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Thread: [ANW] Barry's Side-stories

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    Barry Goldwater's Avatar Mr. Conservative
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    Default [ANW] Barry's Side-stories

    I'll be using this thread as a repository for my side-stories: elaborations on parts of the mythology and/or individual-level tales of my creations.

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    Barry Goldwater's Avatar Mr. Conservative
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    Default Re: [ANW] Barry's Side-stories

    Ben'eqeh's tale: The Oath of the Patriarchs and the Doom of Av'edan
    "To the ends of the universe must we pursue the Lord Below,
    opposing all his designs and his thralls,
    even should the cost grow higher than he can bear.
    Though our bones crack and our veins burst,
    though our skin dries and our eyes grow weary,
    though our hearts slow and our lives fade,
    though the Lord Above and all His angels insist we desist,
    we shan't rest 'til our last breath has left us,

    or the Lord Below has perished at our hand.
    None other may have the honor of slaying the Mother of Mankind.
    None may stand in the way of our righteous vengeance,
    be he fellow man or beast or plant,

    servant of the Lord Above or Below.
    This we so swear, on our blood and the blood of our children,
    in the sight and hearing of the Lord who made us."

    Such was the Oath of the Patriarchs, the vow made by Ka'han ('earthling') - the first man, and ancestor of all others who came after him, by the 'Illamite reckoning - and his three sons upon discovering what little was left of Sanna ('fair'), the first woman and respectively their wife and mother, who had been tricked and violated by the Lord Below until she died. Ka'han's fury at being robbed of his beloved, and that of their sons at the loss of their mother, was so great that they were willing to forsake immortality and immunity to disease, by leaving the Tree of Life in whose branches they once lived, for a chance to battle the Lord Below who took her life, and to lock their descendants into the same struggle just in case they couldn't finish the job. If the Lord Above was perturbed by their arrogant proclamation that not even His words and angels could move them to reconsider (to say nothing of the explicit declaration that only men could slay the Lord Below, with the implication that they didn't need divine aid to do so), He did not show it, for He accepted their Oath, tolerated Ka'han's ensuing coronation as the first 'King of Men' by his sons, and created more humans from the earth to serve as wives, servants and warriors for the first men (save the grieving Ka'han, who refused any other woman on the grounds of 'When the sun has gone, no lamp can hope to replace it', per Creation 2:15).

    The two eldest sons of Ka'han swear the Oath of the Patriarchs

    Yet the Lord Above must have also known that in making this Oath Ka'han and his scions had foolishly taken weakness into their hearts: chiefly pride that made them think they could vanquish the Lord Below with their own strength and wrath that blinded them and drove them to recklessly surrender their idyllic lives in the higher branches of the Tree of Life. No, since these men were so eager to test themselves, He was content to let them discover the futility of their vow, the hollowness of their boasting and their own sheer weakness in the face of the indescribably powerful evil that was the Lord Below without His aid, that they might reach the conclusion that what they said was foolish and that humanity cannot stand separate from Heaven's will on their own. And He was proven right in due time, for Ka'han and all his progeny died without so much as breaching the Interstice between the Tree of Life (at whose base they now lived) and the Lifeless Tree whose taproot served as the throne of the Lord Below.

    Now prior to her tragic death, Sanna had borne three sons for Ka'han, each greater than their father in some regard. Av'edan, the eldest whose name meant 'dark-eyed', was the cleverest: it was he who discovered how to make fire from rubbing two sticks or stones together, how to grow crops from a single seed, and how to twist copper, tin and iron for man's use. Ben'eqeh, the second-born whose name meant 'second light', was the kindest at heart: it was he who tamed the beasts of the wild from humble dogs and sheep to the feathered dragons and thunderbeasts, soothed the hearts of men who descended into the Interstice as part of their war with the Lord Below and returned alive with his music and stories, and judged the cases of the people most compassionately, foregoing the laws of his father where he found them unjust or ill-applied. And Ca'el, the third-born whose name meant 'boldness', was not the brightest or most talkative sort, but he was taller and more imposing than his elder kin, fearless in battle and humble enough to accept his limitations, unlike his arrogant and wrathful old man. While Ka'han lived, Av'edan taught all he knew to those willing to learn and built workshops and foundries; Ben'eqeh tilled the land and tended herds of animals alongside the other early humans inclined to agrarian pursuits; and Ca'el marched in lockstep with Ka'han at the head of raids into the Interstice, where he battled demons with his bare hands and kept living to tell the tale.

    Alas, since they made the choice to descend from the Tree of Life, all three had their own flaws eating away at their hearts, which would in time lead to greater tragedy: Av'edan most resembled their father - proud, ill-tempered, convinced of his own genius, unable & unwilling to yield to others even when he knew he was wrong; Ben'eqeh was self-righteous, similarly convinced he knew better than others, and that he could bend or break the rules at will to serve whatever he deemed to be a worthy cause; and Ca'el was most like their mother, trusting to a fault and easily manipulated by others.

    Ka'han surrounded by his sons, grandsons and at least one great-grandson

    When Ka'han died at the age of 963 years, his two eldest sons quarreled over the succession. Av'edan insisted that, as the firstborn, it was his natural place to lead, and that without his creations and discoveries mankind had no hope against the power of the Lord Below. For his part, Ben'eqeh pointed out that he could get others to follow him whereas the cold, ruthless and untalkative Av'edan could not command the love of even his own disciples, and that without the fields he tilled and the herds he raised humanity would've starved long ago. Ben'eqeh further advocated recanting the Oath of the Patriarchs and beseeching the Lord Above to aid them more directly against the Lord Below, which outraged the haughty Av'edan, for had they not all sworn that oath to defeat their mother's killer with their own power on their blood and that of their children? Or, from their own mouths according to the Tansim el-'Ilm...
    Quote Originally Posted by Av'edan, Creation 5:4-10
    Am I not the elder, and you the younger?
    Nature and the Lord Above have fated me to lead,
    and you to follow, from the day when we rested in Mother's womb.
    And what weapons of war have you invented?
    What siege engines? What tools of peace and battle alike?
    We shall be slaughtered like your sheep,
    should we battle the Lord Below with you at our head.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ben'eqeh, Creation 5:11-18
    Father, Mother and our Lord Above loved us equally,
    though you be the elder and I the younger, so what does it matter?
    Moreover, you can create weapons of war,
    but what use will they be without wielders?
    Can you create food, water and milk to sustain yourself, much less any who follow you?
    And what use is the greatest of brains,
    if you have no heart by which to love and inspire others,
    or to judge when you must set aside your pride to do right by them?
    When the pair brought their concerns to the Lord Above, He at first dispatched an angel to ask Ca'el to lead humanity, for he was the humblest of the three and had never plotted to take control as his brothers did: yet his own humility led Ca'el to refuse the throne of Man. So, naturally the Lord Above chose the kinder brother, who not only knew how to lead and inspire but also had the foresight to deduce that humanity couldn't defeat the Lord Below on their own. According to Creation 5:19-21, He made His decision known by showering Ben'eqeh's offering of lamb meat and choice fruits in heavenly fire, while leaving Av'edan's gift of crafted copper and iron machinery untouched.

    Av'edan storms away from the sight of his brother's better-appreciated sacrifice

    To say that Av'edan took His choice poorly would be quite the understatement. Enraged at the loss of what he felt to be his natural birthright, he at first stormed off in a huff (not helped by Ben'eqeh letting him take some of his crops as compensation: while he probably meant well, Av'edan saw the gesture as one of condescending mockery) and refused to attend his brother's coronation as the second 'King of Men', a slight which Ben'eqeh (setting aside his own irritation with the understanding that Av'edan was upset at his victory) let go, only to make a surprise appearance - shooting Ben'eqeh in the back with a bow and arrow, and in so doing fatally wounding him, just before the crown of bronze and flowers touched his head. In turn, to say that the Lord Above was angered by Av'edan's defiance of His choice and committing the first human-on-human murder in history would be an even greater understatement: though he was able to escape the wrath of the rest of his race by fleeing 'to the east' (the Book of Creation does not elaborate further), he couldn't escape the judgment of the One Above, which came in the form of what later generations of 'Illamites called the Doom of Av'edan.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bel-Azer, Creation 5:22-30
    Arrogant swine, who dares defy My will and thinks, even now, that he can flee the judgment of the One who stitched him together in his mother's womb,
    know your brother's spirit demands your head, but smiting you would teach others nothing and give you an escape from the suffering you have merited.
    You think you can take life so easily? Then be bound to your own more tightly than a bowstring to its bow.
    Neither death nor life can you escape, for when you die, you will not be summoned before Me for judgment.
    Your lot now is to be reborn, time and time again, into the wretched world you have marred with your folly.
    Never know rest, and watch as your children die and age before you time and again, as surely as I watched your brother die at your hand.
    You yearn to battle the Lord Below with only your own strength? Then do so and drive yourself to frustration and death at his claws, again and again.
    May all men turn their faces from you and their blades toward you upon learning your name, even your children and your children's children.
    Only should you repent will you be forgiven, accursed fratricide.
    Far from repenting, Av'edan cursed the name of the Lord Above and hardened his heart in his pride, swearing that from that day forth he would dedicate his infinite lifetimes to undoing both the Lords Above and Below and that any who follow them would find 'no rest or pity' at his hands, nor those of his minions and creations. Still, he indeed could not escape the justice of the Lord Above, and per the Doom he was reportedly killed by his own oldest son: according to extracanonical tradition, the elderly Av'edan (having lived as, basically, a wandering bandit since his exile) tried to steal crops and a young lamb from his son's farmstead - ironically, the exact combination Ben'eqeh had offered to the Lord Above - but was caught in the act and struck down by a slingstone to the back of the head as he tried to flee for the underbrush. Neither he nor his son recognized each other until the younger man turned his dying form over and saw his face, by which point the first murderer had not the presence of mind to say more than a string of garbled curses aimed at nobody and nothing in particular.

    And so the first man to be naturally born into this world became doomed to be bound to it, reincarnating time and time again with perfect recollection of his past selves and deeds, frequently as the eldest sons in troubled families. Obviously, there's no way to prove that anyone is a reincarnation of the first murderer (and if the second-to-last line of the Doom is any indication, he wouldn't just tell anyone), but the 'Illamites at least learned to grow wary of first-born tricksters and tinkers who promise to have a solution for whatever ails them if only they would do one or a few seemingly innocuous things, which coincidentally always seem to end in the destruction of the nearest temple to the Lord Above and the death of at least one of His priests. Some villainous figures in later books of the Tansim, such as Bel-Bel'iq (the proud last King of Men) and Meit bet-Rotem (the usurper of the Stewards who dared proclaim himself a living god), were also thought to be reincarnations of Av'edan in some oral traditions, though this is not supported in the actual canonical texts of the religion. More charitable interpretations of Av'edan's character depict him as the first humanist, aiding technological progress and working to help humanity stand on its own feet without the need for any divine patron, and suggest that he's a trickster who aids and hinders servants of the Lord Above and the Lord Below alike so long as he's sure they'll end up benefiting humanity in the end.

    Av'edan, still armed with the bow that he slew his brother with, flees the justice of his fellow men

    For his part, Ben'eqeh (as a disembodied soul) admitted to the Lord Above that he and his kin were wrong to have thought they could defeat the Lord Below without the aid of the One Above, and owing to his sincere repentance he was given the choice to either ascend to Shem'el as an angel or be reborn unto Earth one more time to live out the remainder of the life unjustly robbed from him. He chose the former so that he might help watch over and guide his descendants and those of the other first men in the trying times to come, and so became the first Archangel ('Illamite: Halyon, pl. Halyonim).

    Now known as Ben'e-Rehman or 'second most gracious', the being that was Ben'eqeh is associated with the sun (particularly the sunrise & dawn), the east, justice, faith, leadership, good governance and altruism: as he was denied the earthly crown the Lord Above granted him through his death, now he reigns in Heaven as the right hand of his patron, and as he once presided disputes between his fellow humans, now does he sit in judgment of the souls that the Lord Above does not judge Himself, where he is reputably fair and even errs to the side of lenience more often than not. Furthermore, the compassionate nature he possessed as a human persists into his divine afterlife, and he's very particular about the high and mighty caring for their servants just as he believes those servants should obey their rightful masters. One of his titles is 'Voice of the Lord Above', and indeed he speaks the will of the One Above to mortals and frequently communes with them in his overlord's stead; when mortals think they are speaking to the Lord Above, more often than not they're actually communicating with (and are promptly corrected by) Ben'e-Rehman.

    However, while normally pleasant enough, the Second Most Gracious has not (perhaps cannot) set aside his human heart and memories entirely, and is said to be able to instantly identify his murderous brother no matter the skin the latter's wearing - upon which he is said to fly into an all-too-human murderous rage.

    As an archangel, Ben'eqeh/Ben'e-Rehman is commonly depicted (and believed to appear in the dreams & visions of the 'Illami prophets) as The Prince, an embodiment of charismatic authority and the font of order & justice that all earthly rulers ought to aspire to be: a serene young man garbed in pristine white robes coupled with a purple sash, a many-colored coat and silver crown, carrying a candle in one hand and a book containing the names of every human who was, is and ever will be in the other while a sword hangs from his belt. The Fruit Above which he represents is that of Order, striving to establish a just, orderly and benevolent paternalistic state for the devout just like the one he would have ruled had he lived to be King of Men. To this end, he imparts advice to the faithful rulers of the world, from kings in their palaces to fathers who lead their households; compels the ruling elites to abide by the concept of noblesse oblige and give back to those beneath them, for from whom much has been granted by the Lord Above, much is expected; instructs the lower orders of society to be obedient to those above them, at least as long as those above are trying to fulfill their own obligations to those below; and pushes lawgivers & enforcers in the direction of true justice, subtly pointing them in the direction of elusive bits of evidence and getting them to question their own preconceived biases in the tough cases they're handling.

    Ben'e-Rehman's 'true form', as it were, can't accurately be depicted on the earth and probably doesn't even physically exist, considering he's now a spirit. However, dating back to ancient 'Illami times, religious artists who try to depict him as something truly otherworldly anyway usually end up with an image of a white-robed humanoid figure mostly obscured by his thousand white wings, all bearing between one to one hundred blinking amber eyes, with a ball of pure light for a head.

    In general, the 'Illamite faithful pray to Ben'e-Rehman to intercede before the Lord Above in legal cases and see to it that the party which is in the right prevails, to guide the hands of their rulers, to guard against unseen conspiracies and reveal deceit with the light of truth, and to bring peace and prosperity to poor and war-torn areas & populations. They have assigned to him the symbol of a broken silver crown (representing how his earthly self was assassinated before being able to assume his rightful rule over ancient humanity) enclosed around a golden sun on a purple background.

    Ben'e-Rehman, as the Prince, speaks Bel-Azer's command to a well-off family of the faithful

    As a former human and one still attuned to human emotions, Ben'e-Rehman was also tasked by the Lord Above with testing mortals from time to time. It was easy to obey orders, follow the rules and believe in higher powers when nothing 'rocked the boat', so to speak, but such untested faith is shallow: only those who faced great tribulation and still persevered with their belief in the Lord Above, who still did the right thing because it was the right thing even if they should be filled with doubts to their survival or His approval, could be said to have true faith and to be truly just.

    Thus did Ben'e-Rehman test mortals in positions of power or service now and then by placing them in situations where they had to choose between following the flawed, sometimes even cruel laws and orders of men, or doing the right thing - perhaps a soldier serving an oppressive lord must decide whether to arrest a dissident whose cause he knows is truly just or let him go at great personal risk, a prince whose father happens to be a genocidal tyrant must decide whether to rebel against the latter even if it means risking both his place in the succession and his life, a judge who must decide whether to sentence the rapist son of a rich landowner to an appropriate punishment or let him off the hook as his parents (who have become both very generous towards the judge, and equally suddenly fond of death threats) wish, or even just a policeman who must choose between protecting one of his detainees (whom he knows is likely, if not certainly, innocent) from a hateful lynch mob or turning him over to the fury of the crowd.

    Should they pass his test, whether they die immediately for their righteous disobedience or not, when their last breath leaves them these truly faithful will be offered two options: either access to Heaven, or entry into the ranks of Ben'e-Rehman's angels, the Malk'atim​ or 'Crowned Ones'. Sprouting golden wings and crowned with halos of golden light, they served as heralds who bring the commandments of the Lord Above and Ben'e-Rehman himself to mortals; sing hymns to the former's glory at all times when unengaged; command the lesser orders of angels in battle with the infernal forces of the Lord Below; and keep a close eye on the rulers of the earth, dispensing advice to them where necessary, supporting rightful claimants and quietly disposing of usurpers and tyrants wherever possible. As they tended to have been figures of great authority in life - kings, princes, businessmen, police chiefs and such - they are among the rarest of angels.

    And what was Ca'el's role at this point in the story? Well, the rulership over mankind that he had earlier denied now defaulted to him, for Av'edan's children were tainted by the sin of their father and the Lord Above still favored him over Ben'eqeh's own progeny. He went on to lead early humanity capably, though unexceptionally, until he died at the age of 654; though technically, he didn't die naturally, having instead grown tired and homesick to the extent that he asked the Lord Above to relieve him of his duties. In light of all his years of leadership and hard work, Bel-Azer assented to his request by taking him up to Shem'el in a beam of light. Nothing else was written about his reign, and his son Bet'anosh reigned in a similarly unexceptional fashion after him. Yet in due time, the heirs of Ca'el were dethroned by those of Av'edan, who finally claimed their ancestor's supposed birthright as Kings of Men - and promptly led the united human race to the catastrophic Flame Deluge, in which the line of Av'edan was decimated along with most of the corrupted human race. But that is a tale for another time...

    Ca'el is taken up to Heaven in a pillar of light while four generations of his descendants look on

    Both of these stories were oft-used as moral lessons among the 'Illami. The tale of the Oath of the Patriarchs appears to have been used to teach children to mind what they say and not swear oaths to the Lord Above that they could not keep, and to not make brazen promises and declarations out of pride and recklessness in general. Meanwhile the story of the first murder, coupled with the circumstances leading up to it, was held up as the 'Illamite justification for not always sticking to the law of primogeniture when determining succession and inheritance: if younger sons are thought to be more favored by the Lord Above than the eldest, well then, who are they to question that?
    Last edited by Barry Goldwater; December 25, 2018 at 08:56 PM.

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    Barry Goldwater's Avatar Mr. Conservative
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    Default Re: [ANW] Barry's Side-stories

    Y'nosh's tale: Man's (further) fall from grace, the Flame Deluge and the 10,000 Innocents
    Within the pages of the Tansim el-'Ilm, many thousands of years and one hundred generations passed between the first murder and the next narrative in the Book of Creation: that of Y'nosh, the last righteous man on the planet, and the downfall of not just human civilization, but the species as a whole soon after reaching the height of its ancient power and splendor. Per the tale of Av'edan and Ben'eqeh, the former forfeited his claim to rulership over humanity after murdering the latter, and the crown of Men passed to their youngest brother Ca'el while Av'edan fled into ignominious exile. Yet his jealous descendants still lived with envy burning in their hearts, constantly searching for opportunities to dethrone their cousins and take what they assumed to be their ancestor's birthright for themselves, though this was made difficult by the just and virtuous rule for which the House of Ca'el (Bet-Ca'el, or Ca'elim) were known.

    For twenty generations, humanity spread to every corner of the earth under the wise leadership of the Ca'elites. Men came to dwell everywhere from green meadows to grey peaks, from dark forests to the feet of volcanoes, and from rain-swept shores to searing deserts; and while they did not enjoy eternal life or an existence completely free from pain, they still did quite well for themselves, putting the lessons of Av'edan to better use in creating tools of iron & dwellings of stone, tilling the earth & tending great herds of animals to feed themselves with as Ben'eqeh had taught their forefathers, and brewing remedies from herbs and animal parts to treat their ailments with as Ca'el once did. Yet even these early men were not immune to the same seeds of disaster that had grown in the hearts of their fathers - pride, wrath, envy, and greed - and dissension only swelled among the ranks of humanity as they multiplied and spread outward. As the Ca'elites tried to keep their subjects from exploiting the environment too severely and (being flawed men themselves) made mistakes in judging disputes between the people, the House of Av'edan or Bet-Av'edan (Av'edanim) found more and more support for their claim.

    Arak'ur bet-Manach, the twentieth Ca'elim King of Men

    'Many thousands' of years (by 'Illamite extracanonical tradition, exactly two-thousand-five-hundred) after the first murder, Yonach bet-Yorak - the champion of the House of Av'edan at the time - and his supporters executed a palace coup against King Arak'ur bet-Manach, killing him, his wife Arikel of the House of Ben'eqeh (Bet-Ben'eqeh, or Ben'eqim), all of their sons and all but one of their grandsons in one fell night. Only Arakur's youngest grandson, eight-month-old Sher'e, survived the massacre thanks to the quick thinking of his nurse. Yonach was too overjoyed at his victory to overly concern himself with the disappearance of the infant heir to Ca'el's legacy, and forcibly married Arakur's only daughter Shebna to solidify his claim to the throne of Men. For their part, most of humanity was either accepting of or indifferent to the usurpation, having grown unsatisfied with the rule of the Ca'elites. Some still condemned Yonach as the Usurper, but without any viable claimant to rally around, those among them who dared to actually translate their thoughts and words into deeds were quickly defeated and put to death in torturous ways by Yonach's supporters. Thus did rulership over mankind pass to the Av'edanim at long last.

    Yonach bet-Yorak launches his coup against the Bet-Ca'el

    For 'many more thousands' of years and eighty generations did the Bet-Av'edan reign, and they ruled very differently from the Bet-Ca'el before them. Like their progenitor, they were forward-thinking and masterful at working tools, but also could (and often were) cruel, petty, envious, greedy, overly ambitious and entitled to things that were not theirs. Having finally claimed the throne they felt was rightfully Av'edan's, they now set their sights even higher: they dreamed of setting foot in the higher branches of the Tree of Life once more, to defeat death and reclaim the immortality of Ka'han and Sanna for themselves, and finally to sit themselves in the throne of the Lord Above so that they might rule over the entire universe as its new gods. To this end, they set about militarizing humanity: forests were clear-cut and mountains strip-mined to feed the growing furnaces of their forges, churning out ever greater numbers of weapons of war not to guard the passages into the Interstice as Ca'elite warriors once did, but to arm men for a war in the opposite direction. All else was forgotten in pursuit of this ambition: environmental stewardship was of course completely cast by the wayside, but the Av'edanim also ruled arbitrarily and unjustly in disputes - always favoring the side that flattered them better or provided them with grander gifts - and impoverished the people with their war-taxes. Yet far too many still believed in their message of reclaiming immortality for the human race to object too strenuously, thinking that when they achieved their goals all of this suffering would be worth it, and those who did object loudly were made examples of.

    As the descendants of Av'edan repeated his mistakes, so too did they repeat his greatest sin on a much larger scale. When Yonach died, he left behind scores of children by both his first wife (unnamed in the Tansim, but extracanonically named Silah) and Shebna, who naturally went to war with one another with their father's throne as the prize. In the end, Shebna's children prevailed and extirpated the children of Silah down to infants in their cradles, to ensure that they could never rise again to challenge them for the crown of Men in the future. Thus did humanity come to know civil war, which grew more and more common between the governors of the world's regions; so long as they did not rebel against the Bet-Av'edan or threatened their projects, the Kings of Men couldn't care less if some of their subjects sought to butcher others, and of course there were times where a King had to fend off rebellious subjects who found their tyrannical rule unbearable or an heir found himself having to defend his claim to the throne from ambitious siblings or cousins on the field of battle.

    A battle of the first Av'edanim civil war

    In time, the Av'edanim could not cloak their true ambitions of godhood any longer, and set about actively dismantling shrines and temples to the Lord Above so that they might raise their own where those older holy sites once stood. Altars were smashed, consecrated relics cast into fires and the faithful who tried to defend their temples put to death by Av'edanim soldiers, while the enthralled masses began to sing praises of and pray to the Kings of Men. King Melchi bet-'Orad was the first to commune with demons and the Lord Below. The latter approached him as a friend and told him that the Lord Above was the true villain in the universe, that He was holding humanity back from achieving their full potential out of fear that they could usurp Him, and that if mankind worked together with the forces of the Lifeless Tree they could rule the universe together as deities and equals. Melchi agreed, and at first the Av'edanim kept this covenant with the infernal powers secret, but in time they could not hide it any more than their original ambitions of godhood - the Av'edanim officially recanted from the Oath of the Patriarchs which their own forefather had sworn, not as part of a confession of their mistakes to the Lord Above but so that they might serve the One Below, and animals and in time human infants were increasingly sacrificed to the Kings of Men at great pyres, though the one who was most pleased and honored by such grotesque sacrifices was the Lord Below. Prophets arose time & time again to denounce the Kings of Men for straying so far from the true Lord and allowing, or even ordering such depravities, but they were always relieved of their heads or locked up to rot away when said Kings grew weary of their angry words.

