History 04: The Cult Wars and the Gods’ Pact

Death’s offer of an afterlife—the first of its kind—helped spread her worship throughout the known world.  Likewise, Vrin gih Dha’s healers and seers found their followings everywhere, and the Lady of Knowledge’s teachers and scribes were employed by courts within and beyond the Lady’s lands.  Rule of Law found his knights often rebuffed from the neighboring empires lest they try to impose their tenets on the emperors, but sometimes they gained a foothold among the common folk displeased with their rulers’ sense of justice.  The same could be said for Loahravi’s bloodthirsty cultists; within all civilizations dwelt militants and malcontents, and her followers whispered to them of blood and glory, trying to urge them against their too-soft gods.

It did not take long for such infiltration to spark civil wars.

The age was already a restless, transitional one.  With the ogres gone, humans no longer had masters.  The wraiths—particularly Kuthrallan Vanyaris, though he had been joined by other miscreants—were quietly sowing discord through the introduction of arcane magic.  The gods had risen from the earth and were drawing followers to themselves en masse, breaking apart traditional tribal affiliations and stirring up conflict by the insertion of new ideas.  Future, destiny, afterlife, moral law, utter freedom: the polarizing appeal of the new gods tore at the fabric of humanity before it could fully be woven.

What followed were several dark millennia where borders shifted constantly, dynasties rose and fell as if in the blink of an eye, and cities, kingdoms and even empires were cannibalized from within by the forces of their enemy gods.  Death made war upon Loahravi, Loahravi upon Law and Knowledge, Law often against the Shadow God Morgwi, Knowledge ever seeking to undermine Death.  Frequently these conflicts escalated from the human level to the godly, with the deities themselves appearing on the battlefield to wreak havoc against the enemy line, or against each other.  Entire cities were laid waste by such battles, when they erupted from the action of a cult enclave upon the rest of the city or by the civil war between two temples, when the city ruler was foolish enough to allow temples to two oppositional gods to be built within the walls.

Through it all, common folk struggled to feed themselves, to farm the land and herd their beasts, to protect their families from the ravages of the cult infighting.  Vrin gih Dha was the only deity to stand aside from the struggles and safeguard those people.  Anyone of any faith who asked for her aid would receive it, and through magic gleaned from the Lady of Knowledge and from her own searching visions, Vrin gih Dha learned how to create wards that would discern motive and protect the blessed from those who meant them harm.  While the other gods increasingly became deities of warfare, she remained the goddess of home, family and shelter.  Even when she let her ‘territory’ be divided between Law and Knowledge so that it could be fortified, her following—though meek and often enslaved or made subordinate to others—became the backbone of the human lands.

The full roster of petty kingdoms, proto-empires and city-states that rose and fell during those tumultuous times will never be known.  Borders that had been cleanly drawn upon the gods’ first arrival became a patchwork of conquered and lost holdings, and many smouldering ruins and blood-soaked battlefields were reclaimed by forest or smothered by sand, never to be uncovered.

As a whole, humans expanded their territory deeper into the tribal skinchanger lands, pressing on the borders of the lizard-empire in the south and the Heartlands spiritists in the northeast.  When they pushed into the wild lands of the northwest, they were violently rebuffed by the skinchangers and wraiths of the Border Forest—including Darcaniel the Hunter, the wraith captain who had integrated his stellar people with the terrestrial natives.  Law and Loahravi both made incursions against the Border Forest, but all were rebuffed—even those spearheaded by the gods themselves, for the Border folk did not respond to force with force but preferred to lure their enemies into the dense thickets, divide them, then slaughter them at leisure.  Neither war-god was equipped for such conflict.

But not everything was a dead-end or a tug-of-war.  Loahravi made great in-roads among the ogres exiled to the north, particularly those driven from the Heartlands.  Disgruntled with their spirit Oega’s lassitude and general indifference to their plight, those ogres pledged themselves to Loahravi and became raiders who wreaked havoc throughout the Heartlands.

On the other hand, the ogres of the Danarine swamps, who had been forced north through the Pinch into the land that would become Gejara, were equally miffed by their exile but had been adopted by the humans there.  They ceased to venerate Oega as anything more than an ancestor, but Loahravi found no foothold among them; instead, the worship of Knowledge took root as they tried to adapt to their new environment and neighbors.  Further influence came from Ylwain the Observer, the wraith who had separated from his kin so that he could study the spirits.  Having seen Kuthrallan’s work in teaching humans magic, Ylwain decided to slip some instruction to the ogres and Gejarans himself—his own less explosive, more communal variety of arcane manipulation.  This act founded the Gejaran ‘collaborative’ school of magic, which would exist in opposition to the ‘visceral’ Kuthrallan school and the ‘cerebral’ southern school for millennia to come.

