This entire document is not canon material but relates to the Emperor of the Fading Suns computer game that is loosly the base for the Fading Suns RPG.
This ingenuous, ingenious litany, all-encompassing in its simplicity: This has ever been the maxim to which I, Bishop Xavier Holst, have endeavored to direct my thoughts and channel my deeds; and though I as much as any Shadow-tainted wretch have erred, have sinned, have mistaken and misinterpreted, it has ever been this immortal credo that has guided my dimming eyes back into the Pancreator's grace. Now, O celestial muses and disincarnate intelligences, guide my hand also, and let this humble scribe forever keep his covenant.
Surely some adage of truth, of meaning, of stability and permanence is needed in this forsaken age, when the worlds drift one from the other, and the rulers cast humanity into the cauldron of war, and terrible shapes waft from the abysses between the stars, and even the suns fade. Moreso than ever, in this, the Year of the Pancreator 4976, the Shadow waxes strong, and its demons laugh from their inky thrones at the tragedy playing itself out beneath them. The people mutter, the nobles tear the worlds asunder for the right to rule, the Guilds grow ever bolder, and even, yea, I shall dare speak it!, many of mine own ecclesiastical brethren, in hubris or folly or quiet despair, turn ever away from the Prophet's wisdom, seeking desperate solace in dubious inner (or outer?) whispers.
The Avestites rage and damn and burn; the Eskatonics lose themselves in their erstwhile inner luminance; the Heyschasts cloister themselves in all manner of secret crannies, while the Amaltheans blind themselves to the evil without by submerging their cares in the pursuit of works they deem good. I am none of these; I am but a country bishop, raised according to my mother's Omega Gospels and the wisdom of the Orthodox creed; and so I say, "Teach." By the works that invigorate, by the litanies that inspire, by the texts that inform, let the Church illumine the Celestial Sun in the souls of the masses, lest in despair they turn to others all too eager to offer seductive substitutes.
Certes the Guilds readily uphold all manner of false idols, that they might profit thereby. Their god, to which all too many of Urth have flocked, is that dubious deity named Technology; his servants stalk slyly among the people of Terra, lulling them into inaction and iniquity. For the Orthodox Litany the priests of this god substitute the mumblings of physics and the subliminal cabalisms of mathematics deriding our species as insignificant. To replace the divinely inspired works of the Holy Church they offer a potpourri of strange engines, all the while promising us bizarre and questionable powers. And in place of the Eight Virtues these acolytes would offer us the very idleness and hubris that brought down the godless Second Republic.
Nor are these vices the greatest danger offered us by the Guilds and their works. At its worst, technology can blot out the soul-light as readily as any demon, and it is well documented in various ecclesiastical tomes (see The Journal of the Vorili, Expostulations of Kantos, etc.) that certain cunning demons actually disguise themselves as the products, rather than the progenitors, of occult science. Certes those amoral enough to seek wrongful dominance over their fellows care little whether the source of such dominance comes from Light or Shadow. The Church, as Palamedes preached in the Pentateuch Sermons, is the only source of light; and thus it follows that ultimately the products of technology are synonymous with Shadow, designed to enslave the weak and seduce the strong.
And so I offer this grimoire to describe and categorize technology's manifold manifestations, even as a work of medicament enables the practitioner to identify, diagnose and cast out more visceral illnesses. Let this work serve as a lesson, as most books do, and as a warning of sorts. Recorded herein are my own unworthy observations, as well as a commonplace smattering of erudite lore, dread superstition and various snippets in between. Let this mosaic of diversity coalesce in the reader's brain to a single pattern; just as the Pancreator has woven a wondrous tapestry out of a myriad disparate elements, let his servant convey an unadulterated message from a multitude of media.
For, despite the admonitory tone of this work, I wish it known that I adhere not to the Avestites' injunctions. All humans, be they Reeve or Scraver or even warlock, can be reforged in the Pancreator's Holy Flame. If this work, this codex, this divinely inspired labor should lead one penitent back to the way of the Celestial Sun, then I shall ascend to the Empyrean happily.