    Melchi bet-'Orad is satisfied at the sight of his subjects sacrificing and praying to a statue of himself

    But the Lord Above was not deaf to the prayers of His dwindling faithful, now persecuted and put to torturous deaths by the faithful of the Av'edanim, nor was He idle as the Kings of Men grew increasingly twisted and desperate to realize their vision. In the time of the king who dared name himself Bel-Qa'mat, 'lord of the universe', He reached out to a humble carpenter (and former conscripted soldier) named Y'nosh bet-Adan, who together with his children were the last descendants of Sher'e and by extension Ca'el, and had (like the past eighty generations of his ancestors) lived and honored the Lord Above to the best of his ability in a fallen, Av'edanim-ruled world. The exchange was recorded as such in the Tansim:
    Quote Originally Posted by Book of Creation 7:1-11
    Now in these dark times there lived one man of virtue, Y'nosh son of Adan, who was the heir of Ca'el.
    He was a humble carpenter, and like his fathers before him, worshiped the Lord Above in secrecy even when he was once compelled to serve the Kings of Men and as those who worked with him turned away from the Righteous Path.
    One day, when he was alone in his workshop, the whale-figure he was carving was filled by the holy spirit of the Lord Above and said unto him, "Have no fear, Y'nosh!"
    "Who are you?" Y'nosh asked, but as the figure floated out of his hands he knew the answer, and so he took off his sandals and prostrated himself before this vessel of the Lord.
    The Lord said, "I, the Lord of your fathers and your fathers' fathers, have seen the depredations inflicted upon you and others faithful like you by the proud and black-hearted scions of Av'edan.
    Though they have grown mighty and numerous in the world, they and their subjects have trapped themselves deep in a lightless hollow of the spirit.
    For many ages I have tried to turn them away from evil, but they will not heed My call, and now my patience is at an end.
    If they still spurn this last chance I am about to offer them, I will wipe these thralls of the Adversary from the face of My earth with holy flame and smoke, and deliver those who can still be saved.
    I have chosen you, true King of Men by right, as the harbinger of My word and their doom.
    Go now to the court of the one who calls himself 'Lord of the Universe', and tell him that if he does not mend his ways, his line will end and his empire burn to less than ashes in a fortnight."

    To this Y'nosh answered simply, "Your will be done, my Lord."
    Y'nosh was able to gain an audience with Bel-Qa'mat, on account of any guard or servant who tried to stop him being suddenly struck prone by an unseen force until he had walked past them, and delivered the warning of the Lord Above to the proud heir of the Usurper. Yet far from turning from evil, the news only hardened the heart of Bel-Qa'mat and convinced him of the necessity of accelerating his plans. He ordered his guards to seize Y'nosh, but as soon as they moved they were incinerated by great beams of light from above, and prior to turning & leaving Y'nosh coldly warned him that the only reason he hadn't shared their fate was that the Lord Above wanted him to see his kingdom fall first.

    Y'nosh denounces Bel-Qa'mat to the latter's face

    That night, Bel-Qa'mat prepared a grand sacrifice of one thousand young children, five hundred boys and five hundred girls, to call on the power of the Lord Below. But Y'nosh interrupted the ceremony, cursing the King of Men for the path he had chosen and the fate he'd doomed not just himself but almost all of humanity to, and hurled an iron spear that felled the high priest just before he could drive his knife through the first child's heart; though it had been a long time since he had wielded a weapon against another man, the Tansim states that 'the Lord Above guided his aim'. The children's bindings disintegrated, and they followed him out of the temple under Bel-Azer's protection while Bel-Qa'mat could do nothing but fume in impotent rage. For the next thirteen days, Y'nosh gathered children - his own as well as the young sons and daughters of the other secret faithful, of course, but also orphans, abandoned infants, and those marked for sacrifice - as well as a pair of each animal to a forest clearing hidden away from the rest of the world and which was connected to Yus'had, the nearest branch of the Tree of Life, where he was building a great flying ark with the aid of angels and the faithful: for the Lord Above had decreed that only these Innocent children would inherit the world once He was done with the King of Men and those who followed him.

    Bel-Qa'mat remained unwilling to come to terms, and instead began to sacrifice his own adult children to tear open new passages to the Interstice. (He would've also sacrificed his infant granddaughter, but she had been spirited away by Y'nosh to join the other Innocents) He invited demonkind to join him on the surface of the Earth, so that they might scale the Tree of Life together. The Lord Below agreed and revealed the location of Y'nosh & the Innocent, promising him as he'd promised the man's ancestors that they would soon rule the universe together as co-equals. Neither party had any intention of ruling together, of course - Bel-Qa'mat arrogantly believed that once he'd seated himself in the throne of the Lord Above, he'd have the power to go back on their deal, and Bel-Bezar had no intention of letting the proud Av'edanim even live that long. But for the time being, men and demons marched together as one host, fast converging on the sacred meadow where the Ark was being built: an army said to be as 'innumerable as the sand on the seashore' whose helmets and armor glittered 'like a school of fish in the sunlight', armed to the teeth with 'long spears of iron', 'iron bows as long as they were tall', 'hounds in armored harnesses and other beasts of war', 'great siege engines' and 'flying ships of iron, copper and canvas' among other things, and accompanied by demons 'as small as a mouse and taller than any tower, in the shape of rams and dragons and sharks, all with countenances and voices so terrible that the men who marched with them quailed when they turned their gaze'. (Creation 8:1-4)

    The army of Bel-Qa'mat, King of Men, on the march

    When the fortnight had come and gone, the full power of the Empire of Man (along with multiple legions of demons) had been amassed around Y'nosh's meadow, while the Ark - now holding 10,000 children in addition to two of all the beasts of the world - was 'only' mostly complete. The Lord Below had conjured up a great storm for the benefit of his ally, and so the sky above the meadow was pitch-black, interrupted only by flashes of white while a torrential downpour fell upon the heads of every man and monster gathered there. Bel-Qa'mat, clad from head to toe in gilded scales and riding atop an ebony chariot while his standard-bearer flew a banner that bore his likeness upon it, came forth to demand that Y'nosh yield, turn over the Innocent and let them pass into Yus'had. Y'nosh refused, and Bel-Qa'mat mockingly called on him to reveal the army with which he could stop them from just walking over his corpse. The following ensued:
    Quote Originally Posted by Creation 8:6-10
    Y'nosh raised his voice in challenge to the King of Men and the Lord Below, "The true Lord will provide."
    He pulled on one end of his cane and drew a sword, whose blade burst into flame.
    Above, the dark clouds parted and a host of angels descended in the pillar of light that came down.
    At their head, first to set his feet upon the soil, was Ben'e-Rehman, his flesh luminescent beneath his robes, his head a ball of pure blinding light.
    Bel-Qa'mat looked upon this greatest of angels, he who was slain by his own progenitor only to rise again in the Lord's light, and withdrew into the ranks of his warriors, blinded and afraid.
    Ben'e-Rehman descending to the earth

    Battle was then joined: Y'nosh, aided by the angels, against the rest of mankind and Bel-Qa'mat's demonic allies, while the adult faithful hastened to complete the Ark before their guardians gave out. With the flaming sword in one hand and his trusty woodcutting ax in the other, he was reported to have felled 157 men and 3 demons in the Tansim's pages, while Ben'e-Rehman reduced many thousands of men and demons to ash & bones with every beam of light from his hands. (Creation 9:1-6) Still, in the end the numbers arrayed against them were too many, and the faithful mortal defenders & laborers of the Ark were killed to the last man: Y'nosh's own wife Hak-hanah was struck down by an arrow while flinging pots at the attackers from the Ark's scaffolding, and Y'nosh himself was fatally wounded by Azaneal the Crow, the lieutenant of the Lord Below who was also called 'the left hand of grand darkness'. Azaneal informed Y'nosh that he had fought well, and his master was so impressed that he'd heal the man's injuries if only he would bend the knee and join them; in response, the badly hurt Y'nosh fell to one knee...and drove his flaming sword into his own heart, spitting at Azaneal's feet as he did so.

    As his soul left his body, Y'nosh was brought before the Lord Above as Ben'eqeh was, and made the same choice the latter had: he forsook his afterlife of restful peace in paradise in favor of becoming the second Archangel in Heaven's ranks, and reawakened on Earth as 'Ilm-Shekhar, 'righteous scourer'. Flames erupted from his wounds, and Azaneal fell back - for the fires felt hotter than lava to any who opposed the Lord Above, but were as comforting and warm as a campfire to His faithful - as his body stitched its wounds shut and fiery wings erupted out of his back. The newly-reborn 'Ilm-Shekhar pulled his sword back out of his chest and cut off one of Azaneal's coal-black wings, forcing the greater demon to retreat from the battlefield entirely, before going on to smite thousands of men and demons alike single-handedly. The evil men and their allies were forced back from the just-barely-completed Ark, which then began to take off.

    The Righteous Scourer arises

    As the Ark ascended, the skies parted once more. But this time, there was no great pillar of heavenly light, no angelic reinforcements. All that came were great rocks wreathed in flames, meteors from above, which sailed into the packed ranks of Bel-Qa'mat's soldiers and Bel-Bezar's demons with predictable results. Those who weren't crushed, rent apart or burnt alive in the initial impact died from choking on the smoke, or were swallowed up by the fissures created by each meteor's landing, or trampled one another as they scurried away. One meteor struck Bel-Qa'mat's own position, killing him and all of his top officers and elite guards in one go. Walls of flame as tall as a small mountain crisscrossed the battlefield and turned the still-pouring rain into a scalding steam that further hampered and demoralized the forces of evil. In the face of this divine onslaught, Bel-Qa'mat's army disintegrated as the soldiers downed their weapons and fled in every direction, while Bel-Bezar recalled his forces into the Interstice and the Lifeless Tree while he still could. Still the meteor shower did not stop, smiting Bel-Qa'mat's fleeing soldiers, leveling the cities of men, cracking the face of the earth and boiling the seas wherever they landed.

    Ascendants desperately trying to avoid the Flame Deluge as it strikes the earth

    After forty days, this Flame Deluge finally subsided, having succeeded in extinguishing nearly all life still on Earth. (Creation 9:9-10) Continents were broken and the sea-level had dramatically dropped. The presence of the Lord Below could no longer be felt in the sky, the seas or the soil, for he had withdrawn along with what remained of his forces to the depths of the Lifeless Tree long ago. Pockets of stubborn survivors emerged from the ruins of their civilization, having somehow navigated their way through the meteor showers, earthquakes, walls of flame and choking smoke to last this long. But the sky remained dark and sickly red all at once, and these survivors would find that they had no respite after all, for more angels descended from above to join Ben'e-Rehman and 'Ilm-Shekhar as they began scouring the wreckage of human civilization to kill anyone belonging to the corrupted human civilization they found still breathing. And even when they withdrew, those few(er) who'd lived through that were finished off when the red of meteors and angels faded from the skies above and torrential rains poured on down to the world, raising sea levels to the point where the waves lapped at the Great Ark's hull in the sky and drowning what little remained of the first Empire of Men, before receding the very next morning to make way for the new world's rivers & oceans.

    When the Lord Above needs to make absolutely, positively sure everyone dies

    Above it all, most of the Innocents slept soundly on their Ark, safely isolated from the carnage outside and below until angels came to set their vessel back upon the Earth and Ben'e-Rehman came, to both instruct them in what to do next and to inform them of his divine master's promise to never again inflict such devastation on the globe so long as they kept to His commandments. Only the oldest were tall and brave enough to look outside the windows, for they too had been called on by the Lord Above.

    And the Lord Above had called upon them to witness.

    So, what was the point of this story? To the 'Illamites, it was both a warning of what awaited humanity if they sinned too greatly once more and the beginning of the pattern to their creation narrative: that of the world's initial creation in a perfect state by the Lord Above, followed by stagnation, decay and corruption at the hands of both demons and proud men who thought too highly of themselves, followed by divine destruction and recreation into a more perfect (or at least less flawed) form, which they anticipate will occur again at the end of all things. And while some consider it more allegory to be interpreted than a story to be taken literally, none can deny that it helped give the 'Illamites, at least, ideas of what the ancient antediluvian world was like in a time where such things were hardly understood by the wisest of men, as well as a genealogy of great men for their leaders to trace. As a narrative, it was also a natural successor to the initial fall of Man as presented in the previous stories of the Oath of the Patriarchs and the first murder, featuring the descendants of the characters of said preceding tales - even Av'edan himself is thought by some theologians to have been reincarnated as Bel-Qa'mat, though the consensus of most is that he actually wasn't, for despite all of his flaws the first murderer did hate the Lord Below as fiercely as he hates the Lord Above - as well as common themes of man's continued self-inflicted fall and motivations of pride, wrath, greed, envy, and naked ambition.

    Finally, the story also provided the 'Illamites with a second great Archangel, whom they called upon to intercede on their behalf or aid them in more direct fashions during times of great need. Where Ben'e-Rehman was a white-and-purple clad figure of light associated with justice, lawful governance, leadership, the rising sun and the east, 'Ilm-Shekhar was an angel of war, fortitude and transformation, associated with fire, the setting sun and the west. His Fruit is Valor, and what he champions is that which the 'Illamites believe to be the ideal warrior to be: a devout, relentless and utterly fearless fighter who is strengthened by adversity and always finds a way to triumph over evil, even underhanded and costly measures if necessary. Ironically, his idea of paradise is a world at peace, where neither he nor any such warrior of great valor will be needed any longer.

    'Ilm-Shekhar is said to manifest in the dreams and visions of the faithful during times of or leading up to great wars as The Conqueror. He usually appears to be a bronze-skinned and red-haired giant of a man, easily measuring 7 ft in height, clearly in his middle years and dressed as a high-ranking officer of whichever nation the person/people he's appearing before, with various weapons hanging from his belt; more rarely, and especially when angered, he appears as a less human-looking monstrosity, a towering humanoid with multiple arms wielding an assortment of weapons and an open flame for a head. 'Ilm Shekhar the Conqueror inflames the passions of the righteous, driving them to take up arms against the enemy; hardens & refines the hearts & souls of soldiers in the dreadful crucible of war, as though he were putting coal under pressure to turn them into diamonds; advises generals and warlords on how best to achieve their objectives; offers steely consolation to wounded warriors; aids smiths and scientists alike in developing newer, better, more powerful weapons of war; and directly purifies great threats to the faithful with his holy flame. Victory is his primary objective and in his drive to defeat the Lord Below, he can be ruthless without shame to a greater extent than nearly all of his fellow Archangels.

    The Conqueror on the warpath

    The Righteous Scourer was prayed to by supplicants seeking his intercession and support in winning battles, maintaining or gaining the strength to the right thing, and overcoming their own flaws and vices. He is said to test warriors who catch his eye, and sometimes even those who beseech him for aid, by placing them in harm's way, where they must defend themselves, their loved ones and/or their principles with force. Those who succeed receive not only his favor on earth (assuming they don't die in the attempt) but also a chance to enter into his service by ascending to join the order of angels sworn unto him upon their death, whether they perish while trying their utmost to pass the baptism of fire he's prepared for them or fifty years after the fact.

    These bold volunteers who died righteously in battle, fighting to the bitter end in the name of the Lord Above and all that is right, or achieved victory in the name of the Lord Above against overwhelming odds would become the Berim, or 'Burning Ones'. It is said that the eyes of these reborn crusaders blaze with the same divine fire that cover their master's wings, and their halos burn with the intensity of a raging wildfire. They serve as the elite shock troops of Heaven in the war with infernal powers - a war which they fight without mercy, hesitation or fear, fueled in equal parts by their now-unbreakable conviction that what they do is both right and necessary, and an unnaturally heightened lust for the blood of the sinful and demonic. Ultimately, their only creed is victory and without their unswerving belief in the righteousness of their cause, even believers fear they'd soon degenerate into mindless and untouchable killers.

    To those who can see them, Berim are said to appear with burning eyes and wings
    Last edited by Barry Goldwater; December 30, 2018 at 11:48 PM.

  4. #4
    Barry Goldwater's Avatar Mr. Conservative
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    Mana's tale: the Tower of Bel-Bel'iq and the Sundering of the Tongue of Men
    As the waters that had smothered the devastation of the Flame Deluge receded, Y'nosh's Great Ark began to descend onto an Earth quite unlike the antediluvian one. The planet had been left desolate and not a thing survived on its surface, those living beings which had managed to persist through the Flame Deluge having perished in the floods that followed it, and so there remained no plants that could feed the Ten Thousand Innocent who now disembarked from their shelter, nor any structures left standing to shelter them. But nothing is impossible for the Lord Above, least of all providing for those He had singled out for salvation from the ruin of the Av'edanim Empire of Men. By His will new plant life began to grow from the roots that had dug so deep into the Earth that neither flame nor water had destroyed them, and the Great Ark was dismantled for building materials so that the Innocent might build new cities with the guidance of the angels. The Innocent elected thirteen-year-old Rab'ya bet-Y'nosh, the eldest son of Y'nosh and one of the oldest among their number, to lead them as the first post-diluvian King of Men. In a reversal of how Yonach the Usurper consolidated his claim to the first throne of Men, he wed Yonach's last surviving patrilineal descendant Enniah bil-Atleh, rescued as an infant before her grandfather Bel-Qa'mat could sacrifice her to the Lord Below, when she came of age and fathered his successor through her.

    Beasts and the Innocent emerge from Y'nosh's Great Ark

    Fast forward about a thousand years. The descendants of the Innocent have multiplied and spread out across the revitalized Earth once more, and enjoyed peace and prosperity much as their antediluvian ancestors had under the first reign of the Bet-Cae'lim. Yet, though many humans remembered to maintain a healthy respect for and fear of the Lord Above compared to their antediluvian predecessors, there were always those who lacked such respect for the All-Mighty and whose hearts blazed with undue ambition; such was the consequence of the Fall of Man from the branches of the Tree of Life and perfect communion with the Lord Above, after all.

    Alas, one of these men just so happened to be Bel-Bel'iq ('Lord of the Skies'), the 105th post-diluvian King of Men. Though widely beloved by his people for his apparent wisdom and fairness as well as his public image of deep piety, within his heart of hearts Bel-Bel'iq was a proud and yet also insecure man who feared his own frailty and impending death as he grew older, particularly as his wife had borne him no sons and only one daughter. Hoping to be granted immortality and permission to ascend back to the branches of the Tree of Life, he became the first human King to directly invade the Interstice and the Lifeless Tree at the head of a vast host of men and angels, actually defeating the Lord Below and yet - at the last moment - taking him prisoner to be presented as a trophy before the Lord Above rather than simply putting him down as the angels advised. The Lord Below promptly began taking advantage of his existential despair and fear of death (not helped by the Lord Above's silent refusal of Bel-Bel'iq's entreaties for immortality) to turn his heart against Heaven.

    The army of Bel-Bel'iq raucously descends into the Interstice

    The Lord Below persuades the King of Men to heed his advice

    Now Bel-Bel'iq's daughter, Mana, was a woman so fair and so unreservedly compassionate that she was popularly hailed as the 'Rose of the King's Garden'. Despite her great beauty (the Tansim doesn't describe her beyond 'blessed with a most fair countenance', but extracanonical works often ascribe 'ringlets the color of chestnuts', 'skin the color of white olives', 'high cheekbones', 'waspish hips' and 'long, slender fingers' to her), she had not taken up any suitor by the age of twenty-five, instead dedicating her life solely to glorifying the Lord Above and bettering the lives of her subjects. The princess was a patron of hospitals and healers, nearly died from contracting a plague in her seventeenth year after bravely tending to plague victims herself in the midst of a dreadful epidemic sent by the Lord Below, and routinely threw lavish feasts for the poorest citizens of her father's capital while she ate simple bread and olives at the same table as they. And unlike her father, she accepted death as a natural stepping stone to eternal life at the side of her Lord.

    Fresco of Mana bil-Bel-Bel'iq found in a ruined 'Illamite palace near Sa-Bel and clearly influenced by Allawauric art, dated to 10,502 AA

    So when Bel-Bel'iq quietly unchained the Lord Below and, with the latter's help, began to turn to dark arts and forces to try and lengthen his hold on his worldly life, Mana quickly deduced that something was wrong with her beloved father with some prodding from above - she dreamed prophetic nightmares of angels and demons and men battling in the ruins of the very tower Bel-Bel'iq was building, and awoke with bloody stigmatic lines on her chest, the palms of her hands and the soles of her feet. She prayed to the Lord Above for an answer and promptly got it; but, even though she now knew the truth, she refused to give up on her father, instead praying for the Lord Above to try to turn him back to the side of good. As Bel-Bel'iq began the construction of a great tower capable of reaching the lowest branch of the Tree of Life, which he claimed to be a means of communing more closely with the Lord Above to his subjects, the Lord Above began to send signs to try and warn him off his course.

    The first sign was the most personal: an angel, traditionally believed to be Ben'e-Rehman acting in his capacity as the Voice of the Lord Above, descended from Heaven to straight up tell Bel-Bel'iq to cease walking down the path he was on, promising him that his deeds had already earned him entry to Heaven if he would but stay on the course of righteousness and also warning him that he would lose everything should he persist on the course of darkness instead. But these words only hardened the heart of Bel-Bel'iq, and he did not change his ways.

    The second sign was no less direct, but impacted more than just Bel-Bel'iq. Bel-Azer sent a drought & also stirred up great swarms of locusts to destroy humanity's crops, bringing the world to the brink of famine. The masses marched on Bel-Bel'iq's incomplete Tower, demanding reprieve and threatening his head, but the universally-beloved Mana was able to talk them into standing down and praying with her for succor. It was then that the following transpired:
    Quote Originally Posted by Creation 12:5-7
    The skies parted and a great light shone from above even as it suddenly rained.
    Those locusts that were caught in the light died, burned to ashes at once, while those who were not fled.
    The crops of the world, once dry and brittle and lifeless, sprang back to life at the rain's touch, turning full and lush and verdant.
    Princess Mana appeals to her father for the first time

    But still Bel-Bel'iq would not be swayed. Surely, if he could just reach the Tree of Life and bring its fruits back down to the Earth, nobody would have to fear starvation ever again, no matter what the Lord Above willed. So, as construction on the Tower progressed, Bel-Azer sent a third sign: a great plague that ravaged the population of Bel-Bel'iq's capital. Once more Princess Mana beseeched the Lord Above to have mercy on her people, to not punish the many for her father's sins, and once more the Lord Above relented; not a soul perished when the plague receded.

    Yet, once more too did Bel-Bel'iq harden his heart. The Lord Below whispered that his daughter's soft heart and overt reverence of the same Lord Above who hadn't yet granted him immortality was a weakness that was holding him back, and that if he ever means to achieve his goal, he must push past her - by any means necessary. Once he attained the power of the heavens and in so doing literally became his name's meaning manifest, no god could hope to punish him like this ever again. So Bel-Bel'iq redoubled his efforts to complete the tower, and this time the Lord Above sent no further signs or warnings, save one to Mana: Ben'e-Rehman spoke in His stead to her in a dream, warning her to stay well away from the tower, for soon a host of angels led by 'Il-Shekhar would descend upon her father's work and raze it to the ground, and they were expecting heavy resistance from both those nobles & warriors of the Kingdom of Men who were 'in the know' and a growing number of demons disguised as guards & laborers.

    Bel-Bezar advises Bel-Bel'iq to redouble efforts on the tower, come what may

    Mana, being not only a zealous believer in the Lord Above but also a daughter who dearly loved her father, disregarded the warning of the Archangel of the Dawn and raced to the tower to directly confront Bel-Bel'iq. What happened next is unclear: the Tansim itself simply says that she died. In some extracanonical traditions she nearly persuaded her old man to stand down when an unnamed demon suddenly killed her, others hold that the Lord Below himself smote her, and still others claim that her father murdered her himself in rage at her defiance. Whatever happened, she definitely died, and 'Il-Shekhar proceeded to storm the nearly-complete tower from above with a divine legion at his back. In the chaotic battle that ensued, the human soldiers and laborers who had not been informed of Bel-Bel'iq's true intentions downed their weapons & tools and bolted, while the rest fought the angels alongside their King's demonic allies and were slaughtered to a man. And the martyred princess' soul was brought before the throne of the Lord Above, who gave her the same choice He gave Ben'eqeh and Y'nosh ages ago; she promptly made the same choice they did, and was consequently resurrected as the third of 'Illam's four great Archangels, Hem'elisa - the 'Lady of Waters', who first rose out of a pool of her own mortal blood and tears with her former body in her arms and joined the fight.

