Agrik is the evil god of war; the breeder of violence for its own sake. He is a deity for those who enjoy rapine, pillage, cruelty, and destruction. Agrik is worshiped by dozens of squabbling sects, each sponsoring its own fighting order. Agrik’s element is fire. He was a servant of Manrasusha, the amoral First God of primal fire, he who cleanses yet destroys, comforts yet kills. Early dogma saw Agrik as the one who nurtured and appeased Manrasusha through mortal sacrifice, a service that saved Kelestia. Considering the general indifference of the First Gods, it is more likely that the blood of mortals sated the thirst of Agrik rather than the wrath of Manrasusha. Agrik is most commonly portrayed as a mighty humanoid figure shrouded in crimson flame, with leathery, scalloped wings, razor sharp claws, and cloven hooves. Two claws were severed from his left hand by the goddess Larani in an ancient duel. Agrik will never forgive this indignity. Only the terms of the Concordat of the Illimitable Tome deter him from seeking revenge. Some believe that he will eventually attempt to assassinate the goddess regardless of the consequences. The enmity carries over to mortal followers of both deities. Otherwise, Agrikans loot, pillage, ravage, and torture without religious discrimination. Agrik is one of the greatest warriors of the gods, although known for his unchivalrous methods. His favorite weapons are Gashang, a flaming mace capable of inflicting “the myriad voices of pain;” Sycanus, the sickle with which he cuts the hearts and souls of men from their bodies; and Armahnh, a great whip which strikes the ground with the sound of thunder.
At first, only the finest warriors were admitted to the priesthood. However, the temples also attracted scholars whose bent was toward administration and ritual rather than the martial arts. Eventually, two specialized castes developed: the Viriahn (priests), guardians of the Balefire Chronicles, which had become a synonym for archives; and the Terahni, protectors of the priests. The martial ideal has survived; all priests are still taught skill at arms. The rise of complex societies in Lythia was mirrored in the church. The original structure of one priest and eight acolytes remained, but the eight became masters with special responsibilities under a high priest. As administration grew burdensome, additional priests and acolytes were trained as their assistants. Feudalism provided a model for the Terahni. The priests organized their warriors into fighting-orders. When a temple prospered it founded new houses; sometimes control was maintained, more often the new temple declared independence. Since most temples have their own Terahni, bloodshed is common. In addition to the numerous philosophical differences that foster disputes, Agrikanism attracts men as much concerned with power as with theology. Competition between orders and temples is accepted, even encouraged. Violence is perceived as an act of worship in itself. No adherent can make a greater sacrifice than his own life.
The Central AuthorityThe fractious origins of the Agrikan temples long prevented the establishment of a central authority. However, by 300 TR, the temple of Lysara had come to dominate the Agrikan church throughout most of the Azeryani Empire and extended that supremacy over the next two centuries. This temple, located on the edge of the Azeryani Drylands, has grown into a city dedicated to Agrikanism and is largely independent of imperial authority.
The Amanasurif (the Pontiff)The most powerful priest of Agrik dwells in Lysara where he is a powerful secular lord, collecting revenues from temples and other church properties throughout Azeryan and the rest of Lythia. Most Agrikans acknowledge that he has a special relationship with the deity, but not all recognize his infallibility.
The High Curcuno (Senior Cardinals)The High Curcuno serves as a kind of pontiff’s cabinet. Its eight members advise the Amanasurif and are the government of the church estates. They are chosen by the pontiff from the Low Curcuno. When the pontiff dies, his successor is most often one of the High Curcuno.
The Low Curcuno (Cardinals)The Low Curcuno consist of all primates and bishops, and enough temporary appointees to bring the number to eighty eight. When the pontiff dies, the Low Curcuno elects his successor. Such occasions are also used to review the church’s evangelical and secular policies. Most offices in the government of Lysara and the church estates are filled by members of the Curcunos who therefore head both the secular and sacred bureaucracy.
Demography and Population
Agrik is worshiped throughout Lythia, but in many regions the faith is illegal and therefore covert. Most Agrikan temples are in Azeryan. On Hârn, worship is concentrated in the Thardic Republic and the Kingdom of Rethem, but is proscribed elsewhere except Orbaal. Wandering bands are still found in wilderness regions such as Quarphor, Reksyna, and the Hepekerian Desert.
