The Awakening Faith
The Awakening Faith has its origins in ancient Gath, when the Rephaim Giants that ruled that land had disappeared and the tribes of Gilead re-claimed it as Ashdod. In that age, Ermor was ascendant and had extended its empire into this fledgling nation. In those times, a Prophet in White emerged from the Ashdodite people and preached a theology of salvation and good works and warned of a coming end of the world – though some theologians read his final prophecy as a near-cataclysmic change in the order of the world. He preached that unless the Men of Ashdod turned away from the Temple of Ashdod’s lavish excesses, that they would be punished by the Children of God – an old Gileadite reference to the Giants. He warned that punishment would come to all Men unless they turned away from the lure of the magic of death and blood, and the Man that believes himself to be the master of these forces makes himself only their slave. Angered, the Kohen Gadol of Gilead, the high priest of the Temple of Ashdod, ordered him to be arrested and questioned how he knew these things. According to the Record of Gilead, the Prophet in White claimed to be the one, true Son of God, and every candle grew dim and blew out as if by breath of air. Fearful, the Kohen Gadol asked him if he believed in the Cult of the Numinas, the Imperial cult of Ermor, to which the White Prophet was said to have responded, “Not even the Emperor believes in the Numinas, and not a soul in Ermor can say otherwise for the Spirit has gone out from that land and the people long to be Awakened.”
Seeing the White Prophet as a threat to his authority, the Kohen Gadol ordered him to be branded a blasphemer. The White Prophet was tried and brought to Magna Ermor, and, asked to beg the Emperor’s forgiveness, told Emperor Publius Junus that he had forgiven him long ago. Sentenced to death by pyre, it is said that, when he was alight, a great pillar of flame struck the Tabernacle of the Numinas and destroyed it. A great quaking of the earth shook the city, and the Emperor ordered processions, sacrifices, and executions for three days and three nights, but the quaking did not stop. The great walls of the city were cracked and buildings collapsed. Finally, the Emperor Publius Junus Curvator made himself humble and begged forgiveness and, the Record of Gilead reads, softened his heart to allow himself to be Awakened.
The remains of the White Prophet were gathered by an Ulmite freedman, Josephus of Nicodemus in a pristine, white funerary ashbox. A fervent convert, Josephus was also a successful merchant who sold his holdings in Ermor to attempt a pilgrimage to Gilead. However, in the chaos of the Great Conflagration and ensuing Imperial crackdown, Josephus was unable to charter a ship to the East. Josephus was forced to make the pilgrimage on foot. According to the Record of Gilead, in the course of this trip, Josephus faced many spiritual and physical challenges. Most theologically important are the sightings of the White Prophet made whole again, helping Josephus along the road. However, Josephus never arrived in Gilead. Along the road, he was robbed by a band of Ulmite outlaws. With no money, provisions, transportation, or shelter, Josephus was forced to find shelter at the nearby village of Abenheim. There, it is said, Josephus built a chapel to house the Ashes of the White Prophet and brought The Word to the inhabitants of the tiny village. It is unknown how many people Josephus converted directly, but he is attributed with the conversion of Ulm and the other Western tribes. In the present day, Abenheim is the third largest city of Ulm and was spared the worst of the Malediction – a factor often attributed to the protection of the White Prophet.
The ancient Emperor’s Awakening resulted in a monumental effort to replace Numinal effigies and symbolism with that of the newly adopted state cult. This prompted yet another civil war in the Empire, and, after a long and bloody war, the Church of the Awakening God was triumphant – a victory that is often attributed to the new converts among the Western tribes, who adopted the Awakening. To promote stability, the Emperor Gaius Junus Alligans placed religious authority in the hands of a tetrarchy of Patriarchs who reside in the four holy cities: Gilead, the birthplace of the White Prophet in Ashdod (now, Gath); Magna Ermor, the Capitol city of the Western Empire (now moved to Marign, following the destruction of Ermor); Pythium, where many of the Prophet’s disciples spread the Word in the East (the Capitol city of Pythia, the Emerald Empire of the East); and Abenheim, the legendary final resting place of the Ashes of the Prophet as well as that of Josephus of Nicodemus.