    Mana prepares to confront her corrupted father for the last time

    What happened to Bel-Bel'iq is as much of a mystery as how his final conversation with his daughter played out. The Tansim states that he also did not survive the battle at his tower, but does not elaborate further. An extracanonical tradition popular with the Kan'ahim and Rechabim (who also favor the narrative in which he committed filicide) holds that he was the first victim of Hem'elisa, while in one popular with the three lowest Septs he not only didn't kill her personally, but was so filled with regret at what his ambitions had cost him that he threw himself off of the tower's roof just as 'Il-Shekhar's host descended. Still other, less well-known traditions written down by rival circles of Kan'ahim eccentrics suggest that he either killed himself, but out of fear at the wrath of Hem'elisa rather than any regret in her first death & creation, or was fatally wounded by the angels and died begging for forgiveness in her arms, which she freely granted despite her then-monstrous visage and her own anger at the situation. In any case, all accounts agree that he died before the battle had concluded.

    Anyway, no matter what had transpired, the result was spelled out with much greater clarity than its prelude in the Tansim: the King's great tower was ruined, and the Lord Below and his minions driven back into the Lifeless Tree. There however, it soon became apparent that while he was whispering into Bel-Bel'iq's ears, his arch-demons had been busy rebuilding, and Bel-Bezar threatened to march onto the surface with his renewed strength. Though Bel-Azer and the angels could well have defeated him again, the cost of such renewed war would have amounted to another Flame Deluge, and so the two Lords reached a truce of sorts; they would withdraw their forces from the Earth, with the Lord Below (as the clear loser so far) submitting to the imposition of celestial seals on the entrance of the Interstice, and watch as humanity either rose or fell on its own legs. The Lord Above would bet on man's virtues being able to shine through with only His indirect guidance, while the Lord Below bet on man's vices instead dragging them down to his level with again, no direct interference. Moreover, seeing how easily one ruler-turned-tyrant could lead all of humanity down a dark path whether they knew it or not, Bel-Azer issued and Ben'e-Rehman read out an edict sundering the universal tongue of men.

    No longer being able to communicate with one another, and with their ruling elite suddenly decapitated, the second united Empire of Men rapidly disintegrated into a morass of feuding tribes and warlords. But, with no central leadership, there was no longer any chance of all or most of humanity falling under the thrall of the Lord Below just because their ruler did. Some tribes and peoples might (and would) be seduced by the Darkness in due time, but there would always be others opposing them who remained faithful to the Light.

    With no legitimate leadership or common language, the Second Empire of Man falls into anarchy

    Now an archangel standing for the faithful in the divided earth, Hem'elisa became associated with the Fruit of The World as well as healing, grace, beauty, modesty and the west. As with her male predecessors, she appears to mortals in the guise of a Manifestation linked to that Fruit Above, and strives to motivate mortals to preserve the inherent natural beauty of said world and avoid pollution or unnecessary destruction in accordance with said Fruit. To an equal but less well-known extent she also promotes the construction of connections between individuals, from friendship to romantic relationships, and tries to inspire men to not only find beauty in the natural world which she protects but also to create beautiful works of their own - characteristics which are more strongly reflected in the lesser Archangels she helped create and is closest to. No doubt these are efforts to at least somewhat compensate for her failure to prevent her father's fall into madness and the ensuing sundering of the ancient human tongue.

    Hem'elisa's Manifestation is known to the 'Illamite faithful as The Lady of Waters. She appears to be a beautiful young woman arising from a body of water, or even made entirely of water herself. The Lady of Waters is the guardian of the physical world, from the depths of the seas to the highest tree and mountain. She guides deserving mortals to awe-inspiring but well-hidden sights in the wilderness; instructs all living beings on how to live in a state of equilibrium with their surroundings, never taking more than they give to nature; explains and controls natural phenomena such as the tides, rains and fog so that mortals might learn to work with or around them; heals the sickly and purifies the sinful in her cooling waters; and when worst comes to worst, wards off greedy exploiters of nature and living things with raging storms, mighty floods, and the directed fury of wild animals.

    The Lady of Waters rising from the deep

    Like the other Archangels, Hem'elisa tests mortals from time to time to separate 'the wheat' from 'the chaff', so to speak. She usually tests the bonds of love, observing the lengths to which men and women will go to save their loved ones: men and women who would go on dangerous quests to retrieve miraculous medicine for their ailing significant other or to fend off hostile rival tribes that threatened the safety of everyone they knew and cared about were some obvious examples, but Hem'elisa was also said to look upon homeless mothers who sheltered their children with their own bodily heat, children who walked an extra mile through sweltering heat or pouring rain to reach their parents, or spouses who resisted great personal temptation to remain faithful with favor & to reward them all the same. Accordingly, like the other Archangels, those who pass the tests of the Lady of Waters are given an opportunity to either ascend to Heaven or be reborn as an angel reporting directly to her.

    The Elisim​, 'Watery Ones', are those angels of Mana associated with the Lady of Waters. They are said to have translucent, water-like wings, and to move with inhuman fluidity - if they aren't just made of water entirely. They are the worthy who drowned at sea or in lakes, rivers and springs: the innocent, the virtuous, those who drowned saving others from sharing their fate, or at least those who their new mistress deemed to have at least done more good than bad, and were willing to take up her offer of angelhood. They are thought to be the most numerous of Mana's servants (since you don't have to be particularly heroic or inspiring to drown), and are charged with protecting sites of natural beauty or importance as well as controlling local weather patterns. They ward the greedy and impure of heart away from their assigned sites, bring rains and rainbows to the virtuous while punishing the sinful with floods and storms, and wield as absolute a mastery over the element of water as 'Ilm-Shekhar's Berim do over fire; those who they can't dissuade they kill, traditionally (it is said) via exsanguination, forcing all of their blood out through their orifices and pores for a quick and painful execution.

    Elisim are often depicted as being formed of water like their mistress, Mana
    Last edited by Barry Goldwater; January 01, 2019 at 09:59 PM.

  5. #5
    Barry Goldwater's Avatar Mr. Conservative
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    Default Re: [ANW] Barry's Side-stories

    Atzirah's tale: Vengeful murders and man's average lifetimes
    Fifteen hundred years after the fall of Bel-Bel'iq's Great Tower and the sundering of the ancient Common Tongue of Men, humanity had degenerated into dire straits. Without a common language which they could all understand, their united globe-spanning empire had fragmented into a million squabbling tribes and petty-kingdoms. And though the seals placed over the Interstice and the self-imposed ban on Heaven's hosts kept the world largely free of supernatural interference (certainly of anything on the scale of what had transpired when the Lord Below could still roam the earth and bend the wills of the Kings of Men freely), the humans more than made up for it with their constant slaughter of one another in raids and wars, truly the curse of Av'edan made manifest one-thousand-fold in the modern men and women who carried his blood. The Lord Above and Lord Below were forgotten at least in name, as most humans began turning to worship of lesser spirits who still roamed free, natural objects such as the Sun and Moon or idols of their own creation, and few still revered either of the Lords even beneath new names and new mythologies as corrupted as a broken mirror's reflection of the onlooker.

    Fallen humans war with and enslave one another

    Still, there was one splinter tribe of ancient men which had a more or less correct view on the world. These were the 'Illami, who even then were known as the 'Righteous Many' to themselves and their Mun'umati neighbors. Unlike said neighbors, who worshiped at the feet of false gods, the 'Illami remained staunch followers of the Lord Above, whom they called Bel-Azer in their own tongue. They were a humble folk, dust-bitten herders of sheep and camels who wandered between the dunes of the Great Sand Sea barefoot or in rough sandals, but they had been made hardy by their difficult environment and were content with what they had. Though the Lord Above remained aloof from mortal affairs, His three great Archangels were still human at heart, and filled with equal parts pity on and respect for these Righteous who still remained loyal to the All-Mighty even as they scrabbled out meager lives beneath the searing desert sun, descended to provide for them. Ben'e-Rehman used his blazing sun to guide them into a valley flanked by rocky promontories to the east and west, which would shelter them from that same sun's rays; 'Ilm-Shekhar taught them how to forge tools and weapons from bronze and iron, with which they could defend themselves; and Hem'elisa blessed their new land with her touch, causing water to gush forth from the valley's heart as a spring, while lush plants sprouted from the sand around it and beasts flocked to the new oasis, providing the 'Illami with companionship and additional food alike. The Lord Above permitted all of this, for though He held off on direct intervention, He too was moved by the faith of the Righteous Many.

    Ancient 'Illami warriors of the Late Bronze Age

    Generations later, the 'Illami still prospered in this beautiful valley, with even those who left its paradisaical boundaries going on to slay mighty monsters and bring glory to the name of the Lord Above through their heroic deeds abroad. But to the south and west laid a great and terrible empire, one that had shattered many lesser kingdoms and nations as it stretched its tendrils outward, and whose Paramount King now heard of a mysterious oasis where the water tasted sweeter than any wine and there was no end to the lush fruit that grew above its central spring: the 'Awali. One day, they descended upon the valley with a great horde numbering in the tens of thousands, armed with gleaming spears and sickle-swords of bronze and riding atop chariots pulled by horses taller & stronger than any the Righteous had ever seen. In the face of such force, even the bravest of the Righteous fell quickly; Hem'elisa's oasis was burnt to ash in the fighting, and those of the tribe who were not killed were dragged off in chains as the newest nation of thralls in the Paramount King's collection. As they left, the 'Awali also claimed fifty the fairest young men and maidens of the tribe as personal slaves for their ruling house; among this unfortunate lot was a maid named Atzirah, a scion of no great lineage but who was still so fair that men had compared her to the legendary Princess Mana, though her hair be darker and her countenance paler.

    Atzirah was claimed by a prince remembered by the 'Illami as Eutmun. Cunning, ruthless and above all else possessed of a burning ambition, Eutmun spent most of his waking days plotting to eliminate the fifty-five older brothers and half-brothers who barred his way to their father's throne, but he was still a man with man's needs. It took only half a year for him to plant his seed in Atzirah's womb, and he boasted to both his retainers (men of only slightly less noble blood) and those brothers of his who'd survived his schemes thus far that she would soon bear him a child more beautiful than any of theirs, a boy or girl with hair as dark as midnight and a countenance as fair and free of blemish as carved alabaster. For her part, Atzirah seethed at the thought of birthing a scion of this foreign conqueror whose people had humiliated her own and burned down her home, but as she was unwilling to take the life of her own blood and believed that she could persuade Eutmun to take it easy on the 'Illami should he ascend to the throne and she remain his favorite concubine, she bore the shame stoically.

    Atzirah in Eutmun's court

    Until, to her great misfortune, Eutmun finally succeeded in eliminating the last of his troublesome kin - and came to consider her a liability. In the course of his intrigues, the 'Awali prince married the haughty daughter of a great nobleman, whose aid he required in dispatching one of his mightier brothers. This woman, Anahi, was both jealous of Atzirah's beauty and fearful that her issue might one day contend with her own for Eutmun's throne, and she attacked Atzirah where she could - badmouthing her when Eutmun was not present, or striking at her face and arms (though never her belly, she feared her husband's wrath too greatly to risk that) with her own hands or with objects - while at the same time pressing Eutmun to dispose of her. Still Eutmun refused, and Anahi had little choice but to burn with shame and rage as he insisted on sharing their bed with Atzirah whenever possible. But this would all change when, while Atzirah was eight months pregnant and nearly ready to bring Eutmun's eldest into the world, Anahi herself showed signs of pregnancy with an heir to the new Crown Prince of the 'Awali.

    The noblewoman wasted no time in showing her new joy to her husband, and redoubling her demands for him to dispose of Atzirah and her unborn issue so as to secure her own position. Eutmun remained reluctant, but finally caved when Anahi threatened to go to her father and persuade him to find a worthier successor to the aging Paramount King if he did not comply. As clever as he was, Eutmun was also a coward at heart who looked to others to fight their battles for him, and dispatched some of his men to do his wife's dirty work for them. For her part, Anahi not only relished the opportunity to finally eliminate her hated rival but also enact a dark ritual to claim Atzirah's beauty for her own, and saw to it that the most sadistic thug in Eutmun's employ headed this death squad along with herself. They barged into the concubines' quarters while Atzirah was still in bed, drove all of the other ladies and servants away, and took their sweet time in carrying out their orders once they had Atzirah all to themselves. After four torturous hours she finally breathed her last, having long ago lost the ability to scream or thrash, her corpse a red ruin that scarcely resembled a human being (much less one as fair as she had been in life) and her unborn son lying in pieces at what remained of her feet.

    The rivals for Eutmun's affections: Atzirah and Anahi

    Like Ben'eqeh, Y'nosh and Hem'elisa before her, Atzirah's soul was called forth before the throne of the Lord Above upon her miserable passing. In their exchange, well, suffice it to say that the slain 'Illamite did not advocate mercy for those who had subjected her and her offspring to such a brutal death:
    Quote Originally Posted by Book of Creation, 13:11-16
    "Is it justice you crave?" Bel-Azer asked of Atzirah.
    "Justice would be to rend my killers to ribbons, to mount the heads of Eutmun and Anahi on spikes and to free their slaves, but I seek retribution.
    Nothing short of impaling Eutmun on the highest spire of his highest tower with all his cursed kin and witless thralls,
    and stripping Anahi of her eyes, her limbs and her skin will suffice to sate my wrath.
    You, Lord whose right hand is justice and whose left is vengeance, must understand why I will settle for nothing less, when You have witnessed what they did unto me."

    "Your will aligns with Mine here and now. Vengeance is Mine, but I shall grant its execution to you, who I name My avenger." The Lord Above nodded, and sent her on her way.
    Reborn onto the Earth as La'gael ('blood-avenger'), whom the 'Illamites cheerfully refer to as the 'Lady of Lamentation', Atzirah's first act in her new life was to take her bloody revenge with divine sanction. The Tansim laconically states that she emerged from the shadow of the chief brute as he grinned down on her corpse and simply 'killed all in the house of Eutmun; her tormentors, the other guards and servants, Eutmun himself and all his younger brothers and sisters, and Anahi, who she slew last of all'. More colorful extracanonical legends claim at first simply flayed alive all who fell under her shadow, with her killers being the first to die this way, but deemed this insufficiently painful and sought ways to prevent the rest of her victims from being so much as touched by her shadow so that she could really get creative with them. There was said to be nothing left of Eutmun or Anahi when La'gael was done with them. Many generations later, when the 'Illami freed themselves from the rulership of the 'Awali with substantial Mun'umati support, it was said that their most violent atrocities were spurred on by the will of La'gael.

    For her part, besides her delightful titles, La'gael was also depicted as a less-than-kindly figure in 'Illami tradition associated with death, decay, rebirth, revenge, the moon, the north and oddly enough, motherhood. Correspondingly, she is associated with the Fruit of Death; together with the two non-cardinal Archangels she sponsored, she represents the last link in a cyclic triad of birth, earthly life (defined, from the 'Illami lens, by the subordination of the individual to the collective family unit, the faith and the 'Illamite nation) and death. And, of course, she is associated with, nay, considered the embodiment of vengeance without mercy: while redress for larger atrocities is prioritized, she will still go after smaller offenses in time, though at least she maintains enough sense of proportion to not punish the world's petty thieves and lying children as viciously as she would its dictators, serial killers and mass rapists. None of the three 'dark' Archangels are particularly pleasant to look at, at least as far as the 'Illami know, but La'gael least of all.

    The Reaper is what the 'Illami call La'gael's Manifestation, and La'gael herself at times. She appears as a tall, feminine figure with pitch-black wings, her body entirely shrouded within a black cloak and hood, the few flashes of the flesh beneath revealing deathly pale skin on thin and mangled fingers and toes drenched with blood, carrying a scythe as long as she is tall in one hand with a lantern giving off a sickly glow hanging from it. As the Reaper, La'gael aids those who have been wronged and whose hearts burn with the desire for revenge in mapping out their plots; tries to inflame the hearts of more reluctant wronged parties with hatred and persuade them into pursuing vengeance; hunts down those who have unnaturally prolonged their lifespan; guides the souls of most of the departed to the afterlife by the light of her lantern; and drags the souls of evildoers off in spectral chains for eternal torture. Those who accept her offer of 'help' in undoing their enemies best beware though, for it's said that anyone who falls under her shadow is doomed to die excruciatingly, and she just so happens to shift enough to cover them in said shadow when they agree with her - those who seek revenge had best dig two graves, and all that. Appropriately, her Fruit is Death.

    The Reaper on her dreadful march onward

    Given her history and the mythology around her, it is perhaps little surprise La'gael is consistently presented as a vengeful destroyer whose dark motifs and role contrasts with that of the literally sunny, lenient justiciar Ben'e-Rehman and the lovey-dovey, naturalistic and more traditionally feminine Hem'elisa. 'Illami tradition holds that besides ensuring everyone reaches a natural end to their lives and smiting those who try to extend their lifetimes beyond the plans of the Lord Above, La'gael now has the first pick of recently deceased souls: she sends those she deems at least capable of redemption to Ben'e-Rehman for further judgment, and traps those whose inner darkness mystifies even her in her dark world to be tormented until the end of days. Furthermore she has a special hatred for wrongdoers and tyrants, taking a special pleasure in assisting those underlings of theirs whom they have wronged in bringing them to brutally fitting ends, and is said to heed very few prayers, for usually people who pray for her intercession are really just asking her to get the Lord's permission to kill their enemies (or worse, they're asking her to kill said enemies for them) - when in truth, she only takes life as she or the Lord Above wishes.

    All this said, she is not entirely without a softer side: besides her connection to two more benevolent (or, at least, less destructive) Archangel allies, it is said that despite having become an angel of death and vengeance, she still has pity in what remains of her heart for the weak, the sickly and the oppressed, and will work in her own dark way to free them from their oppressors or, failing that, deliver unto them the mercy of death.

    Like the elder Archangels, La'gael tests mortals to gauge their worth, in her case usually with trials involving death or vengeance: the former tend to be fairly straightforward - she's said to sometimes appear in less frightful forms than the Reaper or even as the beautiful woman she once was, promising men and women immortality if only they would perform terrible human sacrifices, and anyone who actually attempts to go through with said sacrifice inevitably ends up brutally killed and condemned to a near-eternity of torment by her hand - but the latter is where she can be most unpredictable. Sometimes she will reward those who can exploit the opportunities for vengeance that she provides while spurning those who don't as weaklings and bleeding-hearts unfit to join the ranks of her host, at other times she rewards the capacity for mercy and moving forward while condemning those who indulge their desire for revenge; which way she leans is tied into how much remorse the target of vengeance is feeling, and what they've done to try to make up for their offenses.

    La'gael's angels are the Ash'arim, or 'Scourging Ones'. They look as their old mortal selves did at death, but their hands (if they still had hands when they died) and black wings are perpetually stained in blood, and their shadow amplifies feelings of anger and loathing in those mortals who fall beneath it. These were the people who called out to the Blood-Avenger to aid them in delivering retribution unto those who wronged them in life, even promising her their soul in eternal service, and whose causes were found worthy by her. They are creative and ruthless executioners who make gruesome examples of the sinners they smite, so as to dissuade others from following down the same roads; assist others who call upon La'gael's aid in attaining righteous vengeance in the most painful and humiliating ways possible; deliver the mercy of death to those not-guilty who are already irretrievably lost and in great pain; and deliver dire warnings, either through nightmares or physically, to those sinners who La'gael has judged to still deserve a chance at redemption.

    Even the prettiest Scourges will sting deep

    Now obviously, the entirety of Atzirah's story is of dubious historicity, and while there are steles and wall-glyphs denoting the existence of more than one Eutmun throughout 'Awali history and specifically in the Zaba-Tutuli period that her tale was set in, it remains unknown whether any of them were the Eutmun of the story. If this one specific Eutmun was real and really got butchered by a vengeful Archangel of Death, he can't be found in any 'Awali record or monument. It's considered likely that La'gael's story is an allegory for the suffering of the 'Illami when they were under the 'Awali yoke, and a justification for their brutality towards their former masters in the war that destroyed that great oppressive empire. For their part, the 'Illami often used La'gael as a cautionary tale: parents would warn their children not to stay out after dark and on the new or full moons lest they attract her attention, teenagers and those with anger issues are warned not to wish death upon their foes among the Righteous Many over petty issues (or worse yet pray to the Lady of Lamentation to bring about such deaths) so that they might avoid her wrath, and overly lustful individuals are warned to remain faithful to their spouses lest they fall into the same pitfall Eutmun did.
    Last edited by Barry Goldwater; January 01, 2019 at 10:03 PM.

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    Default Re: [ANW] Barry's Side-stories

    Other 'Illamite myths: The other eight Archangels
    Ben'e-Rehman, 'Ilm-Shekhar, Mana and La'gael may have been the original four 'Cardinal Archangels' of 'Illamite religious lore, so-called because of their association with the four cardinal directions, but they were not the only former mortals to have ascended to attain this divine rank. The 'Illamites venerate eight other post-diluvian mortals who, by the grace of the Creator, were also reshaped into angels of tremendous power and granted the title of Archangel. They are each associated with one of the other Fruits Above not taken by the first four of their kind, and the 'Illamite faithful pray for their intercession before the Lord Above in matters related to their spheres of influence.

    Hak-hulam ('bountiful wisdom') was once a wise and much-beloved priest of the 'Illamites, in the little-known days long before they ever met the 'Awali. Against the advice of his peers, he went to teach a neighboring tribe (whose name is now lost to history) about the truth of the Lord Above. Some more conservative members of that tribe didn't appreciate the efforts of this first-ever missionary and promptly murdered him at the first opportunity, hacking him to death in his bed despite him being under the protection of their tribe's chief at the time. Still, Hak-hulam impressed the Lord Above with his sheer conviction and calmness even as he suffered an excruciating death at the hands of the reprobates, and with the sponsorship of Ben'e-Rehman he was transfigured into the fifth Archangel & bearer of the Fruit of Truth by the light of the Lord.

    Now also known as The Hierophant to 'Illamites, the angelic Hak-hulam is the supreme embodiment and guide of man's search for intangible truths beyond what is material through religion and philosophy. He appears as the middle-aged man he was when he died, his bearded face mostly obscured beneath a hood and a pure white halo, his form wrapped away beneath immaculate white priestly robes and a blue stole draped around his neck & shoulders. In one hand he carries a solid wooden staff from whose peak sprouts the likeness of angel's wings, while from the other a silver thurible hangs and fills the air with intoxicating smoke from the incense burning within. The Hierophant reveals the messages of the Lord Above to His priests and prophets through dreams and religious symbolism; instructs the virtuous on how to live even more righteous lives that will further please the Lord Above and inspire their neighbors; corrects sinners and those whose hearts are filled with doubt; exposes conspiracies against those of true faith; and warns all who can hear against growing too attached to the material world. He hopes for the day where all men come to know they can achieve true happiness only through respectful submission to the Lord Above via prayer & religious rituals, the search for immaterial insights and the refinement of the soul over the joys and treasures of this world.

    Hak-hulam's symbol is a lidless eye set in the middle of a heptagram enclosed within a circle, all black and white.

    The Hierophant helps faithful priests and philosophers in their quest for divine truths

    Others who die a martyr's death trying to spread the word of the Most High and/or refusing to back down from worshiping Him under the pressure of earthly authorities are given a chance to join the Hierophant in eternal service to their Lord. Those who take up his offer become the Abelim, or 'Martyred Ones'. Having survived hideous tortures and finally endured martyrdom without losing their faith in the Lord Above, they now serve as spiritual guides who deliver prophetic visions in their master's stead; dispel doubts and answer the questions of the faithful who call upon them the best they can; correct heretics and punish those who insist on trying to obfuscate the divine truth; and moreover serve as standard-bearers for the hosts of Heaven. Tradition dictates that they still bear signs of the wounds they endured in the last moments of their lives, even as they receive silver-white halos and sprout snow-white wings covered in many eyes.

