to see that the moral order of the world was kept, and that human law and civilization were respected.  To that end, his phantom guards defended the recuperating villages from attacks by bandits and beast-folk, aided in repairs and public works, assisted citizens in setting up their newly independent government, and recommended a strict code of law.  He did not force it; by his words, he made suggestions only to help expunge the ogres’ tainted view of law, and while the humans argued over what should be a crime and what should not, Law and his minions enforced only those dictates that had been firmly decided.

But this was also Vrin gih Dha’s territory; her acolytes and her children had spread the word of her deeds throughout the north, and many chose to revere her for her protective visions.  Some of these followers were angered by another entity showing up to claim authority over the population.  Vrin gih Dha, however, had no interest in such things as rulership or lawmaking, and she foresaw no ill to come from Law’s influence—though much abuse would be visited upon him and his followers for their strict adherence to their code.  Additionally, Law and his followers aided hers in convincing the human armies to cease their pursuit of the ogres, so she came to think of him as a friend and ally, even if he considered her more coolly.

On the other side of the Danarine wetlands, though, a less-friendly entity arose.  Loahravi, who would come to be called the Blood Goddess, swept across the Danarine Inner Sea from the west at the head of a horde of beastfolk and rebel humans she had already claimed as her own.  They set to pillaging and burning the wetland cities and those of the drier lands to the south as if determined to cut Vrin gih Dha’s worshiper-base out from beneath her before it could solidify.  Vrin gih Dha’s people were forced away from the sea, toward the wraith-controlled forests and the Varaku Tableland, but between Vrin gih Dha’s warning visions, her outreach to Varaku’s spirits and the occasional support of Law, the Blood Goddess was warded off.

Loahravi and her forces fell back to the lands southwest of the Danarine Sea to fortify their own enclaves and prepare for further war.  According to those in service to her, Loahravi had arisen during a wild storm, when lightning shattered one of the western stony hills to reveal a deep chasm.  She had emerged from that chasm—a titanic female figure coated in red ochre and possessed of a berserk fury–and had fallen upon the shabby encampments of beast-folk and humans, sweeping them into her wake with promises of vengeance upon all who had harmed them.  The wraiths that had slain the beast-folk’s spirits, the ogres that had enslaved and exiled the rebels, the civilized humans who prospered while these wild ones suffered.

Unlike Law, Loahravi demanded complete control over those who served her, and designated warlords by whim, often making them fight for her pleasure.  Those humans who disliked living under Law’s enforcement soon found their way south to Loahravi’s tribes, and the continued raiding of Law’s and Vrin gih Dha’s settlements and caravans kept the warlike hordes busy—and fed.  As they spread further south into the stony hills and warm lowlands, they conquered and subjugated more humans, preyfolk and beast tribes that had previously lived untroubled by the ogres’ reign.

Concurrently, three more deities revealed themselves.  The furthest and least-combative was Surou, called the Dreamer, who rose from the waters at the far south-eastern edge of the known world where the low valleys of the lizard- and heron-people broke away into soft islands.  Humans had only recently emerged there, and were fumbling to find their place among the skinchangers.  Surou—an ever-shifting figure of water and scales, flowers and gemstones, eyes and teeth–gave them direction rooted in beauty and inspiration.  Isolated from the rest of humanity by the southern lizard empire, for a long time the followers of Surou were free to pursue his ideals untroubled.

To the northwest of the barrier-lizards that separated Surou’s territory from the rest of humanity, and south of both Loahravi’s and Vrin gih Dha’s lands, the fourth newcomer emerged from the desert at the belt of the world to declare herself the Lady of Knowledge.  A golden-eyed figure of misty shrouds and sandstone skin, she summoned the hill-dwellers and herdsmen down from the scrubby heights to the banks of the great rivers that they had fled when the ogres, and then the lizard-folk, had pushed through their territory.  Protected for the moment by the internal warfare that kept the lizard-empire self-involved, the people of Knowledge began to build and innovate, fortify and explore, experiment and accumulate wealth and information.

By the time the lizard-empire and Loahravi’s people noticed them, Knowledge’s folk had already established ties with Vrin gih Dha’s and Law’s servants, and were aiding the local beast- and skinchanger tribes in developing their own lands and resources—as well as cultivating relations with a mysterious group of desert-dwellers called the Nythalla, who wielded great magic.  The Lady of Knowledge encouraged such study among her own people, and since Law and Vrin gih Dha both frowned on arcane magic, Knowledge’s land became a haven for many who wished to learn such arts.

Finally, among the thick forests and dry plateaus east of Loahravi’s land, a sudden massive sinkhole released the fifth self-named deity into the world.  Emerging into territory controlled by jackal-like skinchangers, it—or, usually, she—adapted to their furred appearance before seducing and devouring their beast spirit, therefore binding the entire race to herself.  Known to them as Death, she proceeded to lead her new minions against Loahravi’s infringing forces, meanwhile sending emissaries to all the spiritless beast-folk and fringe human communities to attain more worshipers.  Once she gained human converts, those were sent to infiltrate more strongly-human communities, until Death had seeded her cultists far and wide and could therefore manifest wherever she liked.

Not a vicious reaver like Loahravi, Death nevertheless sought to spread her presence everywhere—for if they would not worship her, they would at least acknowledge her.  In Law’s and Knowledge’s land, she sent storytellers to spin tales of her glorious realm beyond the barrier of death, of her gift of eternal life to those who served her faithfully, and of her relentless presence beyond the veil of mortality—inescapable even to the gods.  To further insinuate herself throughout the world, she shifted her form when she visited distant places, changing from white-furred red-eyed jackal-creature to black-haired, ruby-lipped human, to albino ogress, to great black cat with bloody pawprints.