As the Empire split between East and West, falling into the dark clutches of degeneracy and necromancy, the Church was the last true vestige of the organization and structure of Ermor. The Patriarch of Magna Ermor fled in the last days of the Sceleric period, as the city began its terminal slide and final destruction. The province of Marinus, a long-standing and civilized part of the Empire, became the Patriarch’s refuge. While many treasures and relics were lost in the flight, the Church rebuilt and created the Cathedral of White Embers, where the Vicar in White (as the Patriarch newly styled himself) presided. The Church acted swiftly, and kept in place institutions such as the census and inter-provincial governance through its own offices and churches. Running parallel to the warlords that would rise during this period, the Church aided likely winners and lent important support to them – support that made the Church a truly indispensable ally. The Church founded orders of well-armed, trained, and disciplined mounted warriors, lending their services to chosen rulers. In time, even these new kings found that the Church – not themselves – had become the bedrock foundation of society. When Gregarius XI declared the Pax Ecclesaria (The Church’s Peace) in its lands over two centuries ago, and forbade kings from warring with each-other, the writing had been on the wall for some time. Gradually, the Church incorporated these lands into the nation now known as Marignon. While Dukes and Counts act as feudal lords in this realm, true power resides with the Vicar in White. The Vicar’s power is that of both absolute monarch and chief theological and judicial authority. Each is chosen by election from the ranks of the Sacral College, the gathering of high clerics who each command considerable political power as a result of merit. The Fall of Ermor has never been forgotten by the Vicarate, and crusades have been (unsuccessfully) declared to attempt to pierce the Great Fog and re-take the original holy see. These days, however, the quest to retake the great city is known to be virtually impossible, and the Church uses it to rid themselves of troublesome nobles and others.
Three decades ago, under the auspices of the current Vicar in White, Urbanus IV, the House of Just Fires was ordained as troubling news began to spread of witch-craft and whispers of demon sightings increased. The House of Just Fires, led by Tomás Piadoso, better known by his ecclesiastic name Institoris Pius, executed what it considered to be the will of the Church. It seeks to root out heresy and iniquity, and it is known as the Iron Inquisition in Ulm. With the Ulmite Malediction, and whispers of corruption in Marignon itself, the House of Just Fires has been given free reign to prosecute the will of Grand Inquisitor Pius. This has become a point of considerable controversy and debate, even within the Church, as some charge the Inquisition of targeting political opponents and increasing its own power – it has even been said that Pius is creating a secret army loyal to him, rather than the Church. The Iron Inquisition in Ulm is seen with considerable suspicion within that nation, and Witch Hunters are viewed with terror as they exact the Church’s justice with fire, brand, and steel. The Iron Inquisition has benefited greatly from its noble patrons in Ulm, and the protestants they seek to root out frequently point out this alliance as proof that the Inquisition may be corrupt or, worse, in league with the forces behind the Malediction.
Despite this, the Church is a font of hope and learning for many. It is responsible for the creation of the many universities and academies across Marignon and elsewhere, and its stewardship has made the land of Marignon wealthy among the lands of Men. Its works of charity and learning have improved the lives of countless thousands, and it is far from a monolithic institution. While the House of Just Fires prosecutes heresy and is seen as targeting Demi-Humans, the monastic orders frequently encourage free-thinking and give refuge to all members of the community. While Church hardliners wish to crack down on these permissive monastic communities, other members of the Sacral College argue that their work among the populace is the Church’s greatest weapon against the threat of protestantism and doubt. Both sides of the argument make no mistake, however: the Church is aware of the very real threats at its doorstep, and the choices it makes now, for good or ill, guide the destiny of the Men of the West. Much is at stake, and the storm clouds of fate grow darker with each passing day.