    Multi-winged Abelim with their silver thuribles guiding a seeker of truth to salvation in his mind's eye

    Cheshmal ('helping hand') was once a lowly shepherd who, despite being quite poor himself, was nevertheless full of love and kindness towards everyone in his village. With his knowledge of herbalism he helped the local wise man brew up remedies for the other townsfolk's ills, he would always be there to help when someone's child or livestock went missing, and he'd give the shirt off his back to anyone who needed it. When raiders attacked his people, the young Cheshmal wielded his crook as a weapon against another human being for the first time in his life and died defending his lover, not long after they had just begun to talk of marriage. Despite his failure and resulting death, his last stand and the compassion he displayed in life impressed Ben'e-Rehman, who presented his soul to the Lord Above. When offered the chance, he volunteered for angelhood so that he might prevent others from suffering his village's fate, and so he was transfigured into the sixth Archangel and bearer of the Fruit of Compassion.

    Cheshmal is now known as The Caregiver, embodiment and advocate of altruism, benevolence and forgiveness. He wears simple shepherd's garb of wool and leather sandals or shoes, with little to set him apart from ordinary shepherds besides (obviously) his youth and divine charisma. In one hand he carries a shepherd's crook while around the other's wrist he wears a prayer bracelet with silver charms hanging from it, and a belt of medicinal herbs & elixirs hangs around his waist. He soothes the sickly, the hurting and the dying, providing cures where he can and comforting those who are beyond even his power to help in their last moments; protects the lowly and vulnerable from injustice; urges wrongdoers to make amends and those they wronged to forgive rather than seek vengeance; and encourages people to be kinder and more self-sacrificing toward others without reservation, thereby making the world a better place one household and neighborhood at a time. He prays that someday, the peoples of the earth will be able to live in peace, safety and understanding with one another; that contented with having loving families, jobs they enjoy, harmonious relations with their neighbors and always having enough to live comfortably (though not necessarily luxuriously), they will never again be moved to trample one another in a scramble to the top.

    Cheshmal's symbol is a bleeding heart flanked by doves with olive branches in their beaks.

    The Caregiver is traditionally depicted as the humble and simply-dressed young shepherd he once was

    Those simply died trying to defend and help the weak and needy at great risk to themselves, pity and compassion having overcome even their rational thought process, can ascend to become Hesedim or 'Kindly Ones' in service to the Caregiver. These particular angels are distinguished by their white halos and supernaturally soothing, even melodic qualities to their voices. They are the divine helpers who shelter vulnerable mortals within the warmth of their wings; console those in mourning; weave dreams, fairytales and even delusions to bring solace to those who are suffering and dying; try to dissuade, and eventually punish the abusive mighty who exploit their authority and bully those weaker than themselves; and bring hope to the hopeless. They are among the most numerous of angels, for Cheshmal accepts even those of just a little faith in the Most High so long as they have proven their willingness to sacrifice their everything to help others, and to his great relief it turns out that even in the darkest of times not everyone's cynical, cruel and selfish.

    The role of a Hesed: comforting, protecting, and bringing hope to those who desperately need consolation and safety

    Hodel ('celestial conviction') was a mighty warrior, a breaker of men and horses, but one who used his tremendous strength to protect those who needed protection and was scrupulously fair in all dealings with his fellow tribesmen and outsiders alike. During some lean times, his tribe's chief ordered him to help lead a surprise night raid on another tribe to which they were formally allied (their pact sealed in blood nearly a decade before with the marriage of the two chieftain's children), but Hodel refused to take part in such a dishonorable enterprise. He would not be swayed even after the chief threatened to have him and his entire family killed for rebellion; instead he stoically met his fate at the end of the reluctant tribal executioner's bronze ax, his last words to his wife and children being a reminder that it was better to die with honor than to live without it. 'Ilm-Shekhar witnessed the tragedy and was so impressed that he brought Hodel's soul before the Lord Above, who agreed to elevate him to the status of Archangel and bind him to the Fruit of Honor at the former's urging.

    Now known as The Father of Honor, Hodel appears to those he graces with his presence as a towering man with iron wings, his body so covered entirely in iron armor that he appears almost like a robot; still, despite the apparent stifling weight of his equipment, Hodel appears to move comfortably and gracefully enough. The Father of Honor explains codes of honor to mortals and instructs them in how to live by said codes; incites honest men to bring criminals in their midst to justice, by any means necessary; drives those who follow principles and higher standards to fulfill said principles and higher standards, no matter the cost to themselves and others; ceremonially presides over the swearing of oaths; and punishes liars, criminals and oathbreakers with his great-sword. It is his earnest wish that all mortals rigidly operate by strict rules and codes of honor in all things, from simple etiquette to warfare, and that they develop consciences strong enough to reject advantageous means of getting ahead if it means violating said codes.

    Hodel's symbol is a pair of crossed swords, their blades bound together with heavy chains.

    A later take on the Father of Honor's likeness - this is definitely not the sort of iron armor ancient 'Illamites could've had

    The Geliyim or 'Imposing Ones' are Hodel's angelic servants. They are drawn from the ranks of those soldiers who were executed by their own side for disobeying unlawful orders, whether it was refusing to participate in a massacre that the rest of their comrades were initiating or following their superiors in mounting a dishonorable false-flag attack on their own allies just as their master once did. Some sort of binding - hemp rope, iron coils, even barbed wire - twists around their limbs but do not appear to cause them even slight discomfort even as their spectral wounds continue to bleed, instead functioning as additional weapons in their heavenly arsenal, and their wings appear to be made of silvered metal. In their new lives they serve as Hodel's warriors, officers and commissars, maintaining order in his ranks, boldly taking the fight to his enemies, and spending what time they aren't using to kill demons hunting down deserters & oathbreakers.

    Geliyim are known to manifest with bound limbs representing the constraints of honor, yet are able to fluidly maneuver in their bindings

    Gabbor ('severity') was once a highly esteemed elder of a tribe living on the border of the Great Sand Sea that the Mun'umati called home and the Great Grass Sea which belonged to the Suuvulk in those ancient days. He was especially respected for his wisdom and fair sense of justice, and even the pettiest and most small-minded of tribesmen who brought their concerns to him only to have him rule against them would grudgingly acknowledge the sagacity of his decisions. That is, until he ruled that in keeping with the traditions and customs of his tribe, the third son of the chief should be put to death for raping the daughter of a baker and his slave (for, despite having a slave mother, she was born free under the tribe's law) and then killing her brother when he protested. The chief could not bear to see his son killed and instead had his men strangle Gabbor in his sleep, an outcome which Gabbor had expected and welcomed so long as it meant doing the right thing. Even mighty 'Ilm-Shekhar had to mourn the death of such a just man and sponsored his ascent to Archangelhood, whereby he was entrusted with the Fruit of Judgment by the Lord Above.

    Now known as The Judge, Gabbor is a figure both respected and feared by the faithful. He appears as he was in life, an old man with long silver-gray hair and a beard - but now he has black pits for eyes and wings of hard iron, his form garbed in austere black and red robe, a pair of brass scales in his left hand while in the right he bears stone tablets with laws written upon them in the incomprehensible language of the divine. The Judge does not make laws himself, but rather he enforces the laws of the Lord Above and compels mortals in charge of doing the same - worldly judges, police officers and such - to do so swiftly, efficiently and fairly; recommends ways to remain on the straight & narrow to those faithful who fear they may be falling off the Righteous Path; warns evildoers to turn back from the road they've chosen or face the consequences; and sentences the unrepentant without mercy, for they had their chance but persisted in their folly anyway. Still, like 'Ilm-Shekhar, he ultimately hopes for a world where he and other severe judges like himself are no longer necessary, one where the creations of the Lord Above will know what is right in their hearts and actually consistently follow the law without needing to be intimidated into it or choosing to break it and suffer the inevitable consequences.

    Gabbor's symbol is a pair of perfectly balanced iron scales, propped up on a crossed pair of hammers.

    Those who administer justice blindly, impartially and relentlessly are held in high esteem by the Judge

    Those who served and fought and died out of dutiful obligation to their laws, country & faith even should they not entirely agree with their superiors' commands, whether they be unquestioning conscripts or volunteering soldiers who allowed their patriotism to override concerns about the justness of their nation's war or police officers who did as their superiors commanded despite personal misgivings, will be offered a chance to become Vernehim - 'Pledged Ones', the footsoldiers of the Judge and common enforcers of his will. It's said that their wings' bones are made of bronze and the feathers of razor-sharp iron while blades or other weapons replace their hands, and some 'Illami mystical traditions hold that the entirety of their bodies are made of perpetually well-oiled metal. They relentlessly pursue those whom their master marks for arrest or death and mete out punishment without emotion, for not even the most visceral displays of pain and fear on the part of their targets can move their hearts of iron.

    Artist's rendering of a fully metalic Verneh

    Libanah ('allure') was the daughter of a tribal chief in the un-recorded days of the Mun'umatic Bronze Age, and a woman of such great beauty that the ancient enemies of her tribe swore to uphold a ceasefire in perpetuity if only her father would wed her to their own chieftains. Negotiations broke down and all three tribes ended up going to war, while Libanah herself tired of being treated as an object of lust and a political pawn. She had already chosen someone for herself, and attempted to elope with him as the three tribes' warriors clashed. Alas, the runaway lovers were found to be hiding in a mostly flooded grotto, all three sides sent war parties to pursue them, and they died in the resulting crossfire. Mana took pity on the slain Libanah and brought her to the Lord Above, who offered her a chance to harness her talents for so easily inspiring men to great and stupid things in a positive direction. She accepted, and as an Archangel, has now come to embody the Fruit of Awakening.

    Libanah is now known as The Muse. She is most frequently seen by faithful artists in need of a spark of inspiration - painters, sculptors, musicians, and so on, it matters not. What exactly the Muse appears to be changes depending on what the artist needs to see, hear or feel; she could be a beautiful, scantily-clad or even fully nude dancer in one painter's eyes, a bout of light rain that leaves sparkling drops of water on the local pines to another, and an immaculate ewe climbing a mountain on a cloudy morning to yet another. Her purpose is to inflame passions in the hearts of men, driving them to not only produce gorgeous works of art but also to pursue high-minded virtues and live better lives; to fill sinners with guilt over their crimes, so that they will know what they did was wrong and be moved to repent; to nudge mortals into realizing their heart's true desires and pursuing those desires, at least so long as they're positive; and, in general, to exhort mortals to be the best they can be, physically and spiritually. She hopes to one day live in the most colorful and vibrant world imaginable, a world where all people are inspired to create works of beauty and unafraid to pursue their dreams, romances and high ideals.

    Libanah's symbol is a nymph dancing in a swirl of pink and white silks.

    It's said that Libanah's dancing can bring inspiration to even the most dour and uncreative of men

    The Tabayim or 'Heartening Ones' are those angels attuned to the Muse. In life, they were men and women who died inspiring others to attain new heights with prayers to the Muse on their lips - from especially beautiful courtesans who inspired artists of renown to create legendary works in their honor and bearing their likeness, to sickly children whose illness and death spurred scientists, wise men and their own parents to pursue cures for their condition so that no other would have to suffer as they did. Now, possessing halos of soft-red light and eyes that can peer into the recesses of living souls, these supreme empaths and creative influences awaken hidden talents in people and try to help them achieve their full potential; identify the desires of their charges; guide them towards positive ends and subtly or not-so-subtly redirecting them from darker courses; and punish evildoers by exacerbating their negative thoughts and tricking them into walking paths to their own ruin in the guise of aiding them in achieving their own ambitions.

    A Tabaya awakens a child's musical talent in her dreams

    Tohar ('virtue') was a novice priestess in life, her own remarkable looks hidden away beneath a veil and no shortage of robes. Still, she could not go about dressed all the time, and one day while she bathed with her fellow clerics, a young man spied on her and was immediately awestruck by her looks. Possessed by lust, he intercepted her at the first opportunity and demanded she set her vows aside to marry him. Naturally, Tohar refused, and when the man threatened to have his way with her she countered by holding a knife to her own throat. He backed off then, but later revealed himself to be the nephew of the tribe's chief shaman and accused her of sleeping around in violation of her vows. Tohar's word was discounted when the man brought up 'credible witnesses' (an assortment of tribesmen and women he'd bribed to support his lies) and she was executed for her supposed crime. Mana was upset by the unfair treatment meted out to the pure Tohar and brought her case directly to the Lord Above, who agreed that what happened to her was vile and offered the martyred priestess compensation in the form of Archangelhood. Tohar accepted and now bears the Fruit of Beauty.

    Reborn as The Maiden, Tohar now appears to those she graces with her presence as a...well, maiden, dressed in all whites and soft blues like the priestess she used to be, an azure halo around her covered head and a teardrop-shaped sapphire necklace around her neck, a small marble stoup filled with pristine sacred water in her hands. Her beauty radiates chaste purity rather than lust, and any who try to peek beneath her robes are immediately struck blind. She reminds mortals of what is worth fighting for in this world; cools fiery tempers and passions with her holy water before they boil over; carefully redirects the energies of the people toward productive and beautiful projects rather than to bloodshed or isolation; helps those who pray to her for guidance in finding friends and true love; and safeguards the purity of other, mortal maidens. She hopes for a world where beauty is treated with respect and consistently inspires & enlightens, rather than serving as foci for lust and envy.

    Tohar's symbol is an azure lidless eye, from which a single teardrop is falling.

    Many have wondered what the Maiden might look like, were she to wear even just a little less clothing

    The Ishimarim or 'Impassioned Ones' are the choir of angels sworn to the Maiden. Their hearts burn with the bright red glow of passion, but beyond that, their bodies and shapes are illusions that constantly change to reflect the ideals of beauty held by their beholders. These were once mortals who died trying their damndest to save their loved ones from terrible fates, whether they were the pacifist who picked up arms for the first and last time in their life to defend their family from a gang of raiders or the reluctant courier who braved the elements, beasts and roving marauders to deliver medicine for their ailing friend. Now they are warrior-angels - quite unexpected for the divine servitors of an Archangel normally associated with non-violent concepts such as beauty and purity - who inspire their earthly hosts to fight without fear or pity, heal their injuries and twist their bodies into forms better suited for battle as necessary. Perhaps they have been touched by residues of the anger their mistress must have felt in her last moments as a human?

    An Ishar's shape changes to match the observer's beauty standards, but they never appear ugly even as they engage in battle

    Safna ('soothsayer') was a respected wise-woman and sorceress who used her talents to help the people of her village. Under her careful hands, even severe injuries that should've killed their victim could be treated, a remedy would be prepared for any conceivable illness, weather patterns were predicted so the farmers and herders could prepare adequately for them, and not one woman died in childbirth. Alas, Musaylam's talents were insufficient to protect the village when a party of especially vicious and well-armed raiders attacked them one evening. The best she could do was guide the women, children and infirm or old of the settlement (including her own daughters and grandchildren) through a mountain pass with enough supplies to reach another town they'd traded with frequently, then bringing a landslide down upon herself and the raiders who found her, conveniently also blocking the pass' entrance. Following her death, La'gael offered to present her to the Lord Above and sponsor her ascension to Archangelhood, an offer which Musaylam readily accepted. Now, she bears the Fruit of Life.

    Safna is now better-known among the 'Illami as The Crone. She appears as a haggard old woman in roughspun robes, walking with a cane in one hand and a large, bright lantern in the other, her black wings seeming as ancient and weathered as her frail body. It is her role to guide souls from Heaven into the bodies of newborn children with the light of her lantern; to assist women in childbirth and ensure that they deliver their children safely; to illuminate the secrets of the world, whether they be hidden treasures or wisdom that eludes even the wisest of mortal philosophers, to the deserving; and to trick the undeserving into traps that will chastise or outright kill them. As the heavens' keeper of arcane mysteries and secret knowledge, she longs for the day when mortals grow responsible enough that she can trust them with the entirety of the knowledge engraved into her soul, and where they respect their elders enough to listen when she says 'thou shalt not' so that she needn't lay down traps of varying deadliness to dissuade the greedy, the power-crazed and the plain inexperienced from pursuing secrets which they would inevitably misuse.

    Safna's symbol is a chalice filled with earth and salt, surrounded by a halo.

    The Crone with her guiding light

    The Halakhim or 'Purifying Ones' are Safna's angelic servants. In the eyes, or more accurately the dreams and prophecies, of mortals they appear to be translucent glowing specters wielding sickles and spears, and their wings are mostly bone with only a few black feathers and stringy tendons or exposed muscles left on them. These were once sickly or otherwise dying men and women who were tempted by the Crone with immortality or cures to their condition at the cost of a terrible sacrifice, often the life of a loved one, and spurned her, in so doing earning no small measure of respect from her. They keep vigil over newborns; prod those suffering the same ailments that ultimately claimed their own lives in the direction of a cure, if one is to be found; advise those who have wronged others on how best to make amends; and eliminate mortals who seek the keys of immortality or transgression into the realms of spirits, angels or demons without permission.

    Halakim are not known for having comforting visages

    Bianisa ('nurturing woman') was once the matriarch of a large family, having borne five children who then went on to have thirteen grandchildren between themselves. When her husband was killed by a bear while out hunting, she took on the responsibility of providing for her many descendants, working herself to the bone; between weaving clothes to sell to the rest of the village, cooking meals for her kin, doing their laundry, and making or buying herbal concoctions for those of her children who'd fallen ill, she virtually never had a moment to spare for herself. Her efforts were rewarded as she got to see her children growing up, marrying and having children of their own, all without a single casualty. That is, until a rival tribe attacked and burned down her settlement, and particularly sadistic warriors in their ranks forced her to watch as they murdered her entire family before striking her head off. In the anguish and fury of her last moments she inadvertently made a connection to La'gael, who readily indulged her desire for revenge and - after sponsoring her ascent to Archangelhood - aided her in not just wiping out the raiders but also exterminating their tribe, sparing only the infants to be picked up by the next tribe that moved through the region. As an Archangel, her Fruit is Togetherness.

    As The Night Mother, Bianisa appears to be a pale woman (sometimes pregnant, sometimes not) in her middling years, with sclerae as milky-white as a cadaver's and stringy, unkempt dark hair, wearing a simple dress of little color and carrying empty swaddling sheets in her hands, her raven-like wings ready to wrap around and protect children and infants. The Night Mother embodies the primordial matriarch and promotes the collective, but above all the family unit, over the individual. She encourages parents to love their children and vice-versa, helping them reinforce their familial bonds and overcome past disagreements; goes to even greater extremes than most of her fellow Archangels to protect infants and young children; blesses marriages; lays out the appropriate rites for laying the dead to rest; oversees the punishment of those who go against their family's dictates; and, in general, instructs mortals on the importance of setting their own desires aside in favor of serving the common will, whether that be the will of their family, their church or their nation. Her ideal world is one where mortals are able to set aside all selfish desires, instead wholly devoting themselves to one another's betterment and the common good - particularly their family's welfare.

    Bianisa's symbol is a veiled woman carrying a swaddled infant in her arms.

    The Night Mother, accompanied by the spirits of children and infants

    The Night Mother is attended to by the Kishim, or 'Binding Ones'. Heavy chains bind a coffin representing earthly obligations to others onto their backs and weigh down their dark-gray wings, but none of this particularly bothers them, for they accepted their burdens with grim determination long ago. In life these mortals did their damndest to avenge people close to them - friends, family, mentors, and so on - rather than themselves, to the extreme of praying to La'gael and Bianisa for assistance; whether they actually succeeded or died trying doesn't actually matter, as they ended up in her service anyway. They punish those who violate the sanctity of the family; target child- and baby-killers with extreme prejudice; try to persuade estranged kinsmen into reconciling; and attempt to scare those who are risking the collective good by persuading their own selfish desires back into line or, failing that, punish them for their selfishness (fatally or otherwise).

    One way or another, Kishim are usually depicted as being very attached to coffins

    Other 'Illamite myths: The Dark Princes and Lords
    Just as the Lord Above has His polar opposite and great adversary in the Lord Below, so too do His twelve great Archangels of human origin in 'Illamite tradition have their foes in the twelve great 'Dark Princes' and 'Dark Lords': the four sons and three daughters of the Lord Below, backed up by five mortals of especially blackened hearts whose souls they pulled down and exposed to their dreadful father in a twisted parody of how the Cardinal Archangels forged their own allies out of the souls of especially virtuous mortals. The Tansim has little to say about them save their names and general overviews of their dominions (understandably, a holy book wouldn't want to talk much about the great demonic figures in their mythology), so much of what is known about these arch-demons comes from the written traditions, folk tales and esoteric mysteries of the 'Illamites instead.

    What all of the seven original Dark Princes have in common is that, as a sharp contrast to the Archangels, they weren't of human origin but are biologically half-human. In both the Tansim and virtually every mystic tradition of the 'Illamites, they are believed to have been the first four demons birthed by Sanna, the first woman and mother of all humanity, as a result of her violation and impregnation by the Lord Below. Thus, they are older than the Archangels (save for Ben'e-Rehman, who is technically their older half-brother of sorts) and all humans living today, but not older than humanity in general. Despite several of them supposedly being feminine, they're all referred to as 'Dark Princes', just as their originally fully human allies are called 'Dark Lords' regardless of gender.

    Moreover, the traces of humanity still left in their pitch-black, shriveled hearts - though stripped of any goodness - still give them a much keener insight into the human mind and emotional spectrum than their descendants, the lesser demons spawned through their unholy couplings with earthly creatures or their father; naturally, this means they're their old man's ideal candidates for his chief agents on the mortal plane, in charge of influencing human society for the worse, disrupting any effort by the Archangels and faithful mortals to establish order in the flawed and chaotic world, and drawing as many souls away from the Righteous Path as possible. Like the twelve Archangels, 'Illamite tradition dictates that the Dark Princes and Lords play a much more active role in mortal affairs than their overlord ever since the Two Lords agreed to their truce in the aftermath of Bel-Bel'iq's downfall.

    The eldest and cleverest of the Dark Princes is said to be Azaneal. His Fruit is Domination, and he is accordingly associated with arbitrary rule, ambition, cynicism, cruelty and selfishness (even more-so than the other Dark Princes). This Fruit represents the ideal he has in mind for the earth - a world of terrified slaves cowering and dying at the whim of masters they are too afraid to question, who brutalize them at the slightest (or with no) provocation, rule wholly by fear, and routinely fight among themselves in an effort to prove that they are better than all the rest even as their thralls take out their frustrations on the weakest of their own kind. A world of unceasing, unrelenting and pitiless despotism, where force and ruthlessness trump all 'legitimate' methods of taking power and the only thing that changes with regimes is the face of the person on top.

    It's thus no surprise that Azaneal is called The Tyrant by 'Illamites. He is said to appear as a tall, powerful, humanoid crow with an exposed skull and talons as large as a man's hand, wearing a diadem of tarnished gold and pyrite on his brow and a cloak of fine many-colored silks and velvets haphazardly stitched together, an iron rod in one hand and a pair of unbalanced scales in the other. The Tyrant fills mortals with an extreme desire for power and material things, even if they already have plenty of both; encourages them to act on their ambitions, even especially if they must tread on others and break established laws to achieve them; prods them into valuing #1 above all else, forsaking ties of blood, friendship and love as well as higher ideals such as justice or charity as millstones around their greedy necks should the latter get in the way of their dreams; and persuades them to not get emotionally attached to their subjects, instead viewing them as little more than playthings and tools to advance themselves with ever further, at most only avoiding abusing them too much to avoid sparking a revolt (at least before they know they've enough power to suppress any rebellion).

    While he doesn't possess the raw power of some of his younger siblings, Azaneal has the sharpest mind out of his kin, on top of an insatiable desire for control and domination of all those he deems lesser than himself (which, considering his pride, is virtually everyone else). He delights in setting up vicious cycles, playing master and rebel at once and striving to ensure today's abused become tomorrow's abusers, and in playing manipulative mind games, whether it is setting one man against his friends or manipulating an entire nation into raising up a leader who will lead them to ruin. No matter his ends at the time, he prefers insidious subterfuge over brute force to achieve them. This is a monster who finds it both easier and more satisfying to, say, trick the powerful and the wealthy into compromising situations for blackmail material or simply whisper about all the ways he could help them amass more power & achieve their goals (even if said goals are benevolent, the methods he will advise them to take will surely taint their intentions) in their ear, instead of simply threatening, killing or taking hostages to force their compliance (though he certainly isn't above that should the men he targets prove impervious to his subtler charms).

    Azaneal's symbol is a crowned eye surrounded by a flight of crows, arranged to seem like a circular halo.