The Other GodsHalea is the Whore of Heaven. She pursues pleasure the way merchants grasp gold. With temptations of wealth and sex, she bewitches the minds of the mighty, turning them into her slaves. Do not be fooled by her charms. True strength comes from will and courage, not from coins and sated loins. Ilvir the Craven Lord hides in the pits of Araka-Kalai, too weak to stand against our Warlord of Balgashang. Agrik would have destroyed The Worm long ago were it not for the usefulness of his art. At our Lord’s command, the Craven One created the V’hir, just as he still creates monsters for our arenas. Ilvir and his minions can be ignored, for now. Larani, the Bitch of Dolithor, antagonizes our Warlord at every turn. Her ‘chivalry’ is an attempt to subvert the natural order. Her followers must be fought at every opportunity, by whatever means necessary. Our Warlord rejoices when her servants are put to death, but rejoices even more when they are persuaded, by any means, to renounce her and acknowledge him instead. Morgath seized Bukrai and used its power to destroy his foes. But the Orb that Cannot Be Viewed is stronger than Morgath, and he has become its slave. The Slave of Bukrai has been a willing ally on more than one occasion: it was he who sent Dhivu. While Morgath’s followers aid us, we work with them. Naveh skulks in the shadows, hoping to accomplish there what he lacks the strength to do openly. Shadows offer concealment only until the bright fires of rage burn them away, then Naveh and his followers will be crushed as insects under a rock. Do not hesitate to turn their methods against them. Peoni is an old woman. Once strong, she has pledged herself to weakness. She chooses her followers from the most useless wretches of humanity. Peoni does no harm; her followers can be safely ignored in favor of real enemies. However, it is good practice to remind her worshippers just how lowly they are. Sarajin refuses his rightful place at our Lord’s side. The followers of the Gray Slayer share their master’s ignorance. Barbarians, they cling to old customs, like the crippling absurdity they call the ‘Ljarl.’ Save-K’nor wastes time gathering useless facts long past the time for action. This does not trouble our Lord. In the end, our dominion will be achieved by powers that Save-K’nor and his pale followers cannot comprehend. Those who serve the Sage of Heaven may be ignored. Siem is in his twilight years. He lacks the courage to oppose Agrik, just as he failed to seize Bukrai from Morgath. Siem has retired to a Dream Realm, where he and his followers reminisce about times long since passed. At length, Lord Agrik will awaken the dreamers, enslave the useful, and eliminate the rest.
Ilpylen the ProphetIlpylen was a warrior of the Kuldrh tribe, whose village lay on the slope of a dormant volcano somewhere in the heart of Lythia. Around 1500 BT, the volcano became active, threatening to destroy the village. The Kuldrh chieftain, who viewed Ilpylen as a threat, took the opportunity to rid himself of his rival by convincing the tribe that a human sacrifice was required to save the village. Ilpylen was driven up the mountain path with a half-dozen spears at his back and cast into the crater. An hour later the volcano erupted. Strangely, only the houses of the chieftain and of the six warriors who had escorted Ilpylen to his doom were destroyed. The next day Ilpylen returned from the mountain. Some villagers thought they saw fiery demons at his heels. Ilpylen spoke from the ruins of the chief’s house, saying that the mountain was a gateway to the realm of “…he who appeases the fiery doom.” Ilpylen performed several miracles supporting his claim to have communed with Agrik, including a spectacular self-immolation from which he recovered completely. Ilpylen recruited eight acolytes to help him worship. A monthly ceremony of appeasement required that one tribesman “volunteer” to battle Ilpylen on the crater’s rim; he who fell through the “gateway” was the sacrifice. Ilpylen was a superb fighter. Eventually, the village grew short of men and ceased to be viable. The survivors dispersed, carrying the tale of Ilpylen throughout the region. Charging his followers with final instructions, Ilpylen mounted the summit alone and was never seen again.
The Balefire ChroniclesAll that survives of the earliest history of the church of Agrik is contained in The Balefire Chronicle, written by Moralin, the greatest of Ilpylen’s eight acolytes. From the village of the Kuldrh, the eight made their separate ways to lay 888 octagonal coal and sulfur filled cairns at the corners of the world, to appease the “gates of fire” and to open new ones. Each took a copy of the Balefire Chronicle which contained the legacy of Ilpylen. The eight disciples traveled without haste, letting the word of their doings precede them. Each selected eight followers who in turn founded their own bands.
The Early ChurchThe early church was composed solely of mendicant bands, travelling, erecting, and repairing the 888 cairns. The idealized band contained one priest and eight acolytes, all with skill at arms, although most bands grew larger and included wagons and dozens of followers. Some bands made their ceremonies public, staging ritual combat in village squares, and offering a prize to any warrior who could defeat their champion. The more aggressive bands were “martyred” for their wanton violence. Those who adapted to moderation survived. Eventually most bands settled and built temples to house their archives and hide their increasingly complex rituals from prying eyes. Dogma was tempered by exposure to larger populations. To prosper, the priesthood invented spectacular rituals which had little to do with Agrikan theology, but attracted a sizable laity. The temples provided religious justification for those who practiced violence and attracted warriors who enjoyed the brutality of war. The political, military, and financial support of these worshippers was eagerly accepted by pragmatic priests.
