Continuing our #My30DayWorld challenge, Æsc and I talk about good and evil factions within the Legacy of Ash.
The Legacy of Ash began as a roleplaying setting for us, slowly evolving into fantasy fiction as the characters and cultures we created began to take on lives of their own. We hope you’ll follow us over the next few weeks as we reveal a little more about our world and the characters who bring it to life.
This post will cover days 10 and 11. We’re doing them all separately over on our Legacy of Ash Facebook page, so head over and give us a like.
3/29: What Faction in Your World is Feared and Reviled?
Celdurus and its continents are home to many cultures. I’ve focused in on one faction, a religious order called the Cult of Tesc.
The Cult of Tesc is a religious group, priests and priestesses who worship the Dying Goddess. Tesc herself is known by many names. The Flyborne Queen. Empress of Wraiths. In ages passed she was called Tennesc. Before that, she was Estenec, mother of roots and passage. Time has passed, and the goddess is now worshipped as an angry, vengeful being trapped in the moment of death itself.
In the city of Tyrant, the Cult of Tesc leads their faith from the Temple of Cold Faces. In old Ildestra, it was the Temple of Darkness and Dust. Her followers believe very strongly in her cause, and take their power not from her strength, but from her absence. Loss is important to the Cult of Tesc. It is not death itself they worship, but the moment of dying, the transition from life into oblivion.
Led by a high priestess called a ‘juristal’, the Cult of Tesc is a powerful faith, with followers across most of the continent of Alrend’ris. Most people are wise enough not to cross the Dying Goddess or her followers. Tesc is a central figure in my novella, ‘Grim Drifts of Sand and Fate’, so I’ve included two passages from the tale here. The first is small, happening after the faith of Ultania, Goddess of Harvest and Grain, has indeed insulted Tesc and brought about a small battle. The second is from later in the book, as an old madman teaches the main character Ceprium about the Flyborne Queen.
The Temple of Cold Faces, devoted to the goddess Tesc, opened its doors the day after the fields burnt. The priestesses emerged covered in the blood and the charred hides of the dead cattle, masks of carved flesh draped over their faces. An unseen battle had been fought, and both the harvest and its goddess had been defeated.
Their procession announced the death of the goddess Ultania and the victory of Tesc.
The Flyborne Queen and her acolytes stood victorious.
“This one here,” the old man said again slapping Ceprium’s cheek. “Are you listening? This one here is Tesc.”
He was pointing to his chalk marks on the uneven stone walls. He had traced and traced, though anyone could see that he was drawing over older charcoal marks painted long before. A woman lying prone with a blade through her chest.
Tesc, Ceprium knew. In every picture she was dying.
“And here,” he said pointed at another roughly scratched image of a young woman bound in chains, tied to the earth. “This is Tennesc. Another name, another age. She was an earth goddess then, bound and imprisoned within the veins of all existence. She held the world together by the sheer efforts of her struggle against her bonds. And here,” he pointed at a third figure, tall and slim wrapped in vines from a black jungle. “Here is the oldest version I can decipher…here is the elder mother of roots and passage. Worshipped, I think, as the mother of time itself. Called…ah…Estenec…though the meaning has been bastardized by…well…by time. Funny, no?”
“Why are you telling me this? Do we really think that because some ancient savages worshipped these women that they are the same? They are all different faiths, old man. Mortals make the faiths, we give them strength, we give them our blood and on that they feed.”
Ceprium turned and faced the bars of the cell.
“You should not doubt,” the mad man continued. “The names are the same, or close. What does that tell you?”
“The names are the same because humanity has no imagination.” Ceprium ran his callused thumb on the rusted bars, colourless flakes falling to the earthen floor. “Of course the names are close. We’re simply not smart enough to make up anything new.”
3/30: Who Opposes Evil and Injustice in Your World?
The Followers of Mas’erin
There is no need as great as hunger, no cause as true as strife,
The masked do shuffle, lost in terror, souls alone at night.
There is no need as great as madness, no cause as true as loss,
The broken souls and twisted minds, an every growing fear.
Those who stand before this terror, those who know this truth,
There is no need as great as theirs, and we belong to them.
‘There is No Need’ – Mas’erin, 3031 AS
Across the Empire of Mirias Deil, there are small groups of people who follow the teachings of a long dead philosopher called Mas’erin. Mas’erin himself lived hundreds of years ago, during the founding of the empire and the fall of Ildestra, but his teachings and writings remain.
In every imperial city or village, they provide refuge and food for the less fortunate. The Followers of Mas’erin are generous, keeping nothing for themselves and owning no possessions save for their red robes and wooden masks. They give to anyone in need, providing both food and shelter, but they are usually struggling themselves. Their temples are open to all, but this usually means sleeping on a crowded floor, and eating only scraps.
The Followers of Mas’erin work on a small scale, helping the poorest people wherever they can, giving what they can, but they see their work as necessary. Even if they do not combat the larger evils of the world, they believe the help they provide saves more lives than any imperial legion or mercenary company.
Unlike RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons, where evil has an objective existence that can literally be detected, in the Legacy – as in the real world – evil is much more difficult to pin down. Beliefs and ethical codes drive behaviour, creating a complex web of motivation, and rendering evil a subjective matter of perspective.
To Azhroun monks, an order of warrior-ascetics devoted to hunting down and slaying mages, sorcery is an embodiment of pure evil.
In order to prevent a recurrence of catastrophes such as the Sundering or the summoning of the demonic Ans’relan Mor, Azhroun tirelessly root out what they believe to be humanity’s most malefic threat – magic and those who dare to wield it.
Through perfection in the art of combat, Azhroun warrior-monks strive for oneness of mind, body and spirit. Wielding their signature weapon, a double-bladed spear known as a jauth, they are formidable in battle. Having achieved a harmonious state, an Azhroun can counter the sorcery of even the most powerful adepts of Celduras. Feared and hated in equal measure by adepts of all races and nations, the Azhroun are few but implacable.
* * *
The Azhroun at a glance:
They are anathema to mages. An adept’s body seethes with magical energy, while a Azhroun negates it. Azhroun are living embodiments of the Void – absorbing spells and spell effects (up to a limit which varies by individual).
The jauth is a tool, and not the means. Many wrongly assume that a Azhroun’s jauth is what negates the spells, and that without it a Azhroun is vulnerable. This is no more true than a mage rendered unable to cast spells without a talisman such as a staff or a wand. The talisman simply acts as a foci to spellcasting, as a Azhroun’s jauth magnifies their own innate magic-negation qualities. The radiant-stone daggers and jauth lance-points preferred by Azhroun are traditional to the Order. They harken back to the years immediately following the Sundering, when Ans’relan Mor incursions left shards of shattered radiants in plentiful supply across Celduras. This material is unusually hard, and has an affinity with magic, acting as a near-perfect conductor of sorcerous energy.
No quarter. Azhroun will almost always attempt to slay an adept outright, as they typically have no use for captives. In any event, adepts are notoriously difficult to take alive, or to keep as prisoners.
The central Azhroun chapterhouse is located at Arrachindar, in Areukh. It is an island fortress situated at the confluence of the Hannelore and Linnys rivers, overlooking the spectacular waterfall at the Gorge of Darrow.
“Selan Charilaus ran flat-out through the twisting alleys of Orphan’s Reach, Arauvar’s slum quarter. Rounding a corner, the adept’s shoes skidded on something slick. He staggered, clutching at a stack of crab traps for balance. With a glance back down the alley, he sprinted deeper into the maze of canal-spanning boardwalks and mouldering tenements.
He could hide out here for a while, then make his way to the docks and book passage on the first ship back to Kilaon.
Everything had gone wrong.
* * *
The guide who led Selan up through the Witchcliffs district seemed pleasant enough. But despite direction to wait while Selan presented himself at the guildhall, much to the young adept’s annoyance, the man was nowhere to be found when it came time to depart.
