February 4, 2011

Forbidden Cults of Atreion

The wounding of the Sun God, Ashrai, and its cataclysmic aftermath has given birth to a multitude of dark cults.  Among them are:

The Four Crones of the North:

The barbarians of the frozen northern reaches worship four dark and hungry winter goddesses referred to as The Four Crones.  The Crones are rarely ever referred to by name, the barbarians fearing to attract their attention thus, but runic inscriptions calling down the Crones’ curses on enemies have been found where their names were written down.  The Crones are: Myrkrah, Lady Darkness, Khaldra, Lady Cold, Ghradhrah, Lady Hunger, and Andalath, Lady Death.

Worship of the Crones has a twofold aim: to avert the Crones’ evil attentions from the worshipper, and to bring their wrath down on his enemies.  All Norlanders see the Crones as uncompromisingly evil, with life being merely a contest to avoid them for as long as possible.  Norlanders believe the Crones have a taste for life force, specially the strong life force of youth, and so prefer to sacrifice children when they can.

Since the founding of the Aryamehran Empire, which claims to the be spiritual successor to the Golden Empire of yore, the Norlanders have assembled into the Gray Horde four times.  Each time, barbarian warlocks called down the wrath of the Four Crones against the Horde’s targets, devastating the lands and armies before them with snow, freezing winds, and thick fogs that hid the Horde.  It is said that each time the Horde was finally defeated, the Crones turned against the warlocks who had summoned them and devoured the offenders.

The Mother of the Dergail:

The degenerate subterranean civilization of the Dergail believe the Earth Mother in whose womb they live to be dead, but preserved in a state of pseudo-life only by the constant offering of human sacrifices. 

The Dergail believe the Earth Mother can only be restored to true life if enough sacrifices can be offered at once, but consider themselves too few and weak to effect such a mass offering. 

Thus a major aim of the Dergail is to increase their population until they can mount a successful invasion of the surface world, so they can capture the multitudes necessary for the Rite of Revival.  To this end they try to capture human women to serve them as breeding stock, genetically altering them to become bloated, mindless, oviparous brood-queens resembling termite queens.

The Shatterers:

The Shatterers worship the dark entities known as the Chained Gods, the gods defeated and bound by the Raharyan sorcerers before the founding of the Golden Empire.  The Shatterers believe that if they can free the Chained Gods, the end of their dying world can finally come to pass and so usher in the creation of a bountiful, eternal paradise they alone will enjoy.

The secret mark of the Shatterers is a tattoo or brand of a broken chain, and every year during the winter solstice, when Ashrai’s power is at his weakest, cells of Shatterers secretly gather to offer human sacrifice over an iron chain that has been forging all year, after which they ceremoniously break the chain.  The most frightening aspect of this cult is that their yearly rite may actually be working …

Most Shatterers come from the lower classes, specially from those races that were heavily oppressed by the Raharyans.

The Cult of the White Worm:

Like the Shatterers, the worshippers of the White Worm of Oblivion believe the world should be ended as soon as possible to allow the creation of a new and better world for themselves.  Unlike the secretive Shatterers, however, the Worm Cult is violent to the point of insanity.

Worm Cultists believe all death serves the Worm, as does social chaos; thus Worm Cultists devote themselves to preparing for and executing the rite of the Worm March, when entire cells of cultists gather and go on a murderous, drug-inspired rampage, not stopping until all are captured or killed.  It is said that when a Worm March generates enough psychic power, the Worm itself manifests briefly to snatch a few victims to devour.

A few Worm Priests are always selected before a Worm March to escape and start the cycle of recruitment and preparation for another March somewhere else.  As with the Shatterers, most Worm Cultists come from the lower classes; however, its orgiastic, drug-using communion rites often attract some bored and decadent scions of the rich families, who often go on to beomce Worm Priests.

Emberists

The Emberists or Dousers worship Ashrai in their own mad way.  Believing the Wounded Sun to be held in a state of tortuous unlife, no longer truly alive yet unable to die, his ability to resurrect himself is denied him.  The Emberists see it as their purpose to assist the god in achieving death, so that he can return in a renewed, youthfully energetic state. 

The Emberist doctrine has proven seductive and attracts many folk of the cities, specially from among the upper classes.  However most of the Sun Priests deny its validity, insisting that only constant sacrifice to Ashrai can keep him alive and that his death, should it happen, will be the final doom of mankind.  Emberists are officially regarded as dangerous heretics, and to be found out as one means an immediate death sentence.

Like the Shatterers, Emberist worship focuses on a rite meant to destroy a magical bond.  Emberists venerate a flame which is ceremonially doused every evening, along with a prayer: “The Sun is dead; may His fires go out and pass into the Void, making way for the New God to be.” 

The Emberist symbol is a phoenix in its death throes.

Shadow Worship

Many folk, including even orthodox Restorationists, also practice the propitiation of Shadow.  Hoping to avert the attention of evil beings from themselves, these offer sacrifices at night to the spirits of Shadow, praying to be spared and sometimes also calling them down upon those who have offended them.

Shadow worship is an open secret in many poorer locales, specially in the farming villages.  Denied the protection the Sun Temples give to the Raharyan nobility, common folk often resort to Shadow worship.  The results are usually mixed: the Shadows may not harm a family or neighborhood that makes regular offerings to them, but will pounce on the slightest infraction or upon strangers not protected by the sacrificial contract.

Many Sun Priests and members of the warrior class believe that Shadow Worship only encourages the proliferation of Shadow power, and take harsh measures against both the worshippers and the Shadow beings that haunt their neighborhoods.

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