When Ermor began to fall into literal decay and ruin, the Emperor Gnaeus Corinthius fled to the near eastern provinces that made up Pythia. There, the Patriarch of Pythia granted the Emperor religious authority in return for recognition as the definitive head of the Awakened clergy – though, of course, the Church in the West disagreed and claimed that The Vicar in White is the definitive authority of the Awakened. While the Vicar commands a hierarchy that mirrored many aspects of the Old Empire’s secular governance, the Patriarchate duplicates the Church’s original structure by placing religious authority in the hands of a new tetrarchy. With Abenheim and Magna Ermor lost in the schism that rent the Empire asunder, the Patriarchate nominated the important cities of Hupernika and Ur. These were not chosen for their theological significance, but because they were important for the administration of the vast empire in the East. Hupernika is the largest city in C’tis after the conquest by Huperniko the Conqueror, and Ur is the focal point of trade and commerce in the Eastern realms of the empire. Despite these new nominations, the Patriarchate has always been insistent that these are temporary until the schism is mended by faith or by force.
The Patriarchate themselves are not the religious heads of the faith, however. It is the Divine Emperor who has the final say in matters of faith. Despite this, the Emperor has frequently relegated his religious authority to the Patriarch of his choice and this nomination is the central political concern for the Patriarchs. The Patriarchate also serves as the judiciary, and judgment is reserved to the metropolitan bishops and ascending ranks of clergy. The Emperor may be appealed to only as a matter of last resort, but Emperors seldom hear cases. Each of the tetrarchs administer their own realm and corpus of law, and what is forbidden as law in one part of Pythium may not be elsewhere. Over time, the Patriarchs have lost the authority once given to them by the faith of the masses, as they are increasingly viewed more as secular functionaries with human wisdom rather than as inspired by God. The lack of a central, universally applicable law has only fed into this perception, and the habits of the clergy have done little to reverse the trend.
Sensitive to the desire for authenticity held by the masses, a cabal of low-ranking bishops calling themselves the Iconoclasts began to organize masses that called for the expiation of the Patriarchate. They believed that the overlap of secular authority, perks and privileges afforded to the clergy, and the ostentatious wealth held by and held out by the Patriarchate was leading to corruption and degeneracy. As befit their chosen moniker, the Iconoclasts led the masses in destroying reliquaries, religious paintings and statuary, and pulling down architecture they considered to be too opulent. They shred their own garments and wore clothing made from simple fabric and adorned themselves with holy symbols made of white wood rather than silver or gold. While popular, the Patriarchate was outraged and the Divine Emperor saw the Iconoclasts as a threat to his majesty and authority. The ensuing civil war was bitter, and ended with the expulsion of the Iconoclast heresy and a ban on any faith that did not adhere strictly to the teachings deemed acceptable by the Emperor. In the past, Pythium was a tolerant and pluralistic society, finding unity in a shared civic undertaking. Those days were over.
While it seemed that the Emperor’s Ban was successful, this success was only on the surface level. The civil war was very destructive, and led to much resentment between the peoples and provinces of Pythium. When clergy led armies, oversaw the looting of their opponents holdings, and otherwise acted as military leaders, this only undermined the religious authority that they sought. People began to pray in secret to other faiths, and mystery cults sprang up. Some came out of old faiths, long thought dead, and others emerged as religions of Demi-Human origin. Now, the Patriarchate has been largely marginalized by a heavy-handed Emperor and a skeptical public. As these heresies grow and take deeper root with each passing day, their power diminishes. The Theurgs of the Patriarchate are not aware of how deep the rot lies, nor of their and the Emperor’s central role in causing it. These secret cults divide the populace against one-another, and civil war is no longer un-common between the provinces and even within a province’s own legion. Pythium is now stretched to the point of collapse, and new threats are on the horizon: a newly emergent C’tis, the return of the Giants of Gath, a barbarian horseman horde from T’ien Ch’i, and word has spread of kingdoms led by demons and dragons on the rise even further East. Unless something is done, the Emerald of the East will be crushed beneath the boot-heel of history.