    The Tyrant without his cloak

    Assisting Azaneal in his schemes are legions of demons, the souls of mortals so irrevocably twisted by the Tyrant's power and their own desires that they have willingly forsaken any hope of redemption and allowed themselves to be remade into their corrupter's infernal servitors. Azaneal's followers specifically are called the Gabarim, or 'Covetous Ones', and are said to appear as amorphous masses of gray-black slime with scraps of flesh strewn haphazardly inside them, able to assimilate almost any material in and beyond this earth into their forms. They are all that remain of the souls of those utterly unprincipled seekers of power & wealth who made a pact with the Tyrant to attain their earthly ambitions, regardless of whether or not they actually succeeded, and 'live' to possess and kill as many people as they can. When provided with sufficient quantities of biomatter to possess, they are able to reshape this biomatter into the forms of the people whose identities they had stolen. Under their myriad guises, they are then able to infiltrate the courts of rulers, ideally ingratiate themselves with said rulers, and influence them into taking a course of action agreeable to the Tyrant.

    Gabarim are said to haunt their victims' nightmares as amorphous masses of slime and flesh

    Thatama was the secondborn and eldest daughter of the Lord Below, emerging from her mother's corpse clutching her elder brother Azaneal's ankle. Of the Lord Below's spawn, she is reputed to have inherited much of her mother's beauty. It's little surprise that she grew up to become her father's favorite, and to receive more of his attention than any of her other siblings - with all that that entails. As a consequence she is mother, grandmother, ancestor to the majority of demons in existence today.

    Her unfortunate family history aside, Thatama is still wholly committed to her father and his ambitions, and along with her big brother is one of the more cerebral Dark Princes. Where Azaneal generally appeals to man's lust for power, ambition for more than what they already have and feelings of entitlement, Thatama set out to appeal to and manipulate a broader spectrum of emotions. First and foremost, she seeks out the sort of people who are already dancing close to the edge of falling into the arms of demons already: those full of despair and self-loathing, the mad, the suicidal, the outcast and the forsaken who have no-one to turn to. Secondly she strives to reduce everyone else that she can reach to this state, where it is easiest for her to influence them. Her Fruit, therefore, is rightly that of Lies: whether it be the individual telling themselves 'I am worthless' or the high and mighty ruler lying to his people about how well his latest foreign war is going and how spectacularly the nation's economy is doing, all who weave deceptions that bind themselves and others please her, and as far as the 'Illamites are concerned their lies may have even originated in her twisted mind.

    Naturally, Thatama's nature has led to her being nicknamed The Mother of Lies by the Righteous Many. She is said to manifest as a woman cowled and cloaked in all black, carrying a book bound in skin in her hands and speaking with a melodious voice. The Mother of Lies strives to corrode bonds of trust and fill the hearts of mortals with fear & paranoia, all with a voice as sweet and calming as honey and milk. She gets them to distrust their neighbors and elders with rumors, half-truths and outright lies; clouds their minds with doubt so that they do not seek the higher truths of the world; pushes them to believe nothing is ever worth the effort, least of all believing in and trying to enact abstract ideals; and grants them corrupted insights into the nature of this world within the deep darkness only she can bring forth, further prodding them down the path of paranoid delusions and self-isolation until they have no-one to turn to but her. Then, when they are wholly without connections to anyone or anything else, they are fully in her thrall, and she can get them to do whatever she wishes of them - whether it is going on a nihilistic murder spree to hurt and kill as many other people as possible, to spread their misery in less violent and more cerebral ways, or simply to kill themselves so that she can seize their souls and convert them into demons more quickly.

    Thatama's symbol is a black widow spider seated at the center of a web, its legs outstretched.

    The Mother of Lies prefers to appear in remote areas, where she can speak to her victim without interruption

    Thatama's servants are the fallen souls of mortals who have succumbed to their uncontrollable passions and/or emotionally cut themselves off from the world and others so thoroughly that they've left themselves with nobody to lean on but her. They are called the Dybbim or 'Forlorn Ones', and are said to appear as ghastly specters with glowing red or gold eyes who also live to destroy relationships: not by poisoning them with unbridled and overwhelming passions as other demons might, but by weaving lies and delusions to encourage paranoia and offering non-carnal temptations to keep people apart, just as their mistress does - work, money, revenge, and above all else those kernels of dark insights into the Beyond which their mistress has extended unto them, insights that men would readily die and kill for even as it corrupts their mind and view of the world.

    Dybbim are said to appear as formless, black specters with a glowing eye or two

    Rakhmim was the thirdborn of the Lord Below, emerging from his mother's corpse after his elder sister. He is the most openly brutal of his kin, being a murderous sadist who delights in trampling everyone weaker than him and in the shedding of blood - innocent, guilty, mighty, feeble, it does not matter to him as long as people die screaming somewhere. To Rakhmim, war and violence in general need no purpose (not even simply strengthening the survivors), they are intrinsically good and desirable things in and of themselves. Appropriately, his Fruits is Hostility, and he is overall one of the most viscerally repulsive and frightening of the Dark Princes: an abominable monster possessing unending bloodthirst and bottomless sadism, most at home on a battlefield where the losers are butchered without mercy, the victors are driven mad by the atrocities they've committed, and ultimately nobody but he wins, for he'll have a good laugh at everything and enjoy a dinner composed of the dead, no matter whose side they were on. Conflict without purpose, nay, conflict being a purpose unto itself is his very being, and he is attracted to the destructiveness and death-wishes of mortals like a moth to flame.

    Rakhmim's purported looks gave him the moniker of The Vulture in 'Illamite tradition. He is said to appear as a monstrous humanoid always standing taller than the person he's speaking to, combining the torso & arms of an extreme bodybuilder with the legs of a bull and the head & wings of a vulture, carrying some kind of weapon in his hands (in 'Illamite tradition, a double-headed iron ax). He inflames feelings of frustration, anger and loathing in whomever he appears to; gives false courage and confidence to even the feeblest of mortals so that they will feel empowered to attack their enemies with force, even if they actually have no real chance of winning; breaks down all notions of honor and chivalry governing the battlefield; and exhorts warriors to show no mercy towards their opponents even after attaining triumph, instead openly delighting in desecrating the corpses of the fallen and in committing atrocities against enemy prisoners and civilians. Unlike the Conqueror, he doesn't need any real objective in the wars he starts, instead favoring maximizing bodycounts essentially for his own fun.

    Rakhmim's symbol is a pair of crossed spears with skulls for butts, their tips dripping with blood.

    A bronze statuette depicting the Vulture, dated to 10,565 AA and presumed to have been made by secret worshipers of the Lord Below

    Rakhmim's thralls are those mortals who are as depraved and sanguinary as he, in life and afterwards. Those who die in service to the third Dark Prince's whims, by which point they're almost certainly already drunk with bloodlust and wading knee-deep through a sea of victims, will have their souls descend to join the ranks of his demons. These Miziqim or 'Hateful Ones' are servitors of the Vulture who appear as balls of flame and smoke in the eyes (well, dreams mostly) of mortals, radiating hatred and an overwhelming need to kill wherever they go, and try to fill whoever they contact with these emotions while also serving as Rakhmim's footsoldiers in the Dark Princes' war with the angels.

    A lone Miziq floating in Rakhmim's lair

    Yunu, fourth child and second daughter of the Lord Below, is considered the prime demoness of material greed in 'Illamite reckoning. The insatiable desire for more riches, more luxuries, more of anything and everything at any and all costs that festers in the heart of every mortal, flawed as we are, feeds her and is in turn nourished by her. Underhanded and unregulated competition between the covetous, whether for great treasure hoards or mere scraps, amuses Yunu for the same reason mortal men can enjoy dog-fighting or dropping soldier ants into termite mounds. Accordingly, her Fruit is Avarice, and taken together they reveal her for what she wants to be: the top dog in a hollow, soulless, dog-eat-dog world where everyone is utterly willing to crawl over everyone else in pursuit of material wealth, completely lacking in moral restraint, the ability to form anything more than a paper-thin emotional connection with their rivals and consumers, and even the desire to seek intangible truths - if you can't touch it it must not be real or worth seeking, after all.

    The Gilded Lady is what Yunu is called by those 'Illamites less versed in demonology. As her name suggests, at first sight she appears to be an extremely attractive woman who carries herself with a regal bearing, wearing a diamond-encrusted tiara on her head, no shortage of jewelry on her hands and feet, and a fabulous dress of velvet and cloth-of-gold. On closer inspection however, it will become clear that she is heavily using makeup to compensate for a lack of natural beauty, that some of the diamonds in her crown are rhinestones, and that some of her rings and bits of her amulet are pyrite or gilded bronze. She tempts men with visions of fortune, power, beautiful men and women, anything to keep them shackled to this world and blind to the one beyond; amplifies feelings of greed and gluttony with her mere presence; weaves the illusion that being rich and successful is all they need to be better & happier than those poorer than they are; and rewards her most capable followers with material gain, so that they might know working for her produces tangible benefits for them, but never gives them enough that they're completely satisfied and settle down - oh no, Yunu makes sure to leave her charges craving more and willing to do anything to get it, until they either get what they want (and their bottomless greed promptly has them seeking some new conquest or gain) or their avarice drives them to try to take too much and finally self-destruct.

    Yunu's symbol is a tarnished gold coin bearing the likeness of the Gilded Lady.

    The Gilded Lady's dress is always golden and pleasing to look at

    Yunu's thralls are invariably those who were fully consumed by their greed in life and shamelessly pledged their hollow souls to her cause in return for her help in achieving ever greater heights of material wealth, whether they knew it or not. At the moment of their death some of them may attempt to go back on the deals they cut with her, but this is an extremely ill-advised course of action to take, for the Gilded Lady has no patience for anyone who tries to screw her out of what she's owed. These Houdim or 'Odious Ones', easily distinguished by the gilded iron collars around their necks, and are less ravening demonic warriors than they are disciplined supervisors and bureaucrats who handle dour but practical duties: issuing instructions, presenting rewards to the mortal servants of Yunu who performed well, punishing those who fail in or desert their duties, advising their hosts on dangerous missions and keeping track of what needs to be done or who deserves to get what from their boss.

    Even though this is supposed to be a punishment, Yunu's demons would consider this sort of execution to actually be a reward of sorts

    In the birth order of the Dark Princes, Yunu is followed by the twins Zalgan and Zalgasha - 'dark laughter' and 'lustful laughter', respectively. They embody the Fruits of Morbidity and Lust, and together represent and guide mortals' lust for immaterial forbidden knowledge and material flesh. Those who seek to create twisted and macabre works of art, to learn bloody rites that are supposed to grant their heart's wishes or make them immortal, or simply to transgress boundaries and shatter religious and social taboos are drawn to Zalgan, and he to them. On the flipside, those who seek to sink themselves into ever-further carnal depths, pursuing ecstasy in this world and seeking to sate the cravings of the flesh, inevitably gravitate towards Zalgasha and attract her attention. The twinned Dark Princes feed these dark desires with the aim of perverting and twisting their marks into loyal servitors who can't live without their influence: Zalgan offers morsels of knowledge to those who do his dirty work, each 'gift' guaranteed to drive the receiver a little madder than the last until all that remains is a twisted and unearthly husk, while Zalgasha is more than happy to slake her devotees' dark passions - and allow them to reach out to others, willing or not, in hope of drawing even more followers into her web - until they've become so totally addicted that they can think of nothing else.

    Zalgan is also known as The Black Veil, and for good reason. When he Manifests, he appears less like any mortal than his kin - indeed he appears to simply be a portal made entirely of black stone, his 'doorway' covered by the eponymous dark veil, though he can speak the observer's language just fine despite lacking any visible mouth. The Black Veil is fascinated by man's creativity and loves nothing more than to warp it, pervert it and send it careening down dark paths from which there is no return. To that end he encourages mortals to transgress social taboos, starting with milder shocks and offenses before moving on to darker and bloodier ones so as to not scare his subject; inspires aberrant creations in artists, from flutes which can be used to play a tune that weakens the barrier between the material and spiritual worlds to chairs made of human skin and bone, in the process driving these artists mad or madder; provides forbidden knowledge to those who seek it, in ways that ensure they will have no defense or loophole to protect them from its adverse effects.

    While her brother takes advantage of more cerebral lusts, as The Temptress Zalgasha aims to exploit the lusts of the flesh. Like Libanah the Muse, she appears as exactly what her current observer wants her to be, but her beauty invariably has a lustful edge - for example, in 'Illami art she is traditionally depicted as a scantily-clad young woman with all the physical attributes they found desirable: waist-length ebony ringlets, flawless skin, full lips, voluptuousness and child-bearing hips combined with a skinny waist. She corrupts and nourishes the earthly desires that are present in the hearts of all who live; unshackles the darkest and most depraved thoughts people with any sense of decency try to bury; tries to compel mortals into abandoning all inhibitions, indulging their most perverse appetites, and to eventually think of doing nothing else; and drives them to let nothing stand between them and ecstasy, certainly not laws or morals or the consent (or lack thereof) of whomever they wish to slake their unpleasant lusts upon.

    Zalgan's symbol is a spiky black spiral, seemingly emanating from a blinking eye. Zalgasha's is a nude woman entwined with a black serpent.

    The Black Veil is the Dark Prince whose manifestation least resembles any mortal, by far

    The Temptress can take on a hundred thousand visages, but will ensure not one of them is unattractive

    The twins have their share of servitors, just like the rest of their kin. Those who sacrifice themselves or others in the dark and bloody rituals the Dark Veil inevitably leads them to will descend to become the Mitushim, 'Foolish Ones': formless, black-shrouded ghosts who try to entice the intelligent and artistically gifted but reckless, foolishly prideful or even 'slightly' mad into following the same paths they did, using morsels of the forbidden knowledge their new master had previously imparted unto them. The Gemalim or 'Seducing Ones' attuned to the Temptress, meanwhile, manifest (usually at or after dusk and before the dawn) as the objects of their prospective mark's innermost desire, though 'Illamite art traditionally depicts them as naked and empty-eyed or masked people with bat-like wings, bird's talons and exaggerated sexual characteristics; it is their job to break down their victims' moral inhibitions and encourage them to sink into mindless, debauched hypersexuality just as they themselves once did.

    While Gemalim are traditionally depicted as female, the 'Illamites believe fallen men's souls can join their ranks just as easily as women

    Sherah is the youngest and last of the biological children of the Lord Below. She alone, out of all her kin, carries herself with something resembling human (well, 'Illamite at least) notions of decency and honor, though 'Illamite religious teachers are always careful to maintain that despite that, she is still a demoness and not someone to trifle or sympathize with. Sherah is said to be an utterly relentless and merciless avenger, a shadow of La'gael without an ounce of reason or pity; she who supports vengeance to the sixth and sixty-sixth generation, sparing neither any innocent friends and family of her target nor any bystanders who just have the bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and destroying the souls of those she kills so that they never have a chance at an afterlife, or even learning remorse for their actions. Generational feuds, whether between families or tribes or nations, are where she thrives and what she strives to create with the extreme acts of revenge she's known for. Still, Sherah deeply respects oathkeepers - those who swear blood-oaths of revenge and stick by them or die trying most of all, naturally, but she expresses a grim respect even for those who swear and stick by oaths to oppose her ferocious will - and is no less likely to forget her friends and devotees than she is to forget a grudge or a bitter enemy. Her Fruit is Annihilation.

    Sherah manifests in her followers' minds' eyes as The Huntress, a red-cloaked and hooded feminine figure armed with a bow and sickle, sometimes accompanied by a spectral bloodhound or wolf. She most frequently reaches out to those who are already nursing anger at being shunned, offended or otherwise wronged, so that she can incite them to really let loose. She will then help them achieve their revenge in ways matching La'gael in brutality and surpassing her in collateral damage, whether it be a simple murder of fashion that leaves the victim a dismembered crimson mess or a concerted scheme that destroys the victim, their relatives and anyone who dares associate with them in any way over decades. There is no crime too small nor any offense too insignificant that she will let it slide, but for especially major atrocities, the Huntress will even drag the soul of the victim off to be eternally tortured by her servants in the Infernal Realm without any hope of release or forgiveness. All this said, Sherah will also appear (or at least, and certainly more frequently, send a servant in her stead) to aid those who have sworn and kept blood-oaths to her in their time of need, regardless of whether the matter is absolutely petty or of world-destroying risk and severity.

    Sherah's symbol is a wolf's head with black eyes and blood running from its fangs.

    The Huntress setting out, no doubt to punish jaywalkers or petty thieves with death

    Those who swore oaths to serve Sherah in life are inevitably bound by those oaths to become her demonic servitors in death. Now known as Asinarim or 'Pitiless Ones', they appear as cloaked figures with distinctly inhuman features - third eyes, claws and fangs, things that make it obvious they are not ordinary mortals as their mark approaches them in the world of dreams - and practically radiate the feelings of fury and powerlessness at whatever offense was done unto them in life. They race the servants of the Archangels to the hearts and minds of the world's downtrodden and weak, offering them the strength to get revenge and destroy their tormentors (and their tormentors' friends, family, associates and acquaintances...) and serving as conduits through which these newly-empowered self-avengers can make their own contracts with the Huntress. Any such contract will have to be sealed in blood, of course, and to prove their dedication the mortal must accept a 'consecrated wafer' from the Asinarim in the form of a small razor blade, which they are to hold on their tongue and swallow if they should fail.

    An Asinar opens his third eye

    Chaghar is the first of the Dark Lords: a being of nearly equal power and certainly equal evil to the original Dark Princes, but not a biological child of the Lord Below Himself. Rather, he was once a man who was so dark-hearted and vile that the Dark Princes could not help but be drawn to him. In 'Illamite tradition he was a sadistic failure of a patriarch who physically and sexually abused his wives and children, killed his cows in front of their calves, and shunned contact with his fellow nomads when he wasn't actively robbing them or abducting their women. When he started aging prematurely as punishment from the heavens, he deluded himself into thinking that having many children was what was cutting into his lifespan (because his life-force was being divided among these children), and murdered his entire family in a dark ritual that didn't actually accomplish anything beyond summoning forth Azaneal the Tyrant, who offered him a shot at immortality and the ability to indulge his horrific habits on countless more mortal families forever. Naturally, Chaghar accepted, and that is how he became the Dark Lord of Abuse.

    The Defiler is the nickname Chaghar goes by now. The 'Illamites maintain he appears as a mutilated, emaciated and naked yet still strong man with a crow's head and crow's claws, covered in scars (some old, some still bloody) and missing one eye, a whip in one of his gnarled hands and a rusty pike in the other. The Defiler is a sadistic corrupter that delights in the fear, self-loathing and shame of his victims and in making them turn out as vile as he, and it shows - he awakens forbidden desires and dark emotions in mortals with vivid nightmares and cunning whispers; encourages them to act on said desires, resulting in them inflicting unspeakable acts of murder, torture and rapine upon anyone within their power; then reaches out to the surviving victims, trying to get them to normalize what happened to them and mold them into the next bunch of abusers to spread his psychotic will unto others. He doesn't just do this to young innocents either (although that would be an obvious conclusion), even slave revolts where the slaves prove to be so brutal as to be little better than their masters will delight the Defiler as much as the black-hearted master's cruelty impresses his ally the Tyrant.

    Chaghar's symbol is a rotting rosebud encircled by its own bloody, thorny stem.

    The Defiler is traditionally depicted with a crow's head, claws and wings atop a man's body

    The Rabim or 'Twisted Ones' are the Defiler's bloody-minded apostles and prophets, brainwashed and enslaved savages with tortured visages. In life they were those who fully submitted to the harrowing atrocities they experienced at the hands of others touched by the Defiler, in the process abandoning any hope of escape or deliverance from their tormentors, and in death they serve to mindlessly enforce Chaghar's will through fear and pain. As far as the 'Illamites are concerned, they are among the few demons who can be pitied at least slightly, but as they've sunk too deep into dark despair and stained their hands with atrocities at the behest of the Defiler, there can still ultimately be no peace for them beyond peace through annihilation.

    A tortured soul descends into becoming one of the Rabim

    Agshekel is the second of the Dark Lords. He was once a disgruntled tribesman of the oases, a little-loved outcast among his people who was given the unenviable task of night watchman simply so nobody would have to see or interact with him, and who secretly agreed to sell the tribe out to one of their enemies in exchange for a position of prominence and the hand of their chieftain's niece. For six nights in a row he would holler at the top of his lungs about incoming raiders, then have a good laugh at the other tribesmen when they came running; not even their threats and eventually, beatings would dissuade him. On the seventh day, nobody came, figuring he was just playing another practical joke on them yet again. This was just as Agshekel and his new friends had planned, for the rival tribe promptly swept in and easily butchered most of Agshekel's people while they were still unarmed and asleep, keeping only the women and children alive as slaves. Unfortunately for the traitor, the rival chieftain decided that a man who'd so readily betray his own tribe was not someone he could trust and far from rewarding him, ordered his execution by decapitation. Thatama was nonetheless impressed by the thought Agshekel put into his deceit and sponsored his transformation into the Dark Lord of Terror.

    These days, Agshekel is better known as The Trickster, and is said to appear as a pallid, eyeless humanoid who walks on his many hands while his legs are bound up above his head, his mouth frozen in a rictus grin. Despite trickster gods often not being malevolent so much as they are simply unpredictable and easily amused by tricking their peers & mortals alike in other pantheons, there's nothing benign about Agshekel. As an extension of Thatama (of sorts) he specializes in spreading fear, alarm and suspicion, hence his Fruit Below. Where Thatama seeks to isolate individuals, draw them down dark paths and render them wholly dependent on herself, though, Agshekel works on a larger scale, sowing mistrust and discord between groups: clans, tribes and kingdoms. He does this through agents who spread rumors, prejudices and false warnings, thereby inciting wars, turning neighbor against neighbor and scaring people away from seeking higher truths. Though he works on a grander scale than Thatama, he's actually weaker and has fewer followers, as for the most part those who do the Trickster's bidding on earth are just poor misinformed sods who have no idea who they're actually serving rather than dedicated and knowing followers (of which he has few).

    Agshekel's symbol is a rotting goat's head, its lips curled in a rictus grin much like the Trickster's own.

    The Trickster's very appearance evokes his Fruit, inciting terror in all whose nightmares he visits

    Agshekel's servitors are the Gh'aghicim, 'Frightful Ones'. While they were still alive, they learned of Agshekel's existence and - quite unlike the majority of his earthly minions, who are being led by blind fear and have no idea that they're doing what he wants - willingly allied with him, forming pacts with the Dark Lord and swearing to serve him as demons after they die. Now they manifest as horrific abominations whose forms make little to no sense in mortal eyes, 'helping' the people they inflict their presence upon in divining dark secrets through numerology, astrology, nightmarish visions and the illogic of madmen. In addition, they supply endless streams of false visions in the guise of yet more nightmares to other victims to fill them with paranoia and push them into destructive courses of action against their neighbors, their kin, even other countries.

    A floating tentacled eyeball capable of speech despite lacking a mouth is one of the more comprehensible forms Ashkegel's Gh'aghicim are able to assume

    Goltanna is the third of the Dark Lords, and the first female among their ranks. In life, she was a psychopathic wanderer who used her good looks and musical talent to seduce men and women alike into her bed, only to immobilize and brutally murder them for her amusement. In order to evade identification and capture, she never stuck around for long in any one place, always drifting from one place the instant she started feeling more than a few pairs of suspicious eyes on her. She would sometimes even join nomadic tribes for a time before inevitably wearing out her welcome and having to disappear. The latter was how she ultimately met her end: she was caught halfway through butchering the son of an elder of the last tribe she hitched a ride with, and the nomads gave her a taste of her own medicine by torturing her to death over eighteen hours. Goltanna defiantly mocked her killers to the bitter end, and in so doing her dark fighting spirit attracted the attention of Rakhmim, who sought to take her as his undying lover and so patronized her descent into becoming the Dark Lord of Torment.

    Now known simply as The Tormentor, Goltanna appears in the visions of her disciples and victims alike as the scarred and mutilated woman she was at death with fully black eyes, garbed in a cloak made entirely of bloody skins and wearing a leering iron mask and hood over her face while various torture implements hang from her belt. She mostly appears to those who are already entertaining ideas of hurting or killing others for any reason or no reason at all, encouraging them to convert their dark thoughts & desires into action; amplifying the sick pleasure they derive with every minute of torture, mutilation and murder they inflict upon their unfortunate victims, getting them addicted to the sensation of hurting others; and driving those sadists in her thrall to never stop, instead piling one atrocity atop another while she continues to whisper in their ear, advising them on how to inflict ever-increasing amounts of pain and to cover up their crimes so that they might remain free to continue their atrocious sprees. Notably, she does not limit herself to indulging in just physical torture - far from it, the humiliation and degradation of others can please her as much as say, live vivisection sessions. Even the Defiler at least has some purpose behind subjecting people to horrendous torture; but for the Tormentor, inflicting pain upon others is an end unto itself.