This slow but non-confrontational tactic paid off over long millennia, as humans and beast-folk alike spread her stories and began to believe them as truth.  At first, she had power merely among the jackal-folk she had first conquered, and while she enjoyed their sacrifices and the increasingly twisted reigns of their long-lived priestess-queens, her territory was minimal compared to that claimed by the others.  However, as empires rose and fell, as kingdoms fractured and cities gained independence, as the boundaries of each god’s territory were dispersed by setbacks and diasporas and migrations, Death’s influence grew—for everyone know that she waited for them, no matter who else they worshiped, and if they worshiped none at all, then she was their final judgment.

Bit by bit, Death invaded the world.

Two human population-centers remained unclaimed by a god, though not for lack of trying.  In the ultimate south, from which the ogres had originated and where migrant bands of ogres still lived, was the lizard-empire, with its own stable of mixed-blood humans.  The worship of Kuumgara the Lizard, the elemental dragons and the Great Spirits was too strong for any other deity to breach, however, and for long ages the humans of the south retained their native ways.

Likewise in the far northeast, the Heartlands disdained any infiltration by so-called deities, including Vrin gih Dha.  The northeastern ogre civilization lingered there long after the northwestern one had been eradicated, and worship of the beast-spirits and elementals remained a central tenet of Heartlands life, to the exclusion of all foreign gods.  Even when the ogres were exiled, the eastern humans retained their beast-tribe affiliations far more firmly than the westerners, and no god gained a foothold for a long, long time.

As uneasy as Vrin gih Dha was with the sudden company, the beast-spirits and greater elementals were even more perturbed.  They did not know where these sudden interlopers had come from, though many suspected that they were shards of the Dark that had fallen to Halci during one of the bombardments by the Dark creatures beyond the Chain of Ydgys.  Because of this, a delegation of beast-spirits called out to the three powers they had grown accustomed to—Light, Moon-Shadow and Kherus Morgwi—and asked for their aid.

Light demurred from direct action; as the Halion system’s sun, he dared not interfere without risking the wholesale destruction of the world.  Likewise, Moon-Shadow feared to reach so far from the safety of her moon, since overextending herself could lead to her accidental destruction by Light’s rays.  Kherus Morgwi, however, was all for meddling, and managed to convince both Light and Moon-Shadow to separate a small part of their essence to aid him.  Light’s shard manifested as Iroliyale the Traveler, a radiant and friendly young man who devoted himself to ensuring the safety of daytime travelers; Moon-Shadow’s became Tatska the Night Wind, a mysterious maiden who watched over migrants in the dark.

Kherus Morgwi, meanwhile, tried to organize his children into something resembling a religion, but they were too scattered across the world—for when Light and Moon-Shadow had begun courting, Morgwi had turned his attention to the humans, but could not seem to stay with just one woman or in just one city, just one kingdom, just one continent.  He wanted to be everywhere, yet that had spread his influence too thin.

The solution came from one of the beast-spirits: Kosh Tenkosh, the Weaver at the Heart of All.  She offered to construct a realm full of pathways that would connect all of the world’s shadows together, giving Morgwi’s children a realm of their own and an easy way to reach each other at a moment’s notice.  In return, she required that he respect her own children and those of her mate, Riskili the Scorpion, and shelter them whenever they required it.  Morgwi was only too happy to oblige.

Thus Kosh Tenkosh spun the Shadow Realm from her silk, with strands stretching from shadow to shadow all across the world and a great mass at the center of the realm that would come to be called Oretcht’ke, the City and Spindle.  Few in later ages would know that beneath the streets of that hollow-world city lay Kosh Tenkosh’s own cocoon, or that her spidery children maintained the pathways and traveled back and forth between the shadows just as easily as Morgwi’s kin.

And so Kherus Morgwi began assembling his own children to keep an eye on—and, if necessary, counteract—the plotting of the new gods.  They became known as the Shadow Folk or the Kheri, more a family business than a religion, with tendrils in every city and town and relatives wherever Morgwi sowed his seed.  Immediately they found themselves on Law’s bad side, and hunted by Death’s and Loahravi’s cultists, but the people of Knowledge and Surou and Vrin gih Dha all found them useful, and their business thrived.

And when Kherus Morgwi realized the trick Death was trying to pull on humanity, he whispered one of his own: that Death needed to know your name before she could take you.  The Lady of Knowledge inscribed that rule into one of her books of magic and called upon Law to empower it, and though Law disliked anything to do with Kherus Morgwi, he too wanted Death’s influence limited.  He agreed.  Between the three of them, with Light and Moon-Shadow as witnesses, they impressed that rule into the very fabric of the world: that no god could claim you if they did not know your name, no matter who tried to sacrifice you to them.

The first souls to fall free because of this rule were caught by Kosh Tenkosh’s spirit-spiders and pulled into the Shadow Realm for safekeeping.  As time went by, rumor changed the rule to mean that unnamed children could not be taken by Death, so it became common for parents to leave their children without names until the first or second or even third birthday.  Children who nevertheless died during that time were taken in by the spiders, but such malleable little souls adapted to the Shadow Realm and their spider-protectors too quickly, and rather than being bound up in the cocoon, began to roam the realm on their own.

They would become known as eiyets: greedy scraps of shadow that could aggregate into huge, furious, tantrumy masses or scatter into giggling shards.  Over time, they learned to peek out from the shadowpaths just as Morgwi’s children and Kosh Tenkosh’s spiders did, and began to both filch anything fun-looking from shops and homes, and to protect living children from harm—often violently.  Eventually the Shadow Folk would find themselves cleaning up after eiyets more often than they tangled with enemy faiths.

But not yet.  The age of godswars had just begun.


Next: The Cult Wars and the Gods’ Pact

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About H. Anthe Davis

Worldbuilder. Self-published writer.
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