Reformatio Ecclasarium Ulmicum
Old Imperial for the Reformed Church of Ulm, a fairly recent creation by an itinerant Ulmish preacher, Bohemus of Lütter, whose frustrations with the Ecclesiarchy reached a breaking point when his congregation in Abenheim was menaced by the foul creatures of the night which have become more and more commonplace in that land. Lütter petitioned the Vicar in White for a Crusade to cleanse the Malediction and shorn the Schwarzwald, stating 95 grounds upon which the Church was obligated to act, as well as means by which it should reform itself in the face of impending mundane and supernatural threats. When the Ecclesiarchy sent him back a blank paper in response, Lütter nailed his letter for all to see on the doors of the many churches in Abenheim, especially the Weissdom – the cathedral in Abenheim said to be built out from Josephus’ Chapel, its full name being the Hohe Weiss Domkirche. With a printing press in many institutions of learning in Ulm, these spread like wild-fire and Bohemus of Lütter, seemingly overnight, went from being an overly opinionated priest to a dangerously prolific heretic in the eyes of the Ecclesiarchy.
To the beleaguered people of Ulm, Bohemus of Lütter is a symbol of hope and reform. The Reformed Church is not a centralized organization, but a church of many diverse congregations. This has led to the creation of many underground congregations, for it is believed among them that all Men are capable of readng the Word themselves, and that the following of the Word and not Church traditions is the closest Men can come to realizing the scriptures in their lives. The printing presses have recorded that the Record of Gilead is the single most printed book in Ulm, and Church hardliners in the Sacral College fear that this could lead to countless splits among believers and heretical doctrine. Some congregations have shocked the traditionally conservative Church, though the Ulmite congregations stand by scripture to defend their practices. As a result, many Ulmite protestants study scripture intensely, a trend that the Church has criticized as making lawyers out of lay-people while Lütter and other prominent protestants praise this as exactly the sort of spiritual debate which makes the Word meaningful in the lives of Men. Attendance and fervor tend to dictate the sometimes seemingly experimental nature of these budding congregations, as many believe that the wisdom, or lackthereof, in these decisions makes itself manifest through Men. Lütter arbitrates when congregations step on each-other’s toes, and has thus far managed to prevent any concerted bloodshed between protestants. Lütter is adamant that he commands no more authority than any other believer, but his charisma and fame make it a popular move to seek Lütter’s blessing in matters of faith.
However, the corrupted principalities of Ulm have sided with the Church in officio, in order to crack down on these dangerous protestants – the ghoulish nobility sees an opportunity to pit its greatest foe against itself in its land. In many strongholds shadowed by the Malediction, even mentioning Lütter’s name is illegal – it carries a sentence of death by the pyre. Lütter’s supporters, however, have taken these grandiose punishments as a sign of authenticity – the Malediction’s influence is strongly felt by the populace, even if the Church and the nobility claim that it is a shadow that has long since passed. Still, the nascent religion’s popularity is mostly underground as few peasants are willing to stand with the priests and risk their homes and families. If they believe that it can be done safely, however, Ulmites are happy to give shelter and protection to followers of Lütter – priests and rangers hidden beneath floorboards, or food hidden away from tax collectors for protestants are not uncommon at all. The Iron Inquisition, the Church’s arm in Ulm, hunt for these protestants, and the balancing between Inquisitors hunting for threats and protestants alike, a split church, and double-dealing peasants make even mundane politics a complicated affair. The protestants are not without blame in the recent conflict, as some congregations have taken it upon themselves to ambush and rob or even murder high-ranking Church clergy. Many have also taken up witch hunting, as there is considerable anxiety among the populace that losing many of the religious trappings and non-scriptural prayers and traditions exposes the population to greater danger at the hands of witches and worse. Mobs of protestant peasant zealots are not necessarily unsuccessful in these endeavors, but for every true witch or beast they destroy, it can be guaranteed that many on the out-skirts or out of favor in society paid the blood price as well. All the while, a grim and eluse shadow tightens its hold over Ulm, threatening to poison the West and each passing day sees it grow stronger.
The Ecumenical Iconoclast movement in Pythium would have been just another failed heresy, had it not spread to the burgeoning lands of Bogarus. These northern peoples, casting off their old ancestral paganism, embraced the Iconoclast heretics fleeing Pythium.