    Goltanna's symbol is a bloody meathook, surrounded by a circular 'halo' made of rusty nails.

    A depiction of the Tormentor's hood and mask, illustrated from repressed memories

    The Al-ucarim or 'Dreadful Ones' are what the 'Illami call Goltanna's thralls. In life, they were the sadistic murderers, perverted torturers and all-around savages who readily gave in to the Tormentor's call to indulge the dark desires they already had bubbling under their surface, and not only honored her with their crimes but also (intentionally or not) pledged their eternal souls to her service. Now they appear as tortured ghosts resembling their former selves, supreme and unearthly sadomasochists in thrall to the Tormentor who serve as her heralds and agents, spreading her mad gospel of blood and pressing those they contact into not only giving in to their vicious desires, just as they did, but also making pacts with their boss and honoring her with blood-stained sacrifices, both of their victims and of their own body parts.

    The great thing about being a sadistic spirit is that you can engage in electric torture long before any mortal figures out how electricity works

    Zul, fourth of the Dark Lords, was once a cannibalistic glutton from the southern lands. He led a vicious tribe composed of his fellow cannibals, and together they made war upon their neighbors both for sadistic entertainment and to collect 'sustenance', often hanging around battlefields and keeping the vultures away so that they could feast on the dead all by themselves. Zul himself couldn't get enough of the blood of virgins, and would nail the skins of his victims to his shield to boot - and, of course, the only certain virgins are children, so it should be quite obvious who his most frequent victims were. Eventually, Zul's tribe managed to rouse the anger of every one of their neighbors, and this alliance of rival tribes destroyed his own so thoroughly that his people's name has been lost to history. But the warlord's greed for human flesh and blood was so strong and so firmly bound to his spirit that it managed to attract Yunu's attention following his painful death, and so as to not be outdone by her older siblings, she brought him to her father so that he might be made into the Dark Lord of Gluttony.

    The Devourer is thus the fourth Dark Lord, and the one traditionally allied to the Gilded Lady. In contrast to the false beauty of the Gilded Lady, the Devourer is openly ugly - he appears as an unclothed, morbidly obese humanoid, who may have still somewhat resembled a middle-aged man were it not for his distorted face, inhumanly wide mouth lined with fangs splitting down his chest, and various other obviously demonic features. He encourages an extreme drive to consume in mortals, not just food - although gluttony in its most literal sense is certainly #1 on the list of things he likes to incite - but also material goods of any and every kind, coupled with removing any inhibitions standing in the way of the hyper-consumerism he stokes. Only the sight of a scrumptious meal can excite the Devourer more than that of people beating and even killing each other over some item they both want, or mortals willfully polluting their environment in a desperate race to enrich themselves.

    Zul's symbol is a gaping, circular mouth lined with sharp teeth, resembling a lamprey's.

    A more modern take on the Devourer

    The Onosim or 'Rancorous Ones' are the fallen souls of those mortals who died consumed by their own gluttony, begging the Devourer for more all the way to their bitter end. They now appear as faceless, bulky humanoids encased in what appears to be a chitin-like armor, their limbs malformed and outfitted to serve as their weapons. They have devolved into gibbering mindlessness, and are said to lack anything resembling higher brain functions: just the endless need to consume in a futile attempt to fill the void in their own blackened and shriveled souls, with their food of choice now being the souls of living beings. They are Zul's berserk footsoldiers, and among the most aggressive demons when it comes to possessing people.

    A blind, malformed Onosh that has presumably just found something to eat

    An'bar-a is the fifth and last of the Dark Lords. In life, she was a homely and poor outcast who the rest of the tribe looked down upon (when they cared to acknowledge her existence at all), and who envied those who had more than she did in turn. She snapped when it was announced that the local sage's handsome son - who she had been nursing a crush on from afar, despite having never spoken to him - would be marrying the attractive daughter of the tribe's herbalist and milkmaid. Later that night, she broke into the latter's house and killed the prospective bride, carving her face off and putting it on herself in a mad bid to woo the would-be husband. This obviously did not work and the resulting angry mob chased An'bar-a into the mountains, where she soon died of thirst and starvation. Still, her extreme lust and envy drew Zalgan and Zalgasha to her, and together they pulled her soul down to their father's throne-room where she was reformed into the Dark Lord of Longing.

    Now, as The Petitioner, An'bar-a typically takes on the form of a shapely and attractive lady - but only the most enthralled of observers won't notice the slight flaws in her looks, such as the occasional wrinkle or oversized ears, and the harder they scrutinize her the more flaws they'll find & less human she appears, until her 'true' shape as a ravening black whirlwind is all they can see. She awakens and exacerbates feelings of envy in the hearts of mortals, manifesting in the dreams of those who are already feeling even slightly jealous of others and constantly whispering to them to stoke these flames; makes them feel increasingly useless until and unless they give in to her; and, once they've done that, helps them plan out their scheme to deal with this envy, whether it's stealing whatever they're lusting after, hurting or killing the person they're jealous of, or targeting that individual's family and associates. Those who envy others for being stronger, smarter, healthier more beautiful or having more success at love than they do - in other words, the spheres her twin masters are associated with - are, by no coincidence, those who draw the Petitioner's attention fastest, for she can drive them towards her allies more quickly than those who envy, say, people richer than they are.

    An'bar-a's symbol is a serpent greedily devouring itself tail-first.

    Early results of looking too much into the Petitioner's physical flaws

    The Kayinim or 'Jealous Ones' are the Petitioner's servants. As their name suggests, these were once mortals who were so consumed by their jealousies, petty or otherwise - ranging from 'How can she have such nice hair while mine's always a mess' to 'How is it that the neighboring kingdom's people live in such opulence while we search for yams in the bush' - that they made the mistake of cutting a deal with An'bar-a to attain the object of their desire, and destroy whoever had it last in the process, at the low low price of their eternal soul. Whether or not they actually succeed in their scheme is immaterial, as An'bar-a will claim their soul the instant their last breath leaves their body once the pact has been sealed. They now operate as hostile and utterly spiteful creatures, those who didn't get what they were promised when first making their pacts in particular being reluctant thralls of the Petitioner. While they can appear as their old selves, even slight irritation (or a smidge too much of any emotion, really) will start to reveal their serpentine true forms, and as they don't tend to have the most pleasant and understanding of personalities to begin with, the Kayinim are said to be employed as spies in roles where they need not engage in much contact with mortals; possessing and controlling the outcast, the rebellious and the criminal as opposed to trying to lead as many mortals as they can onto the path to the Lifeless Tree.

    It doesn't take much for even the mildest dreamer to set off a Kayin, and once angered, their mortal guise starts to slip rather rapidly

    For some reason unknown to even the wisest of 'Illamite sages, Sherah never created her own Dark Lord - perhaps she simply never found someone worthy, or her limited sense of chivalry kept her from giving her side an undue numerical advantage over the forces of good, or the Archangels were able to quickly dispose of anyone she tried to promote into her own Dark Lord. In any case, the Archangels and Dark Princes/Lords now maintain perfect numerical parity, with there being twelve of each to represent the twelve Fruits Above and Below. As previously mentioned, with the Lords Above and Below pulling back from overt intervention in mortal affairs since the fall of Bel-Bel'iq's tower, they are now operating as the most active leaders of their respective sides in the ongoing struggle for control of the material universe and the souls of all who live.

    Other 'Illamite myths: Short tales from the Tansim or 'Illami tradition
    Last edited by Barry Goldwater; December 29, 2018 at 11:29 PM.

  7. #7
    Barry Goldwater's Avatar Mr. Conservative
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    Default Re: [ANW] Barry's Side-stories

    The Secret History of the Hanti Empire and 'Ancient Man'
    The beginning
    77,000 years ago…

    Kahn the fisherman stumbled, half-blind and delirious from hunger and thirst both, into the cave’s mouth, and managed only four or five more steps before he finally fell on his side. Three days ago a storm had descended upon his boat, dashing it to pieces on the beach and with it, his crew. They’d been a skilled lot, bringing more fish and shellfish to their village than any other, and knew it – which was why they’d gotten so bold as to risk the northern currents on a bad day. What a mistake that had been…in another age, when the word hubris was known to man, the shamans and wise-women would surely condemn them all for it that day.

    Forward was the only direction he and the two survivors of the wreck had been able to go, once they’d regained their bearings. They survived the first night on rabbits, grass and the water from a small stream, but come the morn some of the locals had turned up with flint spears and arrows and chased them away, killing cousin Kru in the process. Ehn took an arrow to the back as they fled, and unfortunately neither he nor Kahn had any idea how to treat wounds with the unknown herbs of this island, so he passed away in Kahn’s arms at the end of the second day.

    And now here Kahn was, fisherman, son of Tul the fisher and Sha the reed-worker, elder brother to three brothers and two sisters, first of his people to set foot on this mysterious island and sure to be the first to die – alone so far from home, without any friends or kin, without even one woman at his side and one child to continue his legacy. Indeed, without even any legacy to continue. As he lay on the ground, weary, he drowned in regret and bitterness even as his throat remained parched.

    Still. What was that the shaman had said to him many moons ago, when he confessed how much he regretted going after the cockatoo rather than the firebird, how much he hated himself for failing to impress Lua and how terrible he felt when she inevitably chose to answer Khott’s gift of a firebird feather headdress with a kiss while giving him nothing? Regret was a path that led to nowhere.
    And nowhere…there’s no water in ‘nowhere’. Which meant this cave must be ‘somewhere’, because as he remained splayed out on the cave floor with one ear to the ground, Kahn could faintly hear the sound of rushing water from somewhere beneath him. Oh, sweet, sweet watery salvation was somewhere nearby.

    Go ever forward in the face of adversity, the old man also said, and so Kahn pushed himself back onto his feet and staggered onward into the darkness, his hand thrust out to feel for any obstacles in his way. But his hand could never detect any wetness on the ground, and so Kahn soon found himself slipping and sliding downwards on a long, narrow path of slick stone. He didn’t even have the strength to scream. How ironic that he should have spent four days and so much of his energy looking for water, that water would be his death. He closed his eyes as he waited for the end, and in so doing, missed the blue glow that grew less faint by the second around the corner.

    The inevitable crash into a solid wall never happened. Instead, Kahn found himself crashing into a body of water with a great splash. He opened his mouth in disbelief, and immediately tasted it – this wasn’t the brackish water of the sea, it was pure, clear freshwater, and in that instant the Hyperaustralic fisherman couldn’t think of anything that tasted sweeter. He drank deeply, finding himself refreshed and strength & sense returning to his limbs with each deep draught...and, as overwhelmed by relief and joy as he was, he didn’t quite notice the jagged pillar of glowing rock that cast its light around the underground lake until his seventh or eighth gasp for air, nor did he see that there was no way out of this cavern but the steep and slippery way through which he came.

    When Kahn reopened his eyes to take in the bizarre sight, he found that curiosity was rapidly overcoming his fear of what it was. Perhaps after nearly dying of thirst, his mind didn’t register this rock as a threat – it certainly wasn’t giving off any negative vibes. He swam closer to it, and as he did so, the fisherman heard a voice calling out to him from…the rock? The cave walls? He couldn’t tell, nor could he tell who it was, though he could understand it. It sounded like man and woman and neither, and it wasn’t a shout or a battle-cry, but neither was it so faint that he could dismiss it as a figment of his imagination, a hallucination brought about by his dehydration like the last mirage he’d seen outside.

    “Who are you?”

    Dawn of a new empire
    As it so happened, the rock Kahn encountered was actually an outcropping of aetherium, and had been possessed by a spirit (whose true name has long since been lost to history, but who was called ‘Kutikai’ or ‘the giver’ in the time of Kahn) to boot. Its energy had long tainted the water he drank from, making him sufficiently spirit-sensitive to detect and even be able to communicate with the trapped spirit in a matter of seconds. Minutes later he became a host for said spirit, almost certainly by choice, and with its power easily made it back to the surface. The terms of their deal were simple: Kutikai would get to experience the physical world through Kahn’s senses, and Kahn would have access to Kutikai’s not-inconsiderable power and knowledge of everything natural and some unnatural things, augmented by the aetherium the latter had been inhabiting for longer than even it could remember.

    Kahn’s first act, once he had sated his hunger with the flesh of nearby koalas, was to track the party that had killed off his fellow survivors to their home, walk right in and issue a challenge to them to face him. After laughing their lungs out, they did just that: outnumbering him five to one, and armed with flint knives, spears and arrows where he was just using his fists, they had every reason to expect victory over the empty-eyed madman who had just strolled into their camp.

    Kahn promptly reduced all of his opponents into bloody paste in under five minutes.

    Following such a display of power, Kahn could not have been surprised when the rest of the camp prostrated themselves at his feet out of awe and terror. He decreed that from that day forth, he would rule over them as their ‘Exalted King’, and they would offer up to him their choicest cuts of meat, fruit and vegetables in addition to doing whatever he demanded of them, when he demanded it of them.

    Kutikai gave him more than the power to obliterate his enemies in a blink. More importantly than that, it taught him the natural sciences, the existence of Quintessence and how to work with it, particularly the art of binding the magical property to mundane objects. With this knowledge, he and his people not only founded the first ever human civilization, but also jumped over several thousands of years’ worth of technological progress in an extremely short timeframe.

    One of Kahn's warriors

    Within a year, Kahn had transformed his minor Hyperaustralic camp of primitive hunter-gatherers into a booming town that sustained itself on irrigated agriculture, surrounded by walls of stone and logs manned by soldiers wielding muskets that fired Quintessence-imbued bullets which would actively seek out their targets: this settlement would be imaginatively named Kahn-tuni, ‘Kahn’s Town’, by their totally-not-an-egomaniac leader. Their neighbors had already been subjugated and enslaved, made to work the fields or chop down trees or collect guano for their masters’ guns.

    Within five years, Kahn had conquered the entire island. As expected, Stone Age hunter-gatherers with bows and spears didn’t have a prayer in the face of an organized army of musketeers and sailing gunboats led by a demigod. Kahn went on to order all spirit-sensitive individuals and those displaying magical abilities, even if they were many degrees lesser than his own, to be brought to him so that he could tutor (and control) them. He also bestowed upon his followers the name of ‘Hanti’, or ‘conquerors’.

    Kahn went on to demand every camp and clan, Hanti or not, send him their fairest maidens, for he sought a wife to warm his bed and bear him children; all who were presented to him did not satisfy him, however, and he wound up chasing rumors of the true fairest woman in the land, a maiden named Sena from the conquered clan of Teth, who was being hidden by her family. Upon finding her, he nearly killed her parents for keeping her from him but was stopped at the last moment when she held an obsidian dagger to her own throat, threatening to kill herself if he killed her family off. In the end, Sena agreed to marry the godly warlord in exchange for his sparing the lives of her kin, and Kahn kept his end of the bargain.

    Kahn 'the All-Mighty'

    Three suns and Kahn's succession
    Within a year, Sena had given birth to the couple’s first son: Havad, an unusually well-behaved prodigy possessing the spark of mad genius, probably touched in some way by Kutikai’s essence – by the time he was five months old, he was already able to speak in sentences and walk. He made virtually no friends growing up, deeming the other children ‘boring’ for struggling to not wet themselves and stringing three-word sentences together while he was figuring out how to ride donkeys and moving into multiplication and division, but then who needs friends when you’re a born genius?

    Two years later, while Havad was inventing the beginnings of an alphabet by drawing lines in the sand, Sena and Kahan had another son whom they named Banaq, who was no preternatural genius but was born extremely spirit-sensitive and magically inclined. Even as an infant he could spontaneously float out of his reed crib when he didn’t feel like sleeping, intensify the cook-fires when throwing a tantrum, and laugh when entering the presence of another happy baby or cry when sensing the grief of a crying one. As he grew up, he was able to assert more control over and better-develop his magical talent, and quickly became his father’s favorite.

    And three years after Banaq’s birth, while the royal couple’s second son was making his playmates laugh with simple magic tricks, their third entered the world. Kal was an abnormally large baby, and his passing not only nearly killed his mother, but rendered her unable to bear any more children to boot. Still, as the youngest of the three brothers, he became Sena’s favorite regardless, and she doted on her most troublesome child even as he grew to be half as tall and almost as wild as his father before hitting age six.

    It was Havad who presided over the first stages of Hanti expansion beyond their home island. He took the suggestions of Kutikai, as spoken through his father’s mouth and interpreted by Banaq, and combined them with his own increasingly unparalleled understanding of smithing and the natural sciences into magi-technological developments that would stun the world. By the time he was seventeen and Banaq was fifteen, their father was ready to make war upon the lands we now know as Midija, Hyperaustralis and Iwatoa with semi-automatic rifles (whose bullets still never missed, instead bending and arcing through the air to seek out their target), paddle steamers and rigid airships powered by aetherium pebbles (the destruction of even one released enough Quintessence to keep the airship afloat & mobile for days), while at home Kahn-tuni had grown to encompass a third of their island and its factories belched smog and Quintessence into the sky. Those Hanti who weren’t going to march to battle beneath their scarlet and silver standards slaved away, either in the factories or the rice paddies or the farms, provisioning their peers with food and their industries with the coal and other raw materials they needed to function.

    An aetherium-powered airship of the early Hanti

    Havad was sent east with two thousand men, fifteen of his old man’s magi and twenty of his paddle-ships and airships, his mission being the subjugation of Iwatoa. Banaq struck north, disembarking onto the southern point of Midija from his fleet of fifteen ships with fifteen hundred soldiers, twenty-five magi and ten airships providing cover overhead. And Kal, being only twelve (even if he was already taller and physically stronger than either of his elder brothers), accompanied their father as he invaded Hyperaustralis with a force twice the size of Havad’s. Wherever they went, the Hanti rarely had to fight – clan after clan and tribe after tribe was so awestruck at the power of their weapons, the wonders of their magic and the benefits of their technology that most just rolled over and accepted Hanti dominion.

    But, conquering fellow humans – especially ones as underdeveloped as those of 77,000 BA – is one thing. Battling spirits and true gods is quite another, and the Hanti would learn the difference soon after their conquest of the southern hemisphere, much to their sorrow. By this time, years after the wars of conquest had begun, Havad claimed he could build portals to other worlds, and his father (having complete faith that his brilliant son would never fail) was all too happy to give him the resources and slave labor he needed to construct it. It worked, all right: the portal opened right into the dimensional home of the Great Destroyer, that which today’s mortals know as the ‘Infernal Realm’, and he was not at all happy about the intrusion.

    By the time Kahn stopped running to catch his breath (for even Kutikai was frightened of the Great Destroyer), the portal had long vanished. The facility it was built in had been disintegrated down to its foundations, so that not one brick or tile of it remained in existence. Everyone who worked there had also died, disintegrated on the atomic level by the Destroyer’s will. Havad and Banaq were the only other escapees, for Kal had fallen ill (a rarity for the mighty young man) and was unable to attend the portal-opening ceremony, while Sena had been snatched by a bizarre pitch-black entity and pulled into the portal before it shut forever.

    Sena aids her eldest son in his laboratory, before everything went horribly wrong

    Kahn was apoplectic, and for the first time in their lives, beat the daylights out of his eldest son. For his part, Banaq did nothing to assuage their father’s anger, instead turning his back on his elder brother out of a similar (if also cooler) anger over what he’d done to their mother. And Kal was the angriest of all, rising from bed to smite Havad so hard that he went blind in one eye when the latter visited him to give him the bad news. But something even worse prevented all of them from taking further action – Kutikai had had enough, so spooked it was by their brush with the Destroyer, that it had told him it intended to leave and rejoin its kin in the stars, having learned more than it ever cared to about humans.

    Well, Kahn couldn’t have that. The spirit was the source of his power – what would happen to his empire if his myriad conquered subjects woke up one day to see that he was no longer some godly figure, but just another man like themselves? So he gave Havad a challenge, ostensibly to redeem himself: if he could find some means of trapping the nameless spirit and continuing to harness its power for the benefit of the Hanti (but most of all Kahn himself), he’d be allowed to retain his birthright as Kahn’s natural successor. If he couldn’t, the honor would go to Banaq.

    Putting his genius to work once again, the half-blind Havad built a spirit-trapping machine in great secrecy. When it was complete, he gave his father a draught of wormwood and aetherium that would render him unconscious and Kutikai catatonic, after which Kahn would be strapped into the contraption and the spirit sucked out of him to be trapped within its steel and aetherium shell; the aetherium in particular had been shaped in ways to keep Kutikai in too much pain to escape or worse, destroy the machine from within. From there, the sheer amount of Quintessence constituting the spirit could be harnessed to power the entirety of Kahn-Tuni.

    At first, everything went swimmingly – all of the above was completed without any hitches. However, once Kutikai awakened and promptly began psychically screaming for release from its prison, Banaq could not help but respond. Psychically attuned as he was, he was the first of the Hanti to hear it, and he felt the situation was unjust: Kutikai had served his father well for decades, only to be rewarded with treachery and imprisonment. He slipped into the factory basement where Kutikai was being held, but had no idea how to release the spirit from its torturous prison.

    While Banaq was still fiddling with Havad’s machine, the man himself walked in on the scene. Nothing Banaq said could dissuade his big brother – despite his entreaties, Havad was convinced that Banaq was trying to sabotage his contraption to ensure he’d be named heir. Their argument escalated from an exchange of rhetoric and suspicions to red-faced shouting, and when Banaq refused to heed Havad’s final warning to back away from the machine, Havad drew his handgun and shot him in the heart. The joke was ultimately on him, though: as Banaq fell, his arm flipped the machine’s self-destruct switch. No doubt Havad cursed himself for installing a self-destruct mechanism in the first place as he tried, and failed, to outrun the ensuing explosion.

    The detonation of so much aetherium in one place, and the release of a tortured spirit at the same time, affected the disembodied souls of both Havad and Banaq. Havad found himself severed from the cycle of things, inexplicably fated to be pulled into the zygotes of those who carried his genes at the moment of conception – essentially, reincarnating with his memories of past lives, including his first one, perfectly intact each time – and to wander the earth as a lost spirit when there was no suitable host.

    Banaq, for his part, accidentally either absorbed or fused with Kutikai in the explosion and found himself called from the Astral Realm to the Supernal, where the Great Creator Himself had taken note of developments on Earth. He offered to make Banaq his primary agent on the planet, with the task of observing humanity and guiding them so that – whatever other decision they make – they would not fall to the Destroyer, an offer that Banaq (remembering full well that the Destroyer kidnapped his mother) was all too happy to take. Pleased, the Creator further empowered Banaq, granted him leave to depart from His presence, and…promptly went back to minding His own business, leaving Banaq to decide how to fulfill his mandate entirely on his own.

    Of course, none of this was immediately relevant to Kahn and Kal, who woke up that morning to find themselves two sons and two brothers short, and Kutikai nowhere to be found. All they saw was their secret factory in ruins and Havad and Banaq in bloody, unrecognizable smithereens. Kahn nearly killed himself out of despair, but was reined in by Kal, whose imposing stature and martial ability would prove instrumental in holding their empire together – and who, indeed, essentially became his depressed father’s regent from then on, to the extent that he was eventually named heir over his brothers’ own underage progeny.

    However, though he was a mighty warrior who could tear any foeman’s head off with his bare hands and an experienced general, Kal was most definitely not a genius (if arrogant and occasionally mad) scientist like Havad, nor could he commune with spirits and wield magical energies like Banaq. Even more unfortunately for him, the ever-prideful and secretive Havad had made sure not to leave any notes before his death while Banaq’s acolytes disapproved of his ascent over their master’s children and performed only the bare minimum to avoid execution, stalling the innovation and progress of the Hanti.

    Thus when Kahn inevitably died of his broken heart and old age, the newly-made Exalted King Kal found himself ruling a large but stagnant and increasingly restive empire spanning only the southern hemisphere, and for the next five hundred years he and his heirs were too busy trying to hold everything together to expand much. Vessels loaded with armed soldiers and lavish treasures went forth to impress the tribes beyond the Hanti Empire’s borders and secure from them tribute and obeisance, to be sure, but no serious efforts were made to incorporate them into the great human nation of the south, and certainly none to technologically uplift them.