Teachings of the Hierarchy of the Eternal Flame
Where did the world come from?Our world was born of strife. From the Empty Void in the Time Before Time came the First Gods, each seeking to dominate Keléstia, and they created servants, the Lesser Gods, to aid them. And yet none could prevail and Keléstia trembled from the forces wielded. The First Gods then sought a truce amongst themselves. They agreed to leave the conflict to the Lesser Gods who lacked the strength to undo Keléstia. But there was one among the First Gods who refused the truce; this was Manrasusha, the Pure Primal Fire that Cleanses and Destroys. With Manrasusha unwilling, the war could not end and the utter destruction of Keléstia seemed nigh. But then our lord Agrik, servant to Manrasusha, appeared before his lord: “I, the Immortal Warlord of Balgashang, speak to you. I am the mightiest of all the Lesser Gods; none are stronger, none braver. Were you and the other Immutable Ones to withdraw from the fighting, I would soon slay all the other lesser gods who refused to kneel before me. So I ask thee to withdraw, and I pledge my strength will be as your strength, that wheresoever I and my servants go, we shall carry with us your Fiery Essence. We shall open up Gates of Flame on the worlds of Kelestia, remaking them in your image and spreading your Flames Imperishable. Agree to this truce with the other Immutable Ones, for I shall then acquire for you the dominion that you seek.” And so Manrasusha consented to withdraw from the conflict. Since that day, Agrik has fulfilled his pledge, increasing the size of his dominion, appeasing Manrasusha.
Tenets of Faith
Theological MissionThe mission of the church of Agrik on Kèthîra is two-fold: the bloodthirsty rituals appease Manrasusha and stave off the destruction of Kèthîra and the constant battle trains warriors for the endless battle of Yàsháin. Their actions on this world prepare them for the afterlife and eventual victory over the forces of Larani and her allies.
Social MissionThe Agrikan Church draws all kinds of bullies, psychopaths, and violent criminals into its ranks, as well as “regular” men and women. Within the established church and the fighting orders, people who would be outlaws in their own cultures find a place to thrive and to excel alongside those who could be successful in any environment. The Pamesani Games offer bloodsport to delight the masses and provide revenue for the church. This helps to ensure a steady demand for the slave markets.
Religious PracticesMethods of worship vary somewhat between Agrikan clerical orders, but certain practices are universal. Human sacrifice with the sycanus is a common feature. In the Middle and Low Disciplines, man to man, and man to beast combat is stressed, but the High Discipline may be more sinister (and less fair).
Religious DatesHigh mass is conducted on the 8th of each month. The Feast of Balefire occurs on the 8th of Agrazhar when many bonfires are lit and things are roasted.
The Balefire DisciplinesCeremonies fall into three groups, corresponding to the three castes of worshippers. Ceremonies of the Low Discipline may be attended by any adherent, although few clerics bother. Those of the Middle Discipline are attended by priests and the Terahni, and those of the High Discipline may be attended only by priests.
Low CeremoniesTemples hold lay mass on the eighth of each month. They consist of canted, responsive prayer and a real or symbolic sacrifice by combat. Wealthier temples insert pyrotechnic displays to enhance the spectacle. Most temples contain a succession of eight chambers which become more and more elaborate approaching the “heart” of the structure. Those who wish to worship alone or in small groups make a donation and are guided to the chamber corresponding to the size of their offering. The first chamber is bare except for a small altar and bowl. The last (the eighth) chamber is a richly decorated shrine in which the high priest himself will assist the adherents. Ceremonies incorporate standard prayer and meditation, designed to rededicate the adherent. Private ablutions are done with sand (powdered lava if available) never with water. Sulfur is often burned in small quantities.
Middle CeremoniesIn addition to private dedications, the Terahni practice elaborate reenactments of mythological and historical combats to renew faith. The members of the order form an octagon within which two or more fight. They will sacrifice speed to ensure that the moves are precise. The Master of the Middle Discipline voices an invocation, and the audience responds. These physical ceremonies are as complex as verbal recitations.