By the time Selan found his way back to Orphan’s Reach it was sundown. His hostel was somewhere in the godsforsaken labyrinth of the slums, and he’d be damned if he would spend more good coin on an unreliable tout.
Dusk marked the beginning of a pilgrimage of sorts: crowds streaming into the quarter in search of cheap liquor and cheap flesh. Amid the press, Selan recognized one of the sailors from the Argent Harpy, the stout little coaster he had sailed in on.
“Gral!” He waved, and started to explain his predicament. A native of Arauvar, Gral would know directions to the hostel.
“Fuck off.” The drunken crewman hawked a glob of phlegm onto Selan’s shoe. “Spoiled, puffed-up little popinjay.” The sailor and his sniggering companions staggered on, launching into an off-key version of “I’ll No More A-Reaving Go”.
Wiping his shoe with a handkerchief, Selan cursed his father’s name for sending him to this barbaric land. For forcing him to brook such open contempt.
At home the name of the House of Charilaus commanded respect. At home he would have had Gral flogged for his insolence.
Selan’s grandfather had established the family fortune selling paper created by its swarms of bird-sized wasps. From the book-binders in the Seven Rings Market to the scribes of King Hunier’s royal court – all of them used the Charilaus wasp-paper. And alchemists paid good gold for the wasp venom.
Selan straightened, brushing back his hair. He was a scion of Charilaus and he was not without his own talents.
With an impatient gesture he summoned a shade from beneath the alley’s cobblestones. Arauvar was old, and thick with such spirits. He chose one recently dead, the more likely that it would know the current city streets. Selan named the hostel and compelled the shade to guide him there. The spirit groaned quietly, but glided towards the heart of the maze. As he began to walk, Selan suddenly felt giddy, as though he’d had too many pints of Drift’s Kingscrown bitter.
Something struck the cobbles behind him. Turning, he saw a figure rising from a crouch where it had dropped from an overhanging roof. The man twirled a spear, then planted it with a ringing clash against the stones. Weaving protective wards, Selan began backing away. Sleights which drew shadows around, obscuring him from sight. Charms that turned steel and hardened his flesh. Wards that seared attackers with fire or ate away their skin like acid.
The man strode forward, unhurried but purposeful. With a sweep of the spear, Selan’s guiding shade was riven to wisps, vanishing with a moan. Wards fell one by one, brushed aside like cobwebs.
Scrambling backwards, Selan choked down an oath. The hunter passed through a shaft of moonlight, revealing the dark line tattooed down the left side of his cheek. The man’s face was expressionless, but as his eyes met Selan’s they glittered with dark promise. Realizing then just who – what – he faced, the adept’s nerve broke.
Selan turned and fled.
* * *
Now, too many twists and turns into the Reach, Selan realized that he had to stand his ground. Behind him, by the crab traps, his pursuer rounded the corner. Selan fought down a wave of nausea unrelated to the tight knot of fear in his belly.
The adept wove an Aesillian forbiddance, the web of crackling grey-green lightning spanning the width of the alley. The Azhroun approached, his gait casual. With a sharp pop, the forbiddance faded.
An unseen tide broke against Selan, and he struggled to recall the words to a simple vexation. His fingers trembled as he drew a Ventaishi soultrap, but the glowing strands strained and burst apart in a shower of sparks.
The Azhroun’s speartip glimmered, a beckoning point of starlight.
Selan’s hand went to his belt. He drew his House dagger, its handle fashioned with alternating bands of gold and ebony.
He took a deep breath.
“I am Selan Charilaus. Come feel my sting.”
The Challenge will Continue…
Over the coming weeks, we will be posting more about Celduras and the continents that compose Calus Rukan. There is a lot more to reveal. Politics and travel. Monsters, violence, soldiers, and war. This has been day 10 and 11, but stay tuned for our fourth post for the next set of questions.