Loahravi, deciding that the wraiths and their magic were as much a threat to her as the other gods, attempted to assemble her own cadre of human mages.  They came almost exclusively from the ‘visceral’ type, and though Kuthrallan found Loahravi’s attempts to understand and harness mages on the battlefield to be hilarious, his wraithly lieutenants did not feel the same.  One, a haelhene named Daenivar, made it his business to kill any mage who switched allegiance from the wraiths to Loahravi, and when she manifested on a battlefield to swat him away from her newly-minted combat-mages, he attacked her directly.

She ate him.

It was the first time that a wraith had interacted with a god, and even Kuthrallan was shocked by the outcome—especially when Loahravi grimaced with indigestion, reached into her own substance and tore a transformed Daenivar from her own gut.  No longer was the uppity wraith a free creature; he had been severed from his connection to the wraiths’ crystal-ships and bound instead to Loahravi, and she declared him her son and lieutenant.  Now a demigod, Daenivar began a vicious campaign against his former people, trying to force the other wraiths to worship him and, through him, his ‘mother’.

Whereas the Ravager spirit had eaten wraiths before, and integrated them into its substance and memories, this complete transformation of a wraith into a godslave terrified the haelhene.  Though Loahravi tried to hunt them down in order to consume and convert more, none moved against Loahravi again.  Even the White Isle adjusted its position to avoid her.

Not content with just one toy, Loahravi turned her attention to her other servitors, but though she ate hundreds of human warlords, none of them stuck in her craw like Daenivar had.  Finally she turned her attention to her ogrish following and commanded them to fight each other in her honor, so that she could eat the victor and hopefully spawn a new ‘son’.  A warlord named Rhehevrok emerged victorious, and upon ingestion he too refused to be digested.  Loahravi removed him from herself and set him to raping and pillaging in her name.

Death, meanwhile, had taken to luring champions to her cause with the promise of eternal life, or else capturing and sacrificing them to herself so that she could own their souls.  When she encountered ‘cerebral’-type southern mages and found that they had learned to chain elementals to their will–and could even summon them from the raw elements–she authorized the creation of her own mage squads: necromancers given the power to reach into her realm and call up the souls she had claimed to do their bidding.

These necromancers soon became the scourge of the land, for while some ingratiated themselves with the common people by conjuring up lost loved ones, others raised Death’s horde inside the cities of her enemies and brought to an end those regimes which displeased her.  Necromantic practices soon escaped the bounds of her faithful, though, giving rise to necromancer-against-necromancer warfare as Death’s servants fought Loahravi’s and Knowledge’s for control of conjured souls.  Nevertheless, Death’s dirty tricks and those of her servitors eventually netted her a stable of dead heroes whom she could summon at will: the Unseen.

But perhaps the greatest permanent gain belonged to the Lady of Knowledge.  Her prior great work—the limiting of the gods’ powers over souls—inspired her to experiment with what other rules she could impress upon the reality of Halci, and what other secrets she could glean from the world.  She had already compiled a monumental grimoire of all known Halion magic, but as this was an age of rapid change, that tome had to be expanded and edited every day with all the reports her followers brought to her.  By researching the energy that had surged between herself, Law, and Kherus Morgwi during their limiting of Death’s influence, she discovered a way to bind her grimoire to the essence of the world, so that any magic-use would automatically be recorded therein.

The grimoire had limitations, of course.  It could show the incident, the type of magic and the coordinates, but not the context.  Nor was it a spellbook; it captured the world’s memory of the act but none of the training or mindset required to reproduce it.  Nevertheless, Knowledge was thrilled with it, as it would free her from factual recording and allow her and her followers to concentrate on research and application.

In short order, then, Knowledge developed three other grimoires and bound them all to the essence of the world.  The original became known as the Red Grimoire, the Book of Magic; the next, Blue, was the book of sentients and recorded the details of every race, subrace, tribe and lineage from the moment the grimoire was created—minus personal names.  Even Knowledge could not get around her own rule.  The third Grimoire, Green, was the Book of Nature, which collected details on every non-sentient life-form past or present; the fourth, Grey, recorded history as it happened in all places at once.

Her fifth grimoire began to bring her trouble.  The other gods had been displeased by the creation of the Red Grimoire, but none could stop her, and she taught from the Grimoires for the benefit of any who asked.  With the fifth, however, she began to delve into the business of her fellow gods.  Called the Violet, it was the Book of Dreams, and tapped into the realm of the reclusive god Surou, who had quietly slipped his fingers into the collective unconscious of Halci.  Surou did not seem inclined to make trouble; as far as Knowledge could tell, he was more interested in observing mortal dreams than altering them, though he sometimes visited inspiration upon a dreamer for good or ill.  Nevertheless, she did not trust him and his isolationist behavior, and so the Violet Grimoire recorded the dreams of all sleepers.  If this bothered Surou, he did not show it.

Sixth was the Orange Grimoire, the Book of the Planes, for Knowledge had come to realize that there were more realms than merely those of the physical and of dreams; there was Kherus Morgwi’s Oretcht’ke, the misty limbo of the Grey, the spirit realm, the elemental kingdoms, the subdimensions encapsulated within the wraith ships, and the hidden homes of the new gods.  While the Orange Grimoire did not allow Knowledge to see into these realms, it did allow her to verify that they existed, and track their fluctuations over the course of the years.

On its heels came the Black Grimoire, the Book of the Dead.  Knowledge and Death had a contentious relationship, and this became Knowledge’s way of spying on her rival.  It recorded the final destination of every human soul—again, without full names—and through it she kept track of just how many souls Death claimed, and from where.  Upon learning that she was being spied on, Death redoubled her efforts against Knowledge’s servants, but with this insight into where Death’s cultists must be, Knowledge consolidated her people against the onslaught.

The eighth, the Yellow Grimoire, finally brought the ire of the rest of the deities against her.  She called it the Book of the Gods, and through its connection with the world she tried to learn who and what all her fellow powers were—for the Orange Grimoire, the Book of the Planes, had shown her more realms and hideaways than her current count of the gods and spirits could inhabit.  What she found is unknown, for a coalition of the other deities—including Law, Death and Loahravi working in temporary concert—forced her to close and seal the book permanently.  It would record what it had been made to record, but no one would ever read it.

Suspicious and angry, Knowledge crafted a final book in secret: the White Grimoire, the Book of Destiny.  She was certain that the other gods were hiding dangerous secrets, and if she could not read them directly from the Book of the Gods, then perhaps she could look into the future, to a time when those secrets would be revealed.  But though she successfully bound the White Grimoire to Halci, and though its pages immediately began to fill with possibilities, the words vanished as soon as she read them; the act of viewing them disallowed them from happening.

Such a paradox frustrated her until she discovered that certain mortals would not trigger the effect.  Her power as a goddess made it inevitable that she would change the future, but humans who were old, infirm or soon to be executed could read from the tome normally, as if the world did not think they would last long enough to have an impact.  Unfortunately, while the goddess could absorb and understand manifold threads of probability and could read almost as quickly as the grimoire wrote itself, her human servitors had no such power; they had to be trained to comprehend the book, and tended to pass away too soon to make much headway.

Nevertheless, Knowledge set up a secret shrine within her own realm where her aged and sickly followers could come to read from the White Grimoire for her, in the hope that some day she would learn something of value.

The existence of the Grimoires made Knowledge’s temples a tempting target, for she often lent the Red, Blue, Green, Grey and Violet tomes to her priests and scholars for research purposes.  Each of them was stolen more than once during this age, prompting worldwide hunts for the perpetrators, but since they were all eventually retrieved, Knowledge continued to lend them out.  She could not allow petty jealousy to impede the flow of learning.

The world went on in this vein for thousands of years, with the gods constantly trying to one-up each other, conquering and re-conquering the same lands, building and breaking down the same city walls, raising new cults only to lose them to their enemies.  Finally, when too many cities had been blasted to rubble, too many armies massacred, too many fertile lands desiccated to dust by the fury of the manifested gods, a tribunal was called.  Law set forth the proposal that they all withdraw themselves from the world of mortals–that they let their servitors do the fighting for them and no longer intervene personally, lest they lay everything to waste.

Vrin gih Dha agreed unequivocally.  Loahravi refused.  Knowledge was displeased with the idea, Death studiedly neutral.  Surou—who had been pulled from the dream realm specifically for this meeting—indicated that he did not like the waking world and had no intention of ever returning.  Kherus Morgwi asked that there be an option for the gods to visit the mortal realm as long as they did so in mortal guise, which was approved.  Light and Moon-Shadow, who rarely did more than observe, joined the meeting specifically to throw their weight in on the side of Law.

In the end, after much argument, the gods approved the proposal.  Demigods, spirits, elementals and other minor powers would not be bound, but all of the major players would be forced to abide by the new rules.  Law, Knowledge, Light, Moon-Shadow and Kherus Morgwi sealed these terms into the essence of the world, while Death, Surou and Loahravi stood by, not willing to dedicate any of their energies to the pact.  Vrin gih Dha, still mortal on some level, did not have the power to join in the seal, though it bound her as well.

A flurry of activity followed the gods’ pact, as the faithful consolidated their holdings and moved to uproot the enemies in their midst, no longer fearing that a god might manifest at any moment.  In their realms, the gods put their own affairs in order and began to plan politics.  In the physical world, the skinchangers and elementals emerged tentatively from their hiding places; their spirits and the elemental lords could still operate among their people, giving them the confidence to interact with humans again.

And the humans—with the gods no longer able to smite them directly—began to deviate from the plans they were given, and carve their own theocracy-free kingdoms from the war-torn lands.

 

Next: The First Empires, Part 1: Altaera

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About H. Anthe Davis

Worldbuilder. Self-published writer.
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