High CeremoniesHigh ceremonies also use martial ritual, often acting out battles that are planned or anticipated. Some temples have amassed a series of hypothetical encounters that supposedly portray history centuries into the future. The most significant “predictive” battle is when Agrik slays Larani at the end of the Great Vendetta. Priestly combats often involve the use of a captive or slave bedecked in the garment of an enemy. Such encounters are fought to the death. Agrikan clergy also conduct a more sinister kind of human sacrifice. The victim is prepared for the ritual by several hours of “ceremonial” torture to the chanting of the priests and then executed by fire in various ways. The howls of the victim, the use of fire, and the ceremonial chanting are believed to be the best method of attracting the deity’s attention. A diligent student of the High Discipline will learn as many of the “Ten Thousand Ways” of inflicting pain as possible.
Symbols and RegaliaThe number eight and the colors orange and black have particular significance for Agrikans. Early priests spoke often of the eight corners of the world, and the 888 (sometimes 8888) cairns, but these concepts have lost most of their significance. More recently, the octagonal pit has acquired particular ritual importance. The original pit is said to lie within Balgashang and opens into the heart of Manrasusha. By the same token, the octagonal pits located in many Agrikan temples are said to open into the heart of Agrik. The pits are site of temple rituals and sacrifices are cast in, sometimes by elaborate mechanisms. Ritual combat is staged on a narrow walkway over the flaming pit.
The Secret TongueThe Church of Agrik has taken pains to conserve its own private language. Originally based on the wider 'Abyssal' language. Surikal is as complex and irregular as its parent language and deviates only slightly. There are no texts on Surikal; knowledge is passed verbally from one generation to the next. Although dozens of dialects have arisen, Surikal is a common language by which all Agrikan priests and clerics can communicate to some degree. Agrikan rituals are closely associated with mastery of Surikal; the more grammar and vocabulary an individual knows, the greater their ability to preform the rituals. The laity are taught enough to respond appropriately to the cants of priests.
Funerary RitesAgrikans, as one might expect from adherents of the “fire god,” practice ritual cremation. They like large funeral pyres, and there are cases of overzealous mourners burning down entire villages and even towns. Once the pyre is built, comrades in arms gather and loudly proclaim the brave and pious deeds of the deceased. A priest leads those assembled in prayer, blesses the pyre, and lights it with a “holy flame,” ideally a seed flame from a temple fire pit. The size of the flare when the body ignites is said to be a measure of piety, a belief that is always amusing if a bishop fizzles out and has to be relit. After cremation the ashes can be allowed to scatter in the wind. They are not supposed to fall on water, so funeral pyres are never located near the sea, or a lake, swamp, or river. Optionally, the ashes can be gathered and scattered at some holy site, or deposited in a temple’s octagonal pit for a suitable donation. High ranking Agrikans may be accorded the highest funeral honor which is to be cremated in the temple pit directly, often accompanied by a live slave or two.
Regional AuthorityThe church of Agrik divides the known world into primacies and bishoprics. Primates and bishops are the pontiff’s voice, and (theoretically) the supreme authority within their jurisdictions. The wealth and power of these officials depends on the number of adherents in the region, the legal status of the church, and so on. The autonomy of the region is usually a function of its distance from Lysara.
Apalankh (Primate)A Primate is generally responsible for the Agrikan church of an entire country. In some cases, several countries are grouped into a single primacy, as is the case with the nations of Hârn. The primate is usually allowed to appoint bishops, and may also select the high priests of the temples in his primacy.
Kemelras (Bishop)A bishop is the governor of a subprimacy containing one or more temples. Some bishops hold many temples and are wealthier than primates. The power of the bishop is in inverse proportion to that of his primate. If the primate (and temples) are weak, the bishop may freely appoint his own followers to vacant positions. Otherwise, the primate usually takes a major role in selections.
Ulankh (Mendicant Priest)Ulankhi are mendicant Aperani appointed by members of the High and Low Curcuno, or the pontiff, who serve as spies, inspectors, and emissaries. Their status depends on who appoints them. Some hold offices within the primacy, bishopric, or central bureaucracy. Members of the priesthood who serve well may be made Ulankh and given license to wander freely. Often, they are created to ease the burden on the church resources, since, while an Ulankh may receive food and accommodation at any temple, he may not remain for more than eight days and nights in any month. Ulankhi usually renounce any connection with a temple or order; their allegiance is directly to the pontiff (in practice, more often to their appointer).
Temple HierarchyThe responsibilities of the priests within a temple vary; this is an idealized model.
The Viriahn (High Priest)The High Priest is the master of the temple. In regions with strong central authority, the Viriahn is appointed by the bishop. Elsewhere, the High Priest is elected for life by the temple masters.
The Aperani (Masters)There are usually eight masters, each with his own area of concern. Most masters find their spheres overlapping those of some colleagues and competition is ceaseless, although often covert. The Aperani are appointed by the High Priest.