    Kal, the son who ultimately succeeded in becoming the second Hanti Emperor, around the time of his ascension

    Peace, prosperity and...nevermind
    Now at this time, the Hanti Empire’s economic model had been left in the dust by its rapid technological advances, and still resembled a palace economy like those of the later Bronze Age. Obviously, each colony and subdued tribe sending their resources to Kahn-Tuni for redistribution by the Exalted King was impractical when the empire spanned the entire southern hemisphere, so Kal divided his dominion up into provinces administered by an appointed Axausan or ‘vicar’ who represented his authority and handled local redistribution of resources. While these Axausani were given near-total autonomy in running their assigned fiefdoms and in extracting & redistributing local resources, the House of Kal – wary of rebellion, and knowing their army couldn’t be everywhere at once – was prone to replacing corrupt and tyrannical Axausan who couldn’t come up with good reasons for missing their tributary quotas or who provoked revolts in their vicariates rather than waste time and resources fighting said rebellions, (usually) unintentionally giving their people the impression of being distant yet benevolent monarchs who practiced a benign neglect but weren’t totally deaf to their petitions.

    Religiously, neither Kahn nor Kal routinely intruded on local practices. They continued to practice their tribe’s own cult of a Sky Father and Earth Mother who together created the world and brought rain, fertility and joy to life, though said worship moved from open groves to vast temples of stone as their society rapidly advanced. It was in Kal’s time that the deceased Kahn began to be worshiped as a god in his own right and ‘second to the Creators’, and the tribal shamans of old (at least in Kahn-Tuni) disappeared in favor of a formal, literate priestly class who would lead the people in their weekly rituals and issue blessings in the name of the god and goddess they worshiped. Banaq too was posthumously deified as a sop to his descendants, elevated to a god of the sun, generosity, mercy and letters . Those who lived beyond Kahn-Tuni were allowed to revere their own deities in their own shrines and temples, so long as they also made offerings to the Second to the Creators.

    Finally, while the House of Kal had its army (still equipped with semiautomatic firearms, magic foe-seeking bullets, cast-iron cannons and airships) and thus could easily flatten those subjugated primitives who did dare rebel against their authority, they also had to contend with the greater challenges posed by the Houses of Havad and Banaq. Both of these rival cadet branches of the broader House of Kahn saw the throne of the Exalted Kings as theirs by right, and were prepared to fight for it in their own ways.

    Havad’s sons refused to acquiesce to what they saw as a usurpation of their rights and went underground, putting what little sparks of their father’s genius they had inherited into building contraptions that they then sent on terror attacks in the Hanti Empire’s streets and in general working to undermine the rule of Kal’s heirs however they could, in the hopes that eventually a moment would come where they could overthrow the rival dynasty entirely and seize the empire that they felt should have been their forefather’s (and thus theirs) by right of primogeniture.

    The children of Banaq, on the other hand, nominally professed loyalty to their cousins and outwardly remained within the confines of Hanti law. However, at court they sought every way imaginable to undermine the authority of the House of Kal, winning friends and favors only to then ‘cash in’ their connections to ensure that roads weren’t built as planned, wells weren’t maintained on time, supplies flowed into the hands of their allies rather than the officials it was originally meant for, and whispers of discontent haunted their overlords at every turn. To achieve this, they may or may not have discreetly used magic in addition to their personal charms. Over hundreds of years and in great secrecy, the House of Banaq amassed arsenals with which they hoped to arm their supporters for their own coup against the House of Kal.

    Around approximately 76,500 BA, the House of Banaq succeeded in maneuvering one of theirs, the Lady Arara, into a marriage with the Exalted King Kurak II. Their plan was to ensure that the couple’s children would be raised by Arara’s kin and allies, an easy feat considering Kurak’s historical reputation (until it went up in divine smoke along with everything else Hanti) was – unlike most of his forebears, who for all their flaws were at least their own men – that of a weak and overly trusting leader, and that once the Exalted King kicked the bucket they’d be able to usurp the throne in all but name through Arara’s brood.

    Or at least that was the plan, until the House of Havad re-emerged from the sewers and garbage dumps of Kahn-Tuni to launch their own, even more audacious plan. In the past five hundred years they had not only secretly amassed an army of all those wronged by the House of Kal and their servants, from the once-high and mighty who’d been cast down from the pinnacle of society and made to live on the streets for crossing the wrong man to those who looked after the princes’ flush-toilets in their palaces, but also secured aid from a decidedly otherworldly source.

    Ianak, head of the House of Havad as of 76,500 BA, had been the first magically gifted scion of a family of scientists in a long time, and communed with seven spirits of immense power and hunger. In truth these spirits were his (very, very) distant cousins of a sort, stitched together from bits of Havad’s mother Sena and the Destroyer’s own essence as the latter delved into most decidedly unethical experimentation in his efforts to develop a superweapon against the Creator. They didn’t quite make that cut, being ‘merely’ extremely powerful spirits themselves, but they were good enough to become part of his new interim plan for the universe: to nab a specimen from the dominant species of every planet he could reach, use them to construct similar monstrosities, and then unleash them on their ‘mother’s’ home-planet as his representative(s), charged with turning the rest of their maternal kin into partisans of their father by any means necessary. For the seven dark spirits involved here, that meant humanity.

    With the aid of the Destroyer’s Bastards, Ianak sprang a massive and violent palace coup on a chilly autumn night, about twenty years into Kurak’s reign. A few hundred of his supporters, armed with the best and heaviest weaponry he and his kin were able to put together underground, emerged from the sewers and blew out Kahn-Tuni’s great power plants, temporarily shutting down communications with the outside world, before moving in on the palace of the Exalted Kings. Even then the well-armed and armored royal guards might’ve defeated them, if they hadn’t brought along a few thousand new friends – corpses from every morgue in the city, possessed by spirits answering to the Destroyer’s Bastards and thus made capable of moving and fighting with unnatural speed, strength and abilities. The eldest and strongest of these spirits, assigned the name Azan by his summoner, possessed Ianak himself and lent the man his not-insignificant power, starting with the ability to transmute his body into a murder of crows that was able to soar to the palace roof before reverting to his human form. The Exalted King Kurak, his Queen Arara, their family and their servants were massacred, with only two exceptions: the royal couple’s daughter Sabna, taken hostage by Ianak’s explicit orders and forced to marry her captor at gunpoint to solidify his claim to the throne, and their only grandchild Shar was also successfully spirited away by his wetnurse.

    The Hanti imperial palace burns amidst the House of Havad's coup

    While Ianak’s new allies abruptly left within less than five minutes after the conclusion of the coup, the spirits having chosen to depart before their deceased hosts’ bodies deteriorated completely. Azan similarly left Ianak before the strain of the possession could kill his (rather more willing) host, though the two would remain in touch – and after Ianak’s death, his descendants would take his place and continue taking instructions from Azan and its brethren on how to run their empire. More immediately, once the surprise had worn off, the regime change was taken reasonably well by the Hanti people: like many ancient monarchies, the House of Kal had been disconnected from its non-upper-class subjects and preferred to keep it that way, ruling from on high and through countless layers of vicars, deputies and other emissaries over tribesmen, farmers, laborers and traders who mostly only cared about their own lives. While some may have been upset about the loss of their previous ‘benevolent’ (even if only accidentally or pragmatically) Exalted Kings, few felt strongly enough to actively rebel against their new management from the get-go, long as the new overlords maintained their predecessors’ policy of salutary neglect in return for timely tribute, they couldn’t care less who ran the show.

    Reign in blood
    The new regime would soon disappoint those who thought they’d just be like the old with a fresh face. In the days and months following Ianak’s marriage to the last publicly living scion of Kal’s line, he and his cohorts consolidated their control: at his excessively lavish coronation, he’d invited various military officers and civil officials of dubious loyalty, ostensibly to reconcile with them and flip them into being pillars of his new order – when, as a savvy observer might have expected, all that was really waiting for them was summary arrest and the headman’s ax. Further purges soon followed, with anyone being even remotely suspected of disloyalty inexplicably dying in the House of Havad’s custody or while trying to flee arrest.

    Revolts by disaffected loyalists of the fallen Houses of Kal & Banaq (motivated by sentimental loyalty, the loss of lucrative business and political ties to the fallen royals, or both) were common in these early days, but without any figure they could easily rally to – Ianak had been quite thorough in extirpating the House of Kal with his decapitating strike – the rebels remained too fragmented to pose any serious challenge to the new order. More serious were the revolts ginned up by the Havadians’ change in domestic policy, whereby they began centralizing authority from the Axausani into their own hands, trying to promote and eventually enforce a state religion that exalted their progenitor & namesake as the god of gods, and introduced a common paper currency, backed by their stashes of gold, in an attempt to replace the Kalite palace economy.

    Still, few of these rebellions even took place in the same general region, and so they were isolated and crushed by Ianak’s heavily-armed partisans. Ianak, and later his heirs, were also fond of calling on their unseen patrons, the Destroyer’s Bastards, to empower them so that they might instantly destroy any remotely serious revolt in a bloody spectacle. However, the costs of these exchanges were two-fold, often shaving years off of the human patron’s lifespan while imparting some of their arrogance, cruelty, greed and ruthlessness upon the powerful but formerly morally neutral (‘blank’, if you will) spirits until they became as merciless and power-hungry as their hosts. Only Sacrovir, the seventh of the Bastards, had had the relative good fortune to consistently possess hosts (whether Havadian royals or their generals and ministers) who were relatively merciful, honorable and disdainful of needless bloodshed, and so effectively became the only Bastard with even a limited conscience.

    Perhaps it was precisely because calling on their spiritual allies shortened their lives, or perhaps they were simply afraid of death, but as the decades wore on and the House of Havad continued to have to repress rebellions with their iron fist they began to look for ways to extend their lifespan. At first following in his forefather’s footsteps, the Exalted King Chak I, Ianak’s grandson, organized a ‘High Ministry of Inquiry into the Natural and Unnatural Sciences’ – a fancy way of saying ‘department of magi-technological research and development’ – which he furnished with the resources and staffing to develop life-extending technologies. The best scientists, the most innovative sorcerers, and a steady supply of test subjects from the empire’s slave and prison populations were directed to this new High Ministry to accomplish this goal.

    An arcane scientist of the High Ministry of Inquiry into Natural & Unnatural Sciences, as of the Late Hanti period

    Alas, mortal minds and bodies were only good enough to, at best, produce something that could restore the ordinary lifespan of men to those Exalted Kings who’d burnt themselves out hosting a Destroyer’s Bastard, and add a few years to the lives of those who hadn’t. Executions of the scientists and magi who produced disappointing results didn’t spur the survivors to consistent success, so the Exalted Kings began listening to those who promised better results – their friends from the Beyond, the Destroyer’s Bastards. When Chak’s grandson Izak allowed Azan to possess him in exchange for the power to obliterate yet another pesky rebellion, the eldest and mightiest of the Bastards whispered to the Exalted King that if he’d help claim the throne of the ‘Great Enemy’ for his ‘Father Beyond’, the latter would be sure to reward him with life everlasting and an empire that spanned the stars.

    Now Izak may have been a strong warrior, a clever scientist and (thanks to Azan) a sorcerer of nearly unrivaled power, but if there was one thing he (and indeed his entire family) wasn’t good at, it was resisting temptation. So naturally he asked Azan what defeating the Great Enemy entailed, and Azan and his siblings had a jolly good time constructing a new religion to trick the House of Havad and their cohorts into following. At first, they limited themselves: a new dark god of destruction, the aforementioned Father Beyond, was added to the Hanti pantheon, and he was to receive goat sacrifices on every new moon. Over time though, six of the seven Destroyer’s Bastards decided to push their limits and pressured the Exalted Kings for the elevation of the Father Beyond over the other Hanti gods, their own addition to the pantheon as his divine sons and daughters, and advised their human allies that he needed more, better sacrifices – first cattle, then a whole bevy of animals, and finally humans, starting with condemned prisoners being whose death penalty amounted to being chopped up at the altar with a meat-ax and ending with infants in furnaces. Again, only Sacrovir thought her fellow Bastards were going too far with this prank, even if she had initially gone along with it, and so she became the preferred goddess of those Hanti who weren’t totally into blood sacrifice.

    Of course, the real Great Destroyer wasn’t aware of this new religion’s exaltation of himself, or probably even that his children were still active. He certainly didn’t give them any orders to attempt an assault on the Great Creator’s realm on their own. The former, the Bastards cooked up (sometimes literally, when it came to the sacrifices) for their own amusement, as twisted as they’d become thanks to experiencing and absorbing the deadly combination of curiosity & sadism imparted upon them by more than a few of the Havadic Exalted Kings and those minions of theirs that they’d possessed; the latter was something they’d also come up with themselves, this time in the genuine hope that their father would acknowledge them and elevate them to his right hand.

    However, though the religion the Bastards had concocted wasn’t genuine, their support for the House of Havad was, if only because they really thought the Exalted Kings could help them achieve their (equally genuine, if also mad) ambition. They did what they could to further accelerate the magical and technological progress of the Hanti civilization, offered advice on every subject the Exalted Kings asked about from astrology to economics, and were of course present to lend additional firepower with which to subdue rebels and troublesome natives in conquered lands. After all, their scheme couldn’t work if they didn’t build the Hanti into a force capable of storming the Astral Realm…

    The consequence of all this was that, by 75,100 BA, the Hanti had grown from ‘merely’ controlling the southern hemisphere, to effectively being masters of the world. And what benevolent masters they were! The palace economy of old had long ago been cast aside in full, replaced by a mercantilist doctrine powered by gold-backed paper money that bore the faces of the Exalted Kings and the relentless extraction of natural resources from much of the world for processing at or near Kahn-Tuni. New Hanti policy was to use up every inch of soil for agriculture, mining or manufacturing, letting nothing go to waste to the extreme of ‘recycling’ non-diseased human and humanoid corpses as pig & prisoner feed, favoring especially loyal cities with staple port status, and mandating 100% employment under pain of death for anyone who was found to be consistently unemployed. All were to give their all in producing as many consumer goods as possible to sustain the grim existence of Hanti society, as well as weapons and vessels for more wars of expansion or (better still) the planned eventual invasion of the Realm Supernal.

    Up top, the Exalted Kings no longer even kept the counsel of true humans. By this point, they had been refining the technique of creating ‘Effigies’ – seven individuals who, from even before birth, were shaped to serve as hosts for the Destroyer’s Bastards: seven women, each bearing the mark of one of the seven Bastards, was to be impregnated by the respective Bastard’s present host while the latter was on the verge of death, followed by the Bastard ‘jumping’ from their dying host into the new zygote as soon as they’re certain of its formation (probably resulting in the instant death of the old host). Since these seven formed the entirety of the Exalted Kings’ privy council at all times, it was not uncommon to see each king being advised by unnaturally well-spoken children or even infants every now and then. Due to having been bonded with their Bastard and shaped to the latter’s liking even before birth, the Effigy could last longer and more effectively channel their Bastard’s power than an ordinary host, and their original soul would either become a willing accomplice of the possessing Bastard’s or else be subsumed into the latter’s consciousness entirely at an extremely early age.

    Down below, great cities had sprung up around the Hanti colonies established all over the world to process local resources and enforce the empire’s rule over its non-Hanti subjects, filled with factories that belched great black clouds of smog into the sky and temples of black stone where people of all ages and races were regularly sacrificed for the glory of the Lord of Chaos (but really just the sadistic amusement of his Bastards). Only those who could prove their ancestors hailed from the Hanti homeland or who’d been granted the status of ‘Honorary Hanti’ were considered true citizens of the empire, with everyone else – regardless of race – treated as second-class citizens, working exclusively in resource extraction or the factories, prohibited from even learning how to read, and relegated to living in urban slums or windswept villages with few roads and other utilities. And that’s when they weren’t just outright slaves, chattel with no legal rights who could be worked to death and abused at the whims of their Hanti masters with no avenue of recourse save a slave rebellion that was always met with extreme repression anyway. Even the highest-ranked of the Hanti, trusted with governing these cities in the name of the Exalted Kings, could be made into the lowest of slaves or butchered like kine if they offended their overlord or said overlord’s infernal-blooded overlords.

    The high-tech, low-culture market of one of the Hanti industrial towns

    Technological advances had been made to mitigate these grim living conditions somewhat, of course. Medicine had advanced to the point where pills to suppress cold and flu symptoms were available and regularly prescribed, if only to return ill workers to a ‘reasonably functional’ state so they could be pulled out of bed and marched back to their job. Mass agriculture, assisted equally by man’s industry and the sorcery of the Destroyer’s Bastards, meant that even the lowest and most miserable of slaves could receive sufficient rations to see another day if they stayed in line. And even slaves were sometimes permitted entertainment via their owner’s ansible, in summary a magic-powered television, which allowed them to watch all the sex and bloodsports (for gladiatorial matches pitting specially trained slaves and decidedly untrained prisoners against both beasts and their fellow man were common in the later Hanti Empire) they want on the few breaks their master afforded them.

    Of course, for those times hard bread and bloody circuses weren’t sufficient to keep slaves and societal malcontents in line, there was always the scourge. The Hanti armed forces had advanced by leaps and bounds alongside the civil society they were tasked with upholding: any sign of trouble that the police couldn’t deal with would bet met by legions of fully armored and masked soldiers, dropped in from magic-burning airships or unloaded from floating dreadnoughts with concrete-smashing shotguns, tower-leveling rocket launchers and assault rifles loaded up with blood-seeking ‘smart’ bullets in hand, while artillery firing shells loaded with shrapnel, nerve gas or liquidized red aetherium followed them. For shock purposes, penal battalions comprised of defeated rebels, the living twisted and broken into tortured automatons of flesh in thrall to the Hanti and the dead reanimated into shambling, malformed horrors by the power of the Destroyer’s Bastards, would accompany the living enforcers of the will of the Exalted Kings. Though in hindsight the Hanti’s and the Bastards’ belief in the ability of their army to defeat the Great Creator was another sign of their ridiculous overconfidence and hubristic overestimation of their own abilities, it would be difficult to fault someone living in 75,100 BA for thinking just that upon seeing a parade of even one of their legions, or that same legion in action.

    The fading lights
    All that said, not all hope was lost for those who chose to revolt against such brutal and overwhelming odds. First and foremost, Banaq fostered insurgency after insurgency among the primarily human elements of the underclass and slaves. His schemes followed the same pattern – first, a particularly charismatic and intelligent slave, peasant or laborer would start hearing a divine voice in their ear and receiving visions of a man formed wholly of holy light; this individual would go on to organize a secretive cult dedicated to a supreme or even single deity who, though he went by a thousand names, was always depicted as masculine and associated with light, benevolence and justice, and whose justice inevitably involved challenging the unjust order of the Hanti; and once enough faithful worshipers had been amassed, these ‘Light Cults’ would launch their rebellion, with their founder not only commanding them in battle but actively fighting alongside them, imbued with power from (though never possessed by) Banaq.

    These rebellions were always defeated in the end, smashed to bloody paste beneath the material power and murderous sorcery of the Hanti Empire, and the best they could hope for was being scattered to the winds and surviving in small, remote communities. Still, it was rare for them to not at least inflict significant localized damage, razing Hanti colonies, decimating their governors & officials to crack their power structure in the region, and extracting a toll in manpower & materiel on their oppressors before finally going down.

    The most successful Light Cults in Banaq’s eyes weren’t necessarily the ones who survived the longest, but the ones who managed to seriously damage the master plan of the Exalted Kings and the Destroyer’s Bastards: collapsing a major aetherium mine, destroying shipments of special metal meant for their grand portal, and miraculously dispatching even one of the Bastards’ hosts always set their plan back by decades, if not centuries. Even death didn’t have to necessarily render the rebels useless, as Banaq found it easy enough to attract the spirits of those who remained steadfast in their devotion to their god to the end to his side; from there, he could empower them to serve as his spiritual servants, able to assist him in spreading more Light Cults or even martyr themselves a second time by directly possessing the leader of such a cult.

    Besides Banaq and his spirits, other spirits played a role in fostering insurrection, as well. It was trivial for a spirit, any spirit, to find followers and organize a cult praising it as a god, considering how bloody-minded and unpleasant the Hanti state religion was. Other spirits found themselves drawn to aid mortals against Hanti tyranny after seeing their plight, without necessarily having themselves exalted as deities by those same mortals. Of course, since it was also illegal to worship anyone save the Exalted Kings, the Father Beyond and His dark children, and since in their eyes the only good spirit was one bound to the Destroyer’s Bastards, these interloping rival spirits – self-proclaimed god or not – inevitably attracted a violent Hanti response. Assuming they survived the onslaught of the Bastards and their multitudes of soldiers, the would-be-gods and helper-spirits alike would always be forced to retreat underground and pray (usually to themselves…) that they weren’t being pursued.

    It is in the nature of men to create monsters, and of monsters to devour their creators
    The Hanti also, on occasion, created threats to themselves. The High Ministry of Inquiry into the Natural and Unnatural Sciences quickly expanded into the field of magical bio-engineering, but as they were treading in the Creator’s domain and trying to create lifeforms on their own (even if always derived from another, preexisting lifeform), when they made mistakes these mistakes were always a magnitude more severe than the usual laboratory accidents of the Hanti Empire’s other scientific ministries.

    One of this particular High Ministry’s ‘milder’ mistakes was the race known as the Shem in later days. Originally engineered from the magically bound seed of a gibbon, a bat and a house-cat that was then implanted inside a kangaroo, the resulting humanoids were then expected to serve as intelligent and obedient pets and servants: something that could amuse their masters more than their usual household animals, fetch them their wine instead of guzzling it out of curiosity, clean up after themselves, not randomly maul the neighbor’s children, and so on.

    Alas, the Shem grew to be as sapient as their owners and the High Ministry clearly didn’t fine-tune the ‘obedience’ part of their plan nearly well enough, as Shem breaking free of their leashes and fleeing to the jungles of the world was not an entirely uncommon occurrence. Teams of soldiers would be sent to recapture or exterminate these ‘feral’ Shem when possible, but as the Hanti grew tired of such a constant, annoying waste of resources and focused more stringently on the Exalted Kings’ master plan, more & more feral Shem gangs in the wilderness were left alone and allowed to fester until and unless they grew strong enough to menace the nearby colonies.

    In a much more threatening case, in their quest to create soldiers capable of helping them storm the Supernal Realm head-on, the Hanti dabbled in animancy – the science and manipulation of souls. At some point in the early 75,000s, a cabal of eggheads among the High Ministry of Inquiry into the Natural and Unnatural Sciences came up with the idea of capturing the souls of executed prisoners at the moment of their death and shoving them into bodies fashioned out of transmutated garbage, which they would then finally awaken with a strong enough jolt of electricity. Shockingly, the first of the resulting products didn’t much like the master it was supposed to be working for, and killed a magus-scientist and half a dozen guards before finally being ripped to pieces by the resident Hanti sorcerer.

    This initial failure did nothing to dissuade the High Ministry, which simply resolved to up its security protocols for the next test subject. Eventually, they achieved ‘good enough’ results in the form of the race they referred to simply as ‘living refuse’, but which came to call themselves the ‘Snigrenz’ (singl. ‘Snig’) in their own crude language. These were mass-produced slave-soldiers, formed of transmuted garbage fused with a condemned criminal’s soul as before, but controlled by having their memories forcibly wiped prior to insertion into their new host body and an explosive leash forced onto the same said body’s neck. Universally tall, powerfully built, full of testosterone and conditioned to be absolutely pitiless & fearless of everything (except their masters, who made sure to beat a grudging respect for the Hanti order into every single Snig they spawned) and yet easy enough to create in numbers, they were supposed to be the perfect – and perfectly expendable – shock troops. The arcane scientists of the Hanti even ensured these warriors could father more of their own kind but deliberately did not create any female Snigrenz, giving would-be traitors yet another reason to reconsider rebellion and therefore inviting Snigrenz battalions to their communities.

    Unfortunately, the problem with giving the ‘living refuse’ functioning brains and an originally-mortal soul, however maimed and twisted it may be, was that at least some of them would eventually develop enough mental capacity to question their superiors and resent the ruthless training regime & discipline they were subjected to. Even base animals wouldn’t enjoy being flogged dozens of times for the slightest transgressions and being forced to run or swim or climb until they passed out, battle one another to the point of serious injury and exhaustion, or fight their fellows to the death just to establish unit leadership, among other things. And combined with the brute strength and ferocity of the Snigrenz in general, such emotions and capabilities for higher thinking meant nothing good for the Hanti.

    A Snigrenz sorcerer-trooper of the Late Hanti period

    Over time, some Snigrenz battalions began to mutiny against their Hanti officers. As usual, the mutineers were almost always exterminated – whether by having all of their explosive leashes detonated at once, or by being mowed down by Hanti regulars and loyalist Snigrenz should they somehow outsmart the leashes – and their remains fed to other Snigrenz as a warning per standard procedure. However, on some occasions one, a fireteam, or even a platoon of Snigrenz were able to lose their punishers in the roughest, remotest terrain. These lucky Snigrenz inevitably reverted to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, having been taught nothing in their lives but how to fight and kill and forage off the land in a pinch, and as their boldness and desperation grew in equal measure, they came to start preying on Hanti settlements. Men, women, children and beasts alike were all food to the Snigrenz, who had no moral compass and were driven purely by a compulsion to continue surviving – though the women they didn’t eat right away could serve them as baby factories for more Snigrenz warriors. Any runaway colony that didn’t carefully control its population and raids would inevitably be quickly discovered and finished off by the Hanti, however.

    Continuing this trend of nonhuman resistance against Hanti overlordship, the elves of the western continent that would come to be known as the ‘Painted Lands’ too mounted at least one major rebellion in the later days of the empire. Since they took over this new land, the Hanti had not failed to notice the natural psionic abilities of the natives and took to subjecting some of them to experiments (with, as might be expected, extremely high fatality rates) in an effort to enhance said powers and graft ‘magic circuits’ into their bodies as well, which would hypothetically result in a magical complement to the brawn of the Snigrenz – a slave-race of powerful yet expendable sorcerers and psionics. Meanwhile, the rest of elvenkind labored under similar conditions as the human colonial subjects of the Hanti elsewhere.

    In the end, the Hanti experiments were only somewhat successful: the most stable of their successes had magical abilities in excess of those of ordinary humans and their fellow elves, but less psionic ability and a shorter lifespan compared to the latter. But the worst was yet to come – in the early 75,000s a slave revolt among the elves of the northeast managed to overrun a major Hanti laboratory complex and liberate the experiments within, and the resulting coalition of ‘natural’ and sorcerous elves seemed to have a real shot at liberating the entire eastern seaboard of the Painted Lands. In the end, it took the Hanti ten years and the devotion of a significant chunk of manpower and resources to finally put down this rebellion with their usual extreme prejudice, leaving entire cities burnt to ash and utterly depopulated.

    After this calamity, all further experimentation on elves ceased – the results were thought to not be worth the costs and risks – while production quotas and the menace of the whip were redoubled. Those ‘natural’ elves who were left behind and (save those who managed to establish hidden, survivalist communities in remote areas or chose to die free in battle) re-enslaved after the bloodbath went on to become the progenitors of the Ksilitin. Elsewhere, the Hanti put great effort into hunting down and exterminating as many of their runaway experiments as possible, even pursuing those of them who’d secured boats to Hyperborea. There, the descendants of these experiments who survived deep underground, far away from Hanti eyes and guns, would go on to become the Zaroi.

    It ends in flame...
    Towards the very end of the Hanti Empire’s existence, no new Light Cult emerged into the open, to the mixed confusion and relief of the Exalted Kings and their Bastard allies. Could it be that they had actually killed Banaq himself in the body of one of his hosts, or that they’d convinced him to abandon this Earth to them and flee elsewhere? And even if they had accomplished neither, at worst, his (seemingly) few adherents carried out petty acts of sabotage, which surely must mean that the second son of the Hanti’s founding father must be on his last legs, no?

    Actually, the truth was that Banaq had determined (probably after his one-thousandth Light Cult got smashed to smithereens) that he could not overthrow the Hanti Order, either directly (for the Destroyer’s Bastards outnumbered him seven to one and so could tear him apart with ease) or indirectly (for the Hanti were just too strong, too advanced and too numerous). Instead, he resolved to let the Hanti get exactly what they want – and bet on the Creator obliterating them as soon as they breached His sanctum – only mildly annoying them from time to time to remind them that he was still in the game. In the meantime, he would organize a new Light Cult in secrecy, not to rebel and derail the works of the Hanti & the Bastards as they had time and again previously, but to preserve the ‘Innocent Multitude’ – those untainted by the cruel and perverse doctrines of the Bastards, and knew so little about Hanti technology and power structures that they were unlikely to be able to replicate these things – so that they might build and populate a new world atop the ashes of the old, once the Creator was through with it.

    By the empire’s last century, with Banaq’s interference at a minimum and having largely suppressed the various insurgencies plaguing their realm, the Hanti were able to approach a magi-technological breakthrough. On the site of the lake now known as the Un’Hun to the Suufulk, they had built a portal of steel made with meteoric iron, inlaid with intricate and esoteric aetherium designs per the specific instructions of the Destroyer’s Bastards, powered by an aetherium-burning furnace and scores of captive spirits provided by the Bastards. Twenty feet wide, they could march six men abreast through it at a time, for a maximum of 28,512 per hour. Its destination: the Supernal Realm, of course. The Hanti (and more importantly the Destroyer’s Bastards) felt that they were so close to success, they could practically taste it.

    Alas, things weren’t as easy as they had hoped. On one hot but otherwise unexceptional summer day, 75,000 BA, just as the Exalted King Kanat and all seven of the Bastards led their Hanti invasion force of 600,000 soldiers – mortal men, for the most part, but there was no shortage of sorcerers, the possessed, Snigrenz, and elven and Golga slave auxiliaries in their ranks as well – marched there to begin their interdimensional incursion, they found the facility built around the portal occupied by a hostile force, the guards and arcane scientists there slaughtered to the last man. Banaq’s final Light Cult had revealed themselves at last: two hundred of their bravest and finest had stormed and seized control of the facility the night before, outfitted with long-stockpiled weapons and armor and possessed by spirits that had tied themselves one way or another to the cause of the Creator’s primary agent on earth. At their head stood Banaq’s highest-profile recruits: Yth, a giant of a man who obscured his descent from Kal by living as a low-profile carpenter until Banaq reached out to him, and Ishara, the granddaughter of the incumbent Exalted King Kanat III through the northern-born concubine of one of his younger sons, saved as a toddler from the sacrificial furnaces her grandfather was perfectly willing to offer her up at.

    Naturally, Kanat was more than a little infuriated upon learning that there remained one final obstacle between him and godhood. Still, there were only 200 of the Light Cultists, and over half a million men (and assorted non-humans) on the Hanti side, so he had good reason to be confident in his chances as he ordered a general offensive. For all their arcane and (stolen) mundane firepower, the Light Cultists could not hope to defeat such an overwhelming force and were annihilated through sheer attrition over seven hours of bitter fighting. Banaq produced no great miracle to deliver his most zealous followers from their bloody fate beyond quietly calling the souls of Yth and Ishara to his side once their mortal coils had expired. Not one of the Light Cultists even managed to seriously injure any of the seven Bastards or inflict significant damage on the Hanti portal…which, in hindsight, should’ve raised suspicions, but were completely overlooked by the jubilant Kanat as he saw the last obstacle standing between him and godhood go down in blood and fire.

    In truth, Banaq had sent Yth, Ishara and their men in to distract the Hanti from his true objective: directing the rest of his last Light Cult – far greater in number than the Hanti had ever suspected, given that they’d been instructed to the last man, woman and child to keep a low profile until this moment – could flee into the subterranean and mountainside shelters he’d been busily building and imposing magical wards upon over the last few centuries, where they would hopefully be spared from the impending act of divine wrath. In their thousands they rose up; the enslaved, the outcast, and dregs of Hanti society, men and women and children who had taken their secret oaths to forsake knowledge of all things Hanti and build for their descendants a brighter, freer destiny when they emerged into the light of the ‘New Dawn’ their true master promised them. By expending more secret stockpiles of weapons and with the aid of Banaq’s spiritual possessors (inhabiting either willing hosts or simply nearby corpses), they slew their masters and, rather than stick around to fight as past Light Cultists had done, made their escape from the soon-to-be-doomed Hanti society.

    As the Battle of the Gateway raged, Kanat and his top advisers received a sudden and seemingly endless stream of reports of small-scale slave uprisings and escapes all over their empire, but as focused as they were on their big goal, they essentially dismissed these reports and informed the regional governors & captains to deal with the ‘small fish’ themselves. At the end of it all, the Exalted King sat back and smugly watched as the Gateway lit up and the first of his armies, bloodied though they might’ve been from fighting Yth and Ishara, marched through the gleaming portal. At the head of this first assault column stood M’rakh, second of the Bastards and the fiercest of the Destroyer’s brood, presently inhabiting a construct of fused steel and human, Snigrenz and Golga flesh and bone, as tall as three of the Giant-kin stacked atop one another’s shoulders and armed with weapons too heavy for even one of the giants to bear; as far as he and his kin were concerned, if anyone could land the first blow on the Creator and make it count, it was him.

    What M’rakh and his soldiers saw when they entered the Supernal Realm for the first and last time, nobody knows, because all communication was lost as soon as they’d stepped through – not that that stopped Kanat from ordering more and more troops into the breach anyway. It was only after the last of M’rakh’s men had passed through that the portal abruptly sealed. A few seconds later, the remaining six Bastards felt their connection to M’rakh fray apart, a telltale sign that their brother had truly died.

    How exactly the second Bastard and his army died remains a mystery for the ages; presumably the Creator had raised His eyebrow and shifted slightly in His throne (or whatever it is that eldritch creator gods of unfathomable power do when they’re annoyed) at the sight of the intruders and in so doing, instantly atomized them and obliterated even their souls. Whatever happened beyond the portal aside, before even these enormously powerful and twisted spirits could process that information, the Gateway reopened – only to explode right away, vaporizing those soldiers and arcane scientists standing closest to it. The only thing to come back through it before its destruction was one of M’rakh’s hands, mutilated almost beyond recognition and disintegrated down to the metallic bones in more than a few places.

    While Kanat and all his advisers, allies and soldiers stared, mouth agape, at the burning ruin that once represented their lofty ambitions, the Creator gave them no rest or pity. These arrogant mortals who had dreamed of usurping a true god – perhaps one of the only two in existence – soon found themselves subjected to a shower of meteors from the recesses of space, some redirected towards their planet by the will of the Great Creator, others formed out of cosmic dust just beyond the atmosphere and dropped right on down. Alas, the Creator’s wrath was indiscriminate, and meteors fell on a lot more than just the location of Kanat’s army. Within 24 hours, all of the major Hanti strongholds and power centers had been reduced to smoldering ruins, much of the countryside was also aflame, tsunamis generated by asteroid impacts in the world’s ocean were battering all of the shorelines, and enough dust had been thrown up into the sky to temporarily blot out the Sun. Kahn-Tuni, only a day ago the jewel of the empire with a population nearing three million, was directly struck by two meteors and leveled completely.

    Divine wrath falls upon the earth

    Where were the remaining Destroyer’s Bastards in all of this? Well, after realizing what had happened to their brother, they figured what was coming, upon which they scattered and ran for their lives. Their hauteur forgotten and with no consideration whatsoever to the people who had worshiped them as gods and gone so far as to sacrifice their own children at the flames at their demand, most of the Bastards fled to different corners of the earth and went underground, abandoning their hosts to the Great Creator’s (lack of) mercy so that they might inhabit inanimate objects or even cockroaches and worms. Only Sacrovir, the seventh and most honorable Bastard, cared enough to race to her center of worship, the Hanti city of Azzat, and try to protect her people from the fallout of the Creator’s Wrath. Beyond Azzat, those Hanti who survived the initial meteor shower prayed to their dark gods for deliverance…and were answered with naught but silence.

    With the power of the Hanti shattered overnight, their armies mauled and communication networks down, and their very gods having apparently turned their back on them, the oppressed peoples of the world – human, elf, giant, therian, Snigrenz, it scarcely mattered – wasted no time in delivering some much deserved comeuppance to their reeling masters. Where they weren’t just running for the hills and trying to survive in the deteriorating environment, they sowed the earth with Hanti blood. Banaq emerged from the shadows to walk among them, and found no shortage of willing hosts as he jumped from one part of the world to another under a thousand different godly names, leading everyone he could reach in not only eradicating all traces of the former Hanti elite but also everything they had ever built: from their alphabet to their arsenals to their skyscrapers, all of it was to be reduced to less than ruins and forgotten, ideally forever. Anyone who was a Hanti citizen, and especially members of the Hanti literati, were singled out for death at the hands of the vengeful, roving mobs.

    The remains of a Hanti manor, after one angry mob was through with it and before another took their turn

    This was the ‘New Dawn’ he promised both his followers and those survivors of the Creator’s wrath that weren’t part of his Light Cult – a clean break from the Hanti legacy, so that they might move unhindered into a new future free in full from the past. It was the utopia he was determined to bring about at any cost, even genocide, as demonstrated by his assault on Azzat – the city which, under the Bastard Sacrovir, had become a sanctuary for the Hanti, and where a significant amount of their magical technology and lore had been preserved. With a runaway slave whose name has long been lost to history as his host, he led an especially large mob of angry survivors to storm the city, defeated Sacrovir and killed her host, and promptly turned his followers loose, allowing them to massacre everyone who had taken shelter and burn Azzat to the ground. In so doing, they erased one of the last vestiges of the old Hanti Empire.

    The downside of this complete decimation of the Hanti legacy was manifest in what was lost besides all the sacrificial business, industrial-scale slavery and lore exalting the Great Destroyer. The urban centers that weren't simply burnt to the ground were hollowed out and steadily ruined as the surviving peoples of the world, coming entirely from the underclasses which the Hanti never bothered to educate, simply scavenged through them instead of trying to preserve and rebuild (which they lacked the technical know-how to pull off, on account of having just murdered anyone who even looked like they might have said know-how). The environmental effects of the Creator's Wrath as well as the extermination of the Hanti overseers & trained agriculturists spelled doom for the mass agriculture practiced by the Hanti, and with the destruction of their fields and irrigation networks, tens of millions around the world found themselves doomed to starve. And with the breakdown of their roads and no hope of resupplying their vehicles, miners and other laborers in the resource-extraction sectors found themselves stranded with no way to export their raw goods or themselves to (rapidly receding) civilization. With nobody to maintain it or recreate it, all higher Hanti technology from assembly lines to the wheel were lost. A mass reversion to the nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle was thus both inevitable and necessary across the planet.

    Azzat, one of the last Hanti strongholds, moments before the defeat of its guardian and its resulting destruction

    Elsewhere, Yth and Ishara – Banaq’s newest comrades, their souls having been presented before and empowered by the Great Creator on similar terms as his own in the minutes between their death and M’rakh’s invasion of the Supernal Realm – did what they could to mitigate the environmental damage wrought by the Creator’s Wrath: smothering the firestorms, calming the tsunamis, disrupting waves from ruptured fault lines to stop the earthquakes, and so on. In this they were assisted from time to time by other spirits which had similar short-term goals of preserving as much of the mortal races as they could, whether out of simple benevolence, or because they saw a shot at becoming gods in a Hanti-free world but (as with most gods) needed enough followers to survive into said world to make founding their own religion viable, or even simply because they felt like it. Thanks to their efforts and those of the other spirits, enough mortals of the various races survived to repopulate the Earth without also dooming themselves to a spiral of fatal inbreeding.

    When all this was done and the Earth’s surface deemed to be safely habitable even without protracted otherworldly intervention, Banaq, Yth and Ishara ordered their Light Cultists (or at least their descendants, should the originals have failed to survive to see this promised day) to abandon their shelters in the mountains and beneath sand and soil…after which they promptly withdrew to the great beyond, their last instructions to these ‘Saved’ being only to teach their children that the world was new and to forget everything they knew about the old. Other spirits might descend to play and build followings among the mortal races, but these three ex-human lieutenants of the Great Creator (or at least Banaq, who was something of a check on the other two) were content to simply sit back and observe how the peoples of the world would act and rebuild in the ‘New Dawn’. With Hanti technology meticulously scrubbed from existence (beyond perhaps some very, very well-hidden ruins) and any remaining memory of their existence growing more faded & garbled with every passing generation, the scattered, bloodied, depopulated but still-standing peoples of the world reverted to the simple lifestyles of their pre-Hanti ancestors to survive, and so history began anew at the Stone Age.

    Not all that was Hanti was destroyed, however...just most of it
    Last edited by Barry Goldwater; November 03, 2018 at 10:57 PM.

  8. #8
    Barry Goldwater's Avatar Mr. Conservative
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    Default Re: [ANW] Barry's Side-stories

    A bloody sunrise
    The first thing Nagorm felt when he came to was the pain. Multiple bones broken for sure, most of his body was definitely covered in deep burns, and he couldn’t feel his legs. He couldn’t see, and felt a sharp pain and the trickle of viscous liquids down his face whenever he tried to lift his eyelids, so most likely whatever had done this had taken his eyes too. He opened his mouth to scream, but the only noise that escaped his dry throat – gods, he felt like he could drink a lake – was a high, thin whistle, nothing like the deep rumbling voice with which he once commanded acolytes and lesser spirits.

    At least his ears still worked. That was how Nagorm picked up the sound of footsteps approaching him, heavy but measured, over the crackle of the flames raging around them. “Help…help me…” the Snigrenz shaman croaked, or at least tried to croak. If he could just move, to show the approaching figure that he wasn’t dead, that he could still be saved – but no, he still couldn’t feel his legs, and he didn’t have the strength to throw himself face-first onto the ground and crawl about on his elbows.

    It was not long before the footsteps stopped, but no answer came from the figure. Sucking in a raspy breath, Nagorm tried to push past the all-encompassing pain he was feeling and find another way to ‘see’ the being before him with what little magic he could still use. Unseen feelers of Quintessence pushed forward from his cracked skull, weaving through the dry searing air to sense the figure looming over their master, painting a simulacrum of the world around him in his mind’s eye.

    First of all, Nagorm realized, he was in the Copper District, and everything was on fire. Well. That was an improvement to the place, as far as he was concerned.

    Second of all, there were actually two beings standing before him. One was a human, an especially large and strong example of his kind, Nagorm believed. Near as tall as the shortest Snigrenz, and half as muscular, though for such a strong man even he seemed to be having trouble breathing in the hellscape surrounding them. The other was a spirit housed within the man’s body, but no ordinary spiritual entity at that: it burned like a second sun, and blind, mutilated and distracted by pain though he might be, even Nagorm could not fail to notice how it practically radiated Quintessence at a rate far beyond any other spirit he had encountered. The man’s own soul stood out as a tiny black spot in a white, blazing whirlpool, in constant danger of being swallowed whole by this other being.

    “You’re still alive.” The other man finally spoke. His voice sounded slightly wheezy, and though his words were a statement of fact rather than a question, Nagorm could pick up a note of surprise in it.

    “Yes…” Nagorm groaned in reply, almost imperceptibly. Just moving his lips hurt like the eight hells. “Help me, please…I need water…and I can’t, I can’t…” He trailed off as he tried to focus more on the human, and particularly that spirit – no, that god – within him. Where had he seen this man before? It was starting to come back to him…yes, this morning, as the sun neared its peak, somebody who matched this man’s outline approached their city. The Snigrenz remembered that man, most of his figure hidden away beneath a cloak of white fur, raising his head, and then…bright lights followed by blackness, and the pain, oh gods and devils both, the pain.

    “Wait. You.” The dying Snigrenz coughed, and thought he might’ve spat up something more than blood and saliva as he did so. “You did this.”

    “Pretty perceptive for someone whose eyes just melted out of their sockets.” The other man replied, not a little smugly. How he knew the tongue of the Snigrenz, Nagorm didn’t know, and he found that he cared less. As he perceived the man’s outline folding his arms, he felt an intense urge to smite the human and pull him apart limb from limb with magic, but the pain wracking his body was too great for him to focus properly. He had enough trouble just using his Quintessential ‘feelers’ to perceive the world around him to begin with, after all, so instead he decided he’d try to at least get some answers before he was finished off. First question: “Why?” What could he and his tribe possibly have done to merit such a cruel fate? His people were raiders, sure, but who wasn't in this day and age, when everyone was scrabbling in the dirt for berries and hunting any animal larger than a small lizard just to survive? And while the Snigrenz could be a brutal bunch, Nagorm had seen enough to know that humans could be little better even towards their fellow men, so it wasn't like this thug towering over him could plausibly claim the moral high ground even before murdering eight-nine Snigrenz with a snap of his fingers.

    “Why? You still have the nerve to ask ‘why’?” The man snarled, his smugness suddenly giving way to fury. “Don’t you remember? You greenskin bastards attacked my people a week ago. Killed five of the men, my father and younger brother included, and took most of our young women, including my sister. What I've just done to you and your kind is less than half a fraction of what you deserve.”

    “Not you,” Nagorm wheezed, trying and failing to raise an arm to point at him. “The god you’re carrying inside you.”

    There was a pause. Then the human spoke again, but his tone was different. It sounded like someone else’s voice lay atop his own, the voice of a milder-mannered and younger man. “Unlike my host, whose anger at your kind is precisely why he so willingly entered into a pact with me, I can assure you there’s nothing personal between us about this.” The spirit said through its host’s lips. “Do you remember when you and your cohorts uncovered the underground city of Hana-tizar?”

    “Don’t know that name,” Nagorm grunted. “But…yes, we found an underground city. So much there that could have, HAS helped our people…medicine to cure all illnesses, vehicles that move faster than anyone we bless with our spells and endowments, weapons with which we can dominate or destroy the humans and other Snigrenz around us…you can’t mean to tell me – “

    “That your findings are why I have destroyed your nascent civilization?” The spirit replied gravely. “Yet that is exactly it. I cannot allow anyone to make use of the forbidden knowledge of Those Who Came Before, much less conquer others with it and recreate their mistakes. There is no price I will not pay, in my blood and that of others whether they be man, Snigrenz or something else entirely, to ensure nothing taints the New Dawn I have promised to those who survived their atrocities.”

    “Could have…warned us,” The shaman coughed. He could feel his consciousness starting to fade, and knew that this time there would be no waking up from the darkness, but the injustice of it all was putting at least a little strength into his tattered arms. This god - no, no god could be so cruel - this blasted infernal monster thought that an appropriate answer to his people finding a ruined city filled with wondrous technologies that could have, nay, was already starting to improve their miserable Stone Age existence was a merciless genocide that did not spare the elderly and infirm, the women, the children? And it dared sound both calm and justified, at best only slightly apologetic, about the entire affair? “Didn’t have to…come in here, murder us all…if I’d known, I’d never have done what I did to bring your wrath down upon us…”

    “I did try to warn you.” The spirit replied matter-of-factly. “Do you not remember your apprentice, Azork? I visited him in his dreams to warn of what would happen if you continued plumbing through Hana-tizar’s secrets. Since then, he spent most of his waking moments trying to dissuade you from doing just that, right up until you and your kind stoned him to death a week ago for annoying you.” It sighed. “But there’s no point in dwelling on a past we can’t change, or pondering what could’ve been. Your people are dead, and you will soon follow. Fortunately, I have already so thoroughly razed Hana-tizar that no other future people will have the opportunity to repeat your mistake.”

    To this, Nagorm had no answer, though being barely able to hold onto consciousness amidst a sea of pain and the realization that his skin was starting to melt certainly didn’t help untie his tongue. The previous surge of anger allowed him to bite through the pain and at least clench his fists, but now that energy had been driven away by the returning pain and despair. If he'd listened to Azork for more than half a second...but, as the monstrous spirit had said, there was little point to dwelling on a past he couldn't change, or on what could've been. And anyway, the last thing he wanted to do in his last, excruciating moments was to engage an eldritch being with genocidal intentions in a debate. In the end he could only manage a thin grunt of, “Just…kill me…end it quickly…” O godly monster of overbearing light, he’d have liked to add, but what was left of his vocal chords had already been strained beyond their limit by just those six words.

    “As you wish,” The spirit replied coolly. “If it’s any consolation, you will soon stand and be judged alongside my host, who hates you and your kind far more fiercely than I. The bloody miracles I have wrought through him have taken their toll on his body…” The man’s voice reverted to his old self. “But it’s a price I gladly pay to rid the world of green filth like yourself. My only regret is that Luminous Bereqi, my god and my sun, told me there are so many more of your kind – more than I could hope to kill in ten lifetimes.” Through his extrasensory ‘feelers’, Nagorm could detect the man’s lips twisting into a cruel leer. “Ah well, my descendants shall carry on my work for me. In the meantime, I see one more greenskin I can kill before I myself burn out.”

    Nagorm closed his eyes just as the man willed a large rock into existence in his hands, and did not open them again when said rock was dropped on his head seconds later.
    Last edited by Barry Goldwater; December 18, 2018 at 08:00 PM. Reason: small fixes

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