Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Age of Strife: Gods of Lingusia

I've published write-ups of most of the deities of Lingusia on the blog in the past; the core conceit of each deity remains the same in the Age of Strife. What follows is a religious history and overview getting the particulars of the Age of Strife in order....

Gods of Lingusia in the Age of Strife

The eponymous “Keepers of Lingusia” are the gods of the world, caretakers of creation and also perhaps its destroyers. The Middle Kingdoms is dominated by a strong pantheon that is ancient and merged with the northern, southern and eastern faiths of the land such that it is all regarded as connected. In the world of Lingusia few men doubt the beliefs of others; they’ve all seen plenty of evidence to suggest that no one god is the “true” god and all gods have influence on the world of men. So for most men of the land, they leave the theology of it all to the priests and clerics.

The priests of the Middle Kingdoms see the divine hierarchy as divided among the three great forces: Order, Chaos and Oblivion (more commonly defined as Death in this context). The gods of order strive to keep peace and law within the world, while the gods of chaos seek to sew discord and destroy. The gods of oblivion are the gatekeepers to a realm of judgment and passing, and reflect the ultimate fate of all beings in the Afterworld.

There is sometimes a hinted fourth pantheon of gods called the Shadow Pantheon, but these beings are not discussed in polite society and appear to be at odds with the other three pantheons. They are seen as celestial beings, sometimes gods, who have broken away from the ancient trinity of power and seek their own way. It is because of the gods that strange and unnatural things occur, such as might be found in the planes of shadow, among the undead, and in the uneasy disorder that the world experiences which has nothing to do with the gods of chaos.

The legacy of these pantheons is buried in a series of tomes, 29 strong, called the Idean Codices. A codex is an ancient form of book which opens, accordion-like, to reveal folded pages. Each Idean Codex is filled with hundreds of such pages filled with tiny, ancient script in a language now abandoned by all save priests and wizards called the Old Tongue. The Idean Codices are spread out throughout the Middle Kingdoms and kept in many regions of the world, but a complete set of all 29 known tomes are held in the Grand Temple of Niras at Hyrkan’ien, and a second set of copies is in the hands of the Grand Librarium.

The history of the gods and man are detailed in these sacred tomes, which extends back 100,000 years and further. The oldest stories speak of a time before humans, and of an ancient, cosmic war between the gods and an older race of chaos lords called the Skaeddrath. The oldest Idean Codex is found only in fragments but hints that this war was won at great cost.

The gods created a first race, sentient beings called the Prehunates in the ancient translations (Old Tongue for “those who came before”). Much of the early tomes speak of the vast power these ancients acquired, and how they rose to challenge the very gods themselves. The gods destroyed the Prehunates, wiping out their civilization in a cataclysm that left the earth ruptured and explains the anomalous regions of the world, such as the sunken basin the Amech Jungles and the shattered isles of Karaktu. This cataclysm was the way that paved the path to the modern world, and according to the Idean Codices the event happened roughly 12,000 years ago. In this era mankind, elves and other races were but simple beings who had been in thrall to the Prehunates; afterwards, they were the lords of a shattered but plentiful realm.

With the rise of the human and demihuman races came an era of tribalism, agrarian development and sedentism. Most of the lore of this age is lost to time, but some bits and pieces of the Idean Codices detail snippets of rulers, events and ceremonies of these lost ages. It is within these pages that the earliest rise of the first dynasty of the old Hyrkanian kings is found, for example.

The Idean Codices become increasingly detailed and comprehensive as they close in on the era of more modern human empires, and a single great tome is dedicated to transcribing in exacting detail the events of the year in which the “War of the Gods” wracked the Middle Kingdoms and shattered the physical presence of the divine beings upon the mortal plane. An entire second book was written just to record the locations, ceremonies and events surrounding the burial of hundreds of seraphs, demons and gods in the Mountains of the Gods, which would later be redubbed the Mountains of Madness by later generations as the creeping influence of chaos seeped into the valleys and peaks of the immense mountain range, driving out all but the hardiest or most monstrous from habitation in the region.

The “War of the Gods” is a curious event in the theological timeline of man’s study of the gods, for up to that point gods of all pantheons were described as walking the earth, granting divine power to their mortals directly, and often influencing the affairs of man directly. Behind the scenes, according to the Sacred Codex of Lineage, the Idean Codex which takes great pains to outline the familial relationships of the gods, it was apparent that these immortals were stricken with a great power play spiraling out of a large number of interpersonal conflicts that had been building up over centuries or even eons, and the war was the culmination of this buildup. In the end, it was the possession and use of the three cosmic Orbs which fueled the fire that led to the conflict, and over these orbs a terrible battle was brought down upon the mortal plane.

Ostensibly the war was what created a fragmented trinity of pantheons…..the gods were indelibly separated into three distinct groups when it was all over, each one aligned with one of the sacred Orbs of Divine Power which fueled the universe. These Orbs were very real objects, and posed a problem for the mortals left standing in the wake of the year-long battle between the gods, the seraph and the demons of their celestial and abyssal armies.

As it happened, not all gods were slain in their physical forms; the deity Aurumurvox remained in the ruined city of the gods called Corti’Zahn and declared he would remain the keeper of the Orb of Oblivion, and it was through him that the mortals of the world were informed that the gods had survived, in spirit, for this battle was not about the murder of the divine but instead about the removal of the divine from the mortal plane.

The other two Orbs, however, were a problem to contend with: the Orb of Life and Order and the Orb of Chaos both rested unguarded in the ruins of Corti’Zahn, and it was decided by the priests of the era that these orbs would be taken away by chosen agents, and placed in remote regions of the world where they would never again pose a threat to the world or call down upon the wrath of the gods in a cosmic war.

To do this, two were chosen: a young man who had studied magic and mysticism named Warenis, and a soldier of the south named Xauraun who had fought with the troops who served in the name of the god Dalroth. Each was tasked with taking the orbs away, that they never be a threat to mankind or the Empire again.

The stories of where these orbs went are varied, but some details and speculation are known even today. Among these tales is the fact that both men who spirited the orbs away were possessed of their power and made immortal reincarnates; they were forever barred from death, and some say with each reincarnation would remain empowered by the orbs, no matter where the cosmic artifacts rested.

Warenis is believed to have carried his orb far to the north, and to have forged a link with it in a sacred emblem of gold in the form of Naril’s Ankh, which he later bestowed as a gift upon the Grand Temple of the sun god in Hyrkan’ien. With the gift of the orb he also made his wizard’s staff a powerful artifact, one which was imbued with his memories and knowledge to aid him in future reincarnations.

Xauraun, meanwhile, is said to have journeyed to the westernmost coast of the world and still didn’t feel it was far enough to conceal the Orb of Chaos, so he took a ship across the Endless Ocean where he discovered a lost land, and bequeathed upon this realm the Orb of Chaos for safe-keeping. Like Warenis he linked the essence of the Orb into a codex, the Malleus Malificarum, which he returned to the Middle Kingdoms with and kept close at his side. In time he learned a great deal about magic from the tome, and is believed to have used his wizardrly to imbue his armor and blade with great magic.

While the two immortal champions would not be worshipped as gods, their influence on how the gods were worshipped was felt over many generations when they would reincarnate into the world. Such was it that the notion of a pantheon of order, a pantheon of chaos, and a discreet third pantheon of oblivion came to be cemented in modern theological thought.

Over the last two thousand years the development of the cults of the Middle Kingdoms has been one of strife, warfare, persecution and occasional moments of tolerance. The question of which gods exist has never been in dispute; rather, the strength of a god is known by his or her worshippers, and the spirit of that god is believed to be strengthened and magnified to affect the world around those followers through sheer faith, creating miracles. Single personalities of great devotion are rewarded with divine magic….it is ultimately unquestionable that the gods exist, and through belief gain power.

Rather, the question of the gods has been one of dominance. In 2,090 there are several deities of greater prominence and power than any others, with the lion’s share of worshippers. These include:

Naril, the sun god and patron deity of the empire
Selene, the goddess of the elves and moon
Death the Nameless One, who stalks the gray road to the Afterworld, and is one of the Gods of Death
Zingar, god of the hunt and lord of the land
Nistur, the lord of secrets and knowledge
Mitra, goddess of the lands of Octzel
Set, the god of deceit and malice, who is revered by all serpentkin and lizardmen
Ashturak, the forger god and creator of dwarves
Phonatas, the goddess of fertility and love
Elisin, the goddess of music and culture

On the other side of the fence there is an impressive cult following known sometimes as the Divinate and at other times as the nameless rabble that seek out the Chaos Gods to attain raw and unfettered power. The Chaos gods do indeed seem to be very generous with rewarding their followers, and include:

Dalroth, the lord of the courts of chaos and embodiment of cruel power
Slithotep, rewawakened lord of madness and destruction
Hargameth, the god of war, and the only lord of chaos to be revered among soldiers of the empire
Baragnagor, the beast god and creator of orcs
Orcus, the demon god of the undead

There are many gods of lesser power who nonetheless are important figure in modern religious thought, culture and politics. These gods of more obscure but still important nature include:

Haro, lord of assassins and patron of the Fire Knives
Etah, the golden traveler

Huuarl, the lord of time

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