The Heruchai (Lieutenants)The number of Heruchai varies from one temple to another. They rank between acolyte and master and are assigned to one of the Aperani. A lieutenant of the Aperterahn would be called an Aperterahnherucha, for example. Appointments are made by the High Priest with advice from the Masters of Acolytes and High Discipline. Many Heruchai spy on their masters for other Aperani. The assignment and covert recruitment of Heruchai is one of a temple’s most complex and dangerous games. The Aperani with the most loyal Heruchai is the likely successor to the High Priest.
The Terahni (Warriors)Warriors in the service of the church. Their role is to protect the members of the clergy who are less proficient in their martial abilities.
The Agnichari (Acolytes)Agnichari usually enter the church between ages 13 – 18. They are recruited by the Master of High Discipline or the Master of Acolytes from the laity or Terahni, but any Aperani may have get involved. Agnichari are trained in martial arts and learn ritual and dogma by rote, although most of their time is spent at menial tasks. Acolytes are periodically tested by the Master of the High Discipline. Tests vary from recitation of rituals to major quests. The Master of Acolytes coordinates training under various masters and lieutenants. Because of the power struggles, most acolytes are forced into the camp of at least one Aperani during their first few months. In three to five years, if he survives, an acolyte is promoted to Heruchai. If he shows skill at arms, he may be transferred to the Terahni.
Clerical OrdersThe Church of Agrik is perhaps the least unified of faiths and this has fostered an unusually large number of squabbling Clerical Orders, each of which sponsors its own Fighting Order. Many of these orders are limited to a single temple, but some have many temples. In the latter case the order will have a headquarters and the priests of this chief temple typically hold the high offices of the order. (See Sects.)
Senesharil (Clerical Grandmaster)The political and inspirational leader of the order, most often the Viriahn of the order’s headquarters temple, whose role is to promote the success of the order, ensure that its mandate is followed by member temples, and to liaison with secular authorities. The office is more political than theological. Some Senesharil are appointed by the Pontiff or Primate, some are elected by the order’s High Priests, depending on the order’s charter or the degree of organization in the region.
The Eternal FlameEach Agrikan temple maintains an Eternal Flame in its innermost chamber. The Eternal Flame is a spiritual focus into the heart of Balgashang, and is viewed as the soul of the temple.
Temple Aperani (Master's Temples)Aperalis: Master of Acolytes. He trains acolytes, assigns them to the other masters for work, and helps insure that the temple runs smoothly. Apervisha: Master of Maintenance, responsible for temple repairs, cleaning and the daily running of the kitchen. Acolytes assigned to assist the Apervisha are supervised by his lieutenants. Aperphelis: Master of Treasures, responsible for the temple’s wealth and special artifacts. The Aperphelis may share responsibility for the armory with the Aperterahn, and is often in conflict with the Apervisha. Apersuphur: Master of Archives. He holds the Balefire Chronicles and has responsibility for most temple records and written works, but must contend with the Aperagris for jurisdiction over some valuable tomes. Aperahkai: Master of Propagation, responsible for the temple’s relationships with the local community and other secular affairs, although the Aperterahn and Aperhanar also have influence. The Aperahkai commands a number of spies and may hold the ear of the local government. Aperagris: Master of the High Discipline, who leads most ceremonies for the clerics. He has his own archives and frequently disputes authority and dogma with the masters of the Middle and Low Disciplines. Important ceremonies may be led by the High Priest; this is another cause for jealousy. The Aperagris sets tests for acolytes. Aperterahn: Master of the Middle Discipline, in charge of relations with the Terahni. If he lacks competence, the temple’s warriors may be virtually independent. The Aperterahn leads special ceremonies for the Terahni, and has a say in their recruitment; competition may lead to disputes with the Aperagris. Aperhanar: Master of the Low Discipline, who usually leads the “open” ceremonies and deals with most lay adherents. The Aperhanar also conducts evangelical activities and may have spies in the community at large.
Hârnic Agrikan Orders
|Clerical Order||Fighting Order|
|Eight Demons||Cohorts of Gashang|
|Fuming Gate||Copper Hook|
|Herpa the Mace||Red Shadows of Herpa|
|Mamaka the Master||Warriors of Mamaka|
|Octagonal Pit||Pameshlu the Insatiable|
|Pillar of Fire||Roving Doom|
Religious, Organised Religion
Canon LawThe church of Agrik settles most internal disputes by dueling. If temple policy is involved, affecting the higher priesthood, a hearing before the high priest or Grandmaster may be called. Decisions tend to be summary and fatal. The Pamesani arena is used, whenever possible, for the resolution of such issues.
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