Herein I have recorded both my own unworthy observations and a compendium of lore gleaned from sources holy and profane alike. I have occasionally inserted parenthetical notes as well, lest the reader grow beguiled by the poisonous words of a heretical work whose text I cite solely to serve as an example and warning to the reader, much as the scarlet genital pouch of the Ul-Vathi tree-gulper serves as a banner repelling the wary traveler from its venomous hide.
And so now let the reader turn the page, and may the Empyrean wed my thoughts and pen. Let this work come not into the hands of those for whom it would serve as merest titillation or temptation toward further study of the very arts I adjure. Let those who would ignorantly descend into darkness stray from the left-hand path, and let the godly grow wiser in the ways of evil, that they may more readily purge it from our midst.
The Vau Edit
In any work dealing with the black science of technology, how can the scrupulous author not but begin with its chiefest purveyor?
There are those who say the race known to us as the Vau is directly responsible for the darkening of the suns, and despite myself I cannot help but wonder at this rumor. For there can be no denying that where walk the Vau, the immanent faith of humanity ebbs. How, the doubters cry, can we bear to face such as these; how can we be aught but grik-slugs before them, shivering and shriveling in the cold yet blazing light of their supremacy? Yea, the Vau do not merely wrack our bodies with their demon-science; their very presence is an affront to our souls, our wills and our destiny.
I shrink not from the Vau; from their distended, wrinkled frames and vij-fruit pates; from their lacquered clothes and lacquered countenances; from their burning lances and chilling stares. They are not the Pancreator, to humble His chosen willy-nilly; they, like all creatures, have their function and ordained role. And I aver that the Vau were placed in our cosmic sphere by the Pancreator as a challenge and a riddle to be overcome. Just as the antiquated Urth tale of the Sphinx's riddle features the "insurpassable" conundrum which is in fact a mere statement of identity, so the Vau are the inscrutable chimeras placed before us to delude us, to plague us with self-doubt, in short, to test our resolve. Foolish the person who strives to emulate them, to fathom their errant ways; for by such trials does the Pancreator weed His true children from those whose souls are merest transient fireflies.
Few heretics are more dangerous than those apostates who would have us toady to and worship the Vau; who would cast our species' manifesto as cordwood upon an alien pyre. "The Vau are older than we," they shrill. "The Vau are the chosen," they hoot. "Gaze upon their technology, upon how they brush us aside like children. We must approach them humbly, as errant pupils to the teacher, so that we might learn from them, emulate them, and become old and wise as they have become old and wise."
Old and wise? We would become another G'nesh, merest gardeners to prune the Vau's kururu-trees and keep their paths free of debris. Certes I know of no other race with whom the Vau profess equality. Recall the words of the G'nesh, before our species' first fateful meeting: "It is not allowed." So, it would seem, do the Vau truck with all who cross their path.
Most humans, awed into quiescence by the Vau's puppetry and light-shows, accept their accompanying hauteur as irrefutable proof of superiority. I view it as weakness, or shame, or perhaps worse. Certes the Church of the Celestial Sun, confident in the correctness of its doctrine, does not hide its cathedrals and priesthoods away like Madocian fruj-toks cowering in their carapaces. Yea, like the gokk-lizard of Istakhr, the Vau puff and spit and spew their iridescent saliva, lest we march into their dens and discover that the display was merest bluff.
It is evident even to the densest bureaucrat that the Vau are ill at ease with the thought of Urthkind viewing their vaunted wonders. And so, having sought to cow us with a few pyrotechnic victories against conscripted levies on backwater planets, they mark an invisible line, like children playing hop-theej, daring neither to allow us into their realm nor to cross into ours. Nothing in the Pancreator's purview is that lassitudinous, save creatures paralyzed with doubts and fear.
Or is the riddle of the Vau perhaps a darker one? Do the unchanging visages of the Vau conceal, not weakness, but strength sent from the abyssal hells? Certes the Vau do not act as overtly malignant as, shall we say, the Symbiots (of whom I shall discourse later); but the demons of the wastes come in many guises and serve many purposes. Most of learning are aware that the primal source empowering the Vau's occult artifacts manifests as a sort of radiance, and yet the Vau are manifestly not servants of the Empyrean. From whence, then, do the Vau draw their cunning flames? It is a question several of Temple Avesti have posed in the halls of the monasteries, and though I am no devotee of crusades conceived in haste, I often find my thoughts wandering down the same road.
And in truth, if the Vau are so righteous as their demeanor indicates, why then have we not been allowed to parley with their leaders? Yea, we have seen their soldiers aplenty, and felt the sting of their demon-weapons; the Guilds deal through emissaries with their lower classes; and their "mandarin" caste agrees to sully its digits with us, using specially designated "quarantine" worlds for the purpose. But what do all these blinds screen? It is a widely known secret, if I may use the expression, that the mandarins are but the merest figureheads for echelons of administrators as yet unknown to us. Perhaps, just as the Vau employ members of less advanced races as their helots, so the Vau themselves are but tools in the talons of incomprehensible powers.
I have claimed that the Vau prefer to hole themselves away from such as we, but this is not entirely so. Recently, Church agents among the Guilds have informed us of a clandestine trade whose participants are as dubious as its nature. In a gesture completely at odds with the customary policy of the Vau, certain devious (or perhaps deviant) low-caste members of the breed have entered into traffick with their noxious counterparts among the Guilders, and thereby have allowed to trickle into our realms certain relics of their infernal science, in exchange for equivalent items of Guild-craft. This trade is apparently conducted surreptitiously, on neutral worlds and always through intermediaries, and thus one is led to surmise that the Vau mandarins would not look kindly on such mercantilism.
Or is this, too, merely what they would have us think? Is the whole interdiction but another ruse, another Vau blind to make us crave their wares all the more, just as a noble brat most desires the sweetmeat her nurse has forbidden her? Who can read the Vau's nearly featureless visages, or garner meaning from those placidly staring eyes?
Wicked or weak, or perhaps both? I do not profess to understand the Vau. I do, however, understand what needs to be done. In this age of sorrow and war, when foes shamble from the stars to batten on the weakened nations, we of Terra cannot afford to let the Vau squat on our borders as they have for millennia, weaving their snares unseen just beyond the jumpgate's reach. We must address the Vau not from humility, but from strength, and bid them come to terms, our terms, the terms of the Church of the Celestial Sun.
But now, it seems, having solved half the riddle of the Vau, humanity has ceased to struggle with the rest. Now we maintain a truce, or at least a stalemate: an invisible demarcation line with the Unknown. I vow that naught but ill can come of this, and exhort my secular brethren to settle the question of succession all the more swiftly, the better that we can scrutinize this lurker without, and, should it prove cancerous, excise it from the Pancreator's demesne.
The Symbiots Edit
The Pancreator is a beneficent god, yet we must be worthy of the tasks set before us, and to this end He tests us, that we may grow strong and capable. I have already averred that the Vau represent a test of our faith and will; now the Pancreator tests our bodies and courage with the hell-hordes known as the Symbiots of Chernobog. Embodying the worst aspects of predator and parasite, disease and madness, malignant evil and ravenous hunger, these monsters howl at our jumpgates, as if the Shadow Outside had incarnated itself tangibly.
The origin of the Symbiots is perhaps better left unknown. My own research amid the Church's most ancient archives has revealed the merest referential hints among the texts of the Second Republic, implying that even our reckless Promethean forebears found the Symbiots too unnerving to catalog more fully. Nay, according to the hints I have gleaned, the fearful scientists of the Republic clandestinely quarantined any world infected with the Symbiot taint, lest their population fall into paroxysms of terror and despair.
Such measures proved as futile as they did transient. For now, in this ruined age, the devils of Chernobog have returned from the void, descending in their animate spacecraft upon the worlds of men to ravage and slay and, worst of all, reproduce.
Verily, these blasphemies are tenfold worse than the Vau; for while a soldier sent to his reward under the Vau's pikes may at least hope for rest in the Empyrean's embrace, the fate of those taken by the Symbiots is horrid indeed. Ye who would war with the Symbiots, pray that ye merely die shredded beneath their cartilaginous blades or corroded into paste by their acidic war-slimes. For the fate of those captured by the monsters is to become as they: to suffer a vile usurpation of body, and to have one's very soul-light extinguished, replaced by inky strands of Shadow binding one inextricably to the Symbiots' demonic masters.
Horrid the experience of the soldier who sees his companion, thought slain in a Symbiot ambush, miraculously return to camp, and then realizes, as osseous spikes erupt from the former friend's innards, and seductive blandishments issue from lips suddenly transformed to clacking jaws akin to those of the extinct white shark of Urth, that the companion is no more, and that the thing that slavers and reaches for him with outstretched palms turned to razored talons has become but another Symbiot: another enemy to destroy or be destroyed by. Little wonder that those haunted wretches returning from the garrison on Stigmata are mere shells of themselves, their souls dimmed nearly as gray as the Symbiot-spawn themselves.
And, as if this were not horror enough, the newly born Symbiots have the temerity to claim that this excommunicative conversion is a willing one, and that we, not they, are the blasphemies. They would have us come willingly to their embrace, as a lover returning to the connubial bed. Indeed, their very name, "Symbiot," is a deliberate deceit, implying a willing union of predator and prey rather than the violation it assuredly is. Little more will they say about their theology and philosophy; certes, the two captured specimens whom the Avestites put to the iron in 4919 were characteristically reticent and unhelpful on this point. It matters little; all true followers of the Pancreator know the stink of a devil when they smell it.
It is perhaps understandable that Symbiots have so little regard for the bodies and souls of their victims, for their own corporeal structures are as malleable and amorphous as iuk-candy in the sticky paws of a Decados child. A Symbiot may assume any shape its demonic master orders. And so their spies walk among the cities of Urthkind now, in the shapes of the bodies they raped, to spread deviltry and terror in their wake.
Symbiots at war are not so deceitful, but just as terrifying. Any vestige of trickery or proselytizing is discarded, as are the deceptive shapes they wear. I have seen sketches of warrior-Symbiots: spiky, ropy, chitinous things, lurching forward upon many-jointed limbs to rip and devour. And once battle is joined, they are terribly efficient murderers, for Symbiots are the sin of Invention incarnate, sprouting a thousand virulent weapons from the stuff of their own bodies. Nerve-scarred survivors of the battles on Stigmata and Daishan mutter of soldiers impaled on barbed spikes that once were limbs, strangled and lashed to death by living viscera vomited from needle-toothed maws, scissored into pieces by mandibles sprouted from the creatures' midsections, liquefied by gobbets of catalytic enzymes, and slain in a thousand other grisly fashions besides.
And some of these were once men! Yea, Most Reverend Palamedes spoke truly when he averred the malignant presence of demons between and behind the ebbing stars. Into the maw of horror we children of the Diaspora have been thrust, and only by throwing ourselves on the mercy of the Church shall we be saved.
But I digress. There are evidently several different species or broods of Symbiots, but such fine distinctions matter little, save that they may prove of use in finding more effective ways to eradicate the lot of them.
And, despite the woeful moans of those faithless soldiers who have battled them and despaired, this feat can indeed be accomplished! Remember, if you will, who won the Symbiot War. It was not the Imperial soldiers, boast though they will; nor, contrary to warlock propaganda, was the victory the work of foul psychics. It was the doing of the Church's own Eskatonic Order, who by their victory proved their holiness in the sight of the Pancreator. (Let history, then, serve as a lesson in truth; for not with their beams and bombs will the nobles prove themselves supreme in their righteousness, but only by the Pancreator's grace divinely directed through earthly works.)
Despite this victory, however, the Pancreator would test us more; and so the Symbiots vex us still. From the streets of Byzantium Secundus to the wastelands of Stigmata they lurk, and raven, and lust to ravage our bodies and infect them with their own tainted seed. Only when we of Urth have given ourselves to the Pancreator in full will this plague be lifted from us, and yet only by striving against these devils with every fiber of our being will the Pancreator take pity on His children.
I can find no fault with the words of Archbishop Lycrecia, who has ordained the Great Interdiction against all Symbiots, and decreed their slaying a holy duty. Look not kindly upon these abominations, even should they stare at you from the visage of father or brother or daughter; for their form, like their function, serves as the merest Shadow-tainted lie.
Byzantium Secundus Edit
Yes, well, what can a humble cleric write about the Dolorous City, the Axis Astra, the orb from which the destiny of a thousand suns is decreed? What words, so carefully chosen, so woefully inadequate, can do aught but be eclipsed by their opposites; for in truth Byzantium Secundus embodies convolutions and conundrums and contradictions as innumerable as the race it oversees.
Little wonder that the residents of the world ofttimes seem mad, dwelling there is an experience at once transcendent and horrific. Byzantium Secundus is the seat of government, and yet none rules there for more than a fortnight. Our very astronomical measurements are calculated in terms of distance from it, and yet the planet itself is so turbulent that nothing concrete can be ascribed to it. It is the pinnacle of Urthly civilization, and yet wars of indescribable savagery wrack its surface and slaughter its cultured residents by the thousands.
I shall endeavor to present a few disparate images, which in and of themselves are as inadequate as the fabled narrative of the blind monk who, discovering the palp of the Chernobogian Slitherer probing beneath his cassock, saw fit thereby to describe the entire beast and thus sent a coven of Avestite Inquisitors to their doom; but which might provide the rudiments of a mosaic by which the astute reader can discern somewhat of the Dolorous City's nature.
The planet itself is of a size with Urth, and is temperate and mild as planets go, with a variegated surface. In the early days of the Diaspora it proved quite habitable in comparison to such hellish orbs as Sutek and Pyre, and so it was that the seat of the Second Republic was founded on the soil of this world. Besides its clime, Byzantium Secundus' system provided the Republic an additional boon, for the vast bronze ellipse that is Byzantium Secundus' jumpgate leads the astute traveler to more worlds than any other gate does.
And so it was from Byzantium Secundus that the lords of the Republic built their legacy. It was from Byzantium Secundus that adult humanity, having left Terra's embrace, surveyed the void which the Pancreator had mandated them to master. Byzantium Secundus was the staging ground for the jumpships that carried human colonists and missionaries to a thousand worlds, and Byzantium Secundus became the surrogate home to which the waifs of the Diaspora could look for guidance.
When overweening pride corroded the Second Republic, Byzantium Secundus became the symbol of that, too. The skies hissed with the emissions of bizarre engines; animate golems and artificially conceived freaks lurched through the fields and streets; the very air and soil became saturated with the toxic residue of countless ill-starred sorcerous experiments. And so, to the increasingly discontent vassals of an uncaring suzerain, Byzantium Secundus became synonymous with the Republic's folly and blindness.
And thus it was that on a dark night in the year 4000, beneath the stars whose ebbing had provoked the populace's outrage, the Dolorous City fell to the allied forces of the Ten Houses, whose names any schoolchild can recite.
In the ruins of the senate chambers the Ten met with high officials of the Church Universal, and a mandate condemning the obscene artifices of the Second Republic was put into place. Alas, the Ten could no so readily agree on a constitution to replace the godless structure they had overthrown, and what was finally implemented was a regulatory patchwork quilt contributed to by all and suitable to none. Such a mosaic, whose spheres of influence heaved and grated one against the other like the volatile continents of Istakhr, could prove naught but unstable; thus it was not long before the fractious Ten were at each other's throats. And then there were Nine... and then Eight... and then Five...
And the strife continues to this night, despite the Church's best efforts to arbitrate; and, woefully, Byzantium Secundus, as befits its lofty sobriquet of Axis Astra, is at the center of the maelstrom. Rare is the hour that Byzantium Secundus' lanes and colonnades fail to rattle with the concussions of bombs and the crackle of beams. Hostage-taking is as common a pastime as hop-theej; nobles must rely on war-craft merely to travel to their embassies; and wickedly incited mobs roam the streets in search of victims. Yea, I am told that the very waters of Byzantium Secundus rise constantly, as though the tortured planet itself sought to rub soothing balm on its infected skin.
Notwithstanding, most noble factions maintain holdings of one sort or another, on one or another of the planet's continents; and I misspeak not, I think, when I say that in the building of these embassies the warring parties attempt to deny the ongoing turmoil through sheer brazen extravagance. From the manors of the Hawkwoods to the fortified villas of the Decados, from the quaint chateaux of the Li Halan to the deceptively spare loggias of the al-Malik, Byzantium Secundus' skies smile upon some of the most elegant, sumptuous and opulent edifices ever to grace the worlds of the Diaspora. Even the palaces of the Guild-spawn are hard pressed to rival the domiciles of those nobles who have long dwelt at the Axis Astra.
I presume the reader has heard the stories of the nobles' debauches. