“Your thesis was good, indeed some parts were quite original and brilliant actually.. But other parts.. They actually have me a little concerned..”
“How do you mean Father Alleyn?” the young acolyte shifted in his chair slightly, a single bead of sweat running from his shaved forehead and into his eyebrow. The senior man considered his answer for a moment, sighed, stood up from the heavy oak table and turned to look out the window into the green hills and pastures beyond. Despite his years, he was still an imposing figure, heavily muscled with a pot belly, shaved head and thick, bushy black beard.
“It is rare that an acolyte as young as yourself is able to grasp and articulate the nature of the gods – but your thesis has some, shall we say, interesting insights..” he turned to face the young Acolyte again, who squirmed in his seat and frowned. “Is this truly your own work, Terrowin?”
“Yes, of course” Terrowin did not hesitate. “I realize it is an unusual topic. But it has always intrigued me, how the gods themselves came to be.. There is little mention of it in the Elder Tomes, and what little is there is unclear.. Taken on face value, it appears to me that the Gods both created and were created by man.. But how can it be both? This is the question I tried to answer in my thesis..”
Father Alleyn considered the young man before him. Most Acolytes attempting their thesis to enter the priesthood chose safe and straightforward topics – but this was the first time one had attempted to answer one of the most difficult, and dangerous, questions..
“I see..” he turned to the window again “but what concerns me is that while you did not provide a clear answer, certain passages in your thesis suggest that you have formed your own conclusion. Is this not wrong?”
Terrowin scratched his face. “Yes.. It is not wrong.. I found references to the dawn of the gods in the Elven scriptures – and while it is deliberately unclear, I feel that in the beginning the Elves recognized the energy forms in the eternal sun and moon, and projected their thoughts upon them, giving these early energies a kind of structure – a prodigal mind..”
Alleyn turned to face him, and slowly sat down again in the chair, considering him carefully. “Go on”
“Before this time, the gods existed only as raw energy. But the elves crafted for them the beginning of a personality, the beginning of consciousness. And when we came to Eletreus, we too were in awe of them, the life givers, the sustainers, and we too projected our thoughts upon them. And slowly, they took form – became real. And took control…”
“Control? How do you mean?” Father Allewyn’s eyes narrowed, just as a shadow passed over the clouds, and the room became visibly darker, the air thick with silence as Terrowin considered his answer.
“Do not get me wrong Father, I love the All Father and Sky Mother as my own flesh and blood parents. I am naught but a servant of the Empire, a vessel for the Will of the Eternal Emperor, the Holy Paragon. But I cannot get over the origins of it all – it seems heretical to me that we made the Gods in OUR image rather than they always existed like that and we were made in theirs..”
“It is not heresy to think such a thing. For the deeper truth is that there is no clear cut or easy answer. You may have missed it, but in the Elven scriptures there is also a verse, verse 56:1 I believe” he got up again and searched for a thick, dusty tome from his personal library before opening it upon the table and began reading from it. “‘and in the void of nothingness, out of nothing, came the first something. Naught but a wisp at first, first there was one, then from one came many, and these first somethings began to interact, like sunlight playing on the surface of the water. And from these interactions, they began to take form – two legs, two arms, two eyes – and each spread out across the vastness of emptiness and made for themselves a home – some within the giant rocks that collided and scattered against each other, some in the hot gaseous clouds that would light the world from the darkness.'”
He paused, and looked up “This is as clear as evidence as any that the Gods were conscious BEFORE man or elf began to worship them. But, as the Elder Tomes relate, in the times before men and elf, the Gods were not as we know them today. They created us, and we in turn, with our thoughts and our prayers, made them relatable..”
“So in the end, we DID make them in our own image just as much as they did us..?”
Father Allewyn chuckled “That is the Canon. Which is why your thesis, as good as it may be, cannot be accepted..”
“I understand Father” Terrowin bowed his head.
“Good. But do you believe it to be true?”
“Of course Father. I made a mistake…”
“Yes and no..” Father Allewyn stood up once again, closing the book and placing it carefully back into the bookshelf. And for a moment, he seemed to hesitate, glanced over at the young, despondent looking Acolyte, and took out a second, much smaller brown book with silver gilded embroidery in complex geometric patterns along the spine.
“Normally to read of this book that I hold in my hands is forbidden. But your thesis shows insight rarely seen at such an age, and with the right materials – the right knowledge.. You may be able to find a clearer answer..”
“You honor me Father Allewyn. I will happily accept, or rewrite my thesis to conform to the Canonical Doctrine.” he bowed.
“Do you know what this book is, Terrowin?”
“No Father, I do not”
Allewyn considered the young man before him carefully in the dark and silent room for a long, uncomfortable time without saying a single word.
“These are the writings of the Heretic, Wido the Insane, devotee of the forbidden god – Rahm..”
“No, no, no. Do not worry. It is a crime for lay people to possess it – but you have my permission. I will write you a note with my personal seal..”
Terrowin looked around the room, a feeling of paranoia that someone else was watching creeping over him. “I don’t understand – how can I quote this book in my thesis if it is forbidden”
Allewyn laughed “You cannot of course! But you CAN read it, and perhaps find the missing pieces of knowledge that you cannot find using more, shall we say, traditional sources..”
“Thank you Father” Terrowin bowed. “I am truly honored with your faith and trust in me.”
“Good” the father said, reaching for a scroll, some ink, and began scribbling out a note. “You cannot of course share it with any other Acolytes. Nor talk about it with anyone but me.”
“I understand Father. Thank you.”
“Come back in a week and we can discuss both an extension of your thesis and what you have learned in that time.” He finished his note and, taking a candle, dripped a blob of wax and stamped it with his official seal.
“Thank you Father”..
Terrowin stood, bowed, and took the book, hiding it in the thick folds of his priestly robes. And as he left the senior priests chambers, he smiled to himself.
It was as I suspected. With his seal and this book, I will see this heretic burn..!
Terrowin the Witch Hunter was nearly home free. But as he passed the three priests he had spied in the church praying before the grand altar of the Sun god – one of them, his back still turned, suddenly spoke in a strange, muffled voice. “I do not think that that book is going to do you any good” the voice spat – and at the same time the heavy double wooden doors slammed shut, making Terrowin jump. He turned to face the priests, who had spun to face him, and his heart skipped a beat..
For before him, under their robes, he could see that the three men were heavily armored and their faces obscured by hideous, evil looking helmets with glowing white eyes.
Slowly the three figures advanced on him, swords drawn. “Yes, heretics is what we are to you young snake. But to us, YOU are the liar, YOU are the heretic. And the ‘evidence’ you have gathered, shall not leave here. And nor shall you..”
And at that, the Fathers chamber door opened, and Terrowin drew his own sword, sweat now rolling down his face, to see that the senior priest also wore the armor of his eternal enemy.
“May the Paragon guide my hand..!”
“No my poor deluded child. The Paragon cannot hear you. Not anymore. Much less save you. You tried to betray me, betray ALL of us, yet how did you ever expect to come out victorious without even knowing the true nature of your enemy? Rahm already had the Empire under his heel centuries ago. Every prayer and every worship that every citizen solemnly give every day to the Paragon, the Allfather, and the Sky-Mother have already been altered to benefit him. Every Divine Magic used by the Clerics, Paladins, and you witch-hunters are likewise granted to you and yours by the grace of the First Deathless, not your ‘beloved’ gods.
“Oh, do you not believe me? Go ahead, smite us down with your divine powers, make us kneel under the might of your ‘mighty’ Gods! PROVE US WRONG!”
That was the final straw. Terrowin could stand insults to himself and his family, but not his gods. Drawing deep into his own faith, Terrowin mustered the courage to pray to the gods to grant him the strength to sunder his enemy and grant him victory.
“Allfather, in your infinite grace, grant me your powers and-“
Something was wrong. Normally, when one calls upon the gods to cast Divine magic, they would feel the gods’ presence within themselves. They would listen to one’s prayers, and grant the faithful a very small portion of their power with which to carry out their will in the form requested via the prayers spoken. This has always been a safe form of Anima Vestra, with no chance of failure.
Except this time, there was no presence. There was nothing to draw from. In fact, there was absolutely nothing at all.
They were right. The heretics were right.
Terrowin couldn’t believe this. Nothing could possibly threaten the dominion of heaven over mortals. Not even Shemhazai the Accursed could stop one’s ability to cast Divine Magic. This is beyond him. This is beyond everything his order has ever faced.
“Your gods are nothing, Terrowin. They never deserved our worship. They tried to turn us into automatons once, a thousand years before the War in Heaven. Mindless slaves who will ceaselessly worship them so that they could remain immortals for all eternity. We are not slaves, Terrowin, and we will not become slaves any longer. And now they try to goad us into worshipping us once more, by leaving the Heavenly Blades upon Elatreus, igniting an eternal cycle of war that had consumed the lives of countless good men and women! The audacity of it all?! Elven scripture, verse 51:13; ‘Only by faith will you find victory.’ Well, we had been faithful long enough, and there was no lasting victory…”
“NO! YOU ARE WRONG! Shemhazai was the one who poured his essence into the Brand of the Fallen and Abdiel had to retaliate by doing the same and creating the Flame of the Host!”
“You think I do not know the Canon? The Legend?! I always had my doubts from the first moment I heard that story, and I’ve heard it far too many times. Have you ever asked yourself, why didn’t the gods just send Abdiel back to Elatreus in his Archon form and destroy the Brand of the Fallen before it truly became a threat? Ever asked yourself, why didn’t Abdiels simply destroy Shemhazai because he had corrupted many of his brethren angels, a sin equal to treason thus punishable by Death according to their own Elder Tomes?!”
“There are no answers you can give that will justify their actions nor their incompetence,” Allewyn paused, as though an invisible instructor had told him to, cricked his neck, and levelled his blade towards Terrowin. “Our time is up. I cannot have an unwanted guest such as you be in the same room as our benefactor. Rest assured, we will make this easy and painless for you. After all, we’ll still need to clean up before he arrives…”
Terrowin closed his eyes and said a silent prayer once more. He was hopelessly outnumbered – and he knew that his life was soon to come to an abrupt end – a lesser man would’ve fallen to despair, but faith had made him jaded and strong. He hoped, beyond all hope, that he could at least take some of these heretics with him. Yet as he made peace with himself, the sunlight, which had always bathed the hallowed grounds of the church during daylight hours turned from yellow to crimson red as though the sun had set. The heretics paused, and averted their gaze towards the stained-glass windows that had flanked the sides and rear of the Grand Altar and then towards the vaulted ceilings of the church.
The ceiling and the roof parted from the walls; the bricks, mortars and rebar disassemble in midair and flowed in random directions, allowing the occupants a view of the world beyond the confines of the church.
There was an eclipse. An eclipse without a moon. The sun, once fiery in its splendor, its divine light unceasing, is now no more than a black circle with a corona bleeding darkness that is slowly corrupting the skies and clouds around it. The moon on the other side of the sky, once graceful and ethereal, it’s lunar light once the subject of countless poems, is shattered into equally countless pieces, many of which rain down upon Elatreus.
Where the black ichor touches, the crimson skies are consumed by darkness, and offered Terrowin a glimpse of the black seas of infinity, an endless void where reason, law, and science did not exist.
At that moment, he felt the exact same presence that had shadowed him earlier in Allewyn’s chambers. Now he realized that it was no hunch nor bad feeling. It was his Immortal Enemy, silently observing him.
The words of an ancient prophecy set to runes by the Grand Masters of his Order long ago burst into his consciousness:
From across the Black seas of Infinity and beyond the Mists of Time, Rahm watches and waits. For he is the Immortal Enemy of the Gods before Shemhazai ever was and he alone holds the key to bring down the heavens themselves. For when the ancient rites have been spoken, the prison the gods have built have been sundered, and the lords of darkness have been awakened and summoned forth, then shall the gateway between the stars open once more.
The heretics, once still and humbled by the presence of their god, advanced and ran their swords through Terrowin’s torso. As his body, callously disposed, lay still and bleeding upon the stone-cold floors of the Church, which had by now started re-assembling itself, the last passage of the ancient prophecy slipped through his mind.
Behold, the Forbidden God comes, and we are doomed….
The Rahmite Heretics are a cancer within the Church of the Paragon that has been festering and eating it away from the inside for centuries.
Opposed to the gods in every way, the Rahmites draw their power from the ascended demi-god Rahm, first of the Deathless and exist entirely as a sub set within the Churches structure. In return for their devotion, which provides him energy, energy that his followers believe he will use to break his bonds and return to the world, Rahm grants the cultists the same powers as any other priest of the Church of the Paragon, and no reliable method has been found to expose this secret allegiance.
As such, the Church of the Paragon has a small but fanatical core of Witch Hunters and Inquisitors who are legally sanctioned to infiltrate, expose and otherwise root out the Heretics – for allegiance to Rahm is akin to high treason and punishable by burning at the stake.
Due to their persecution and inherent defiance of all social norms, the Rahmite Heretics are highly secretive – grooming potential members from within the junior priesthood and using techniques such as blackmail, violence and assassination to protect and further their goal – to provide Rahm with enough spiritual energies to break his bonds and return to the world, whereupon the highest and most powerful members of the sect believe they will be rewarded with eternal, corporeal life and become Deathless themselves.
In addition to the standard Clerical powers of a priest of the Church of the Paragon, all senior Rahmites are able to transform themselves at will into ‘battle form’ – their skin transforming instantly into a suit of almost impenetrable armor and dramatically increasing their physical strength while showing a remarkable ability to withstand and block out pain and damage and fight with an inhuman (or perhaps, all too human) fury.
Despite their best efforts, the church of the Paragon has been fighting a losing battle – as for every heretic they uncover, they recruit at least 2 more – and the scale of their infiltration and the secret battles waged are unknown to the average person, lest they lose faith and trust in the church itself. Which of course, would suit Rahm and his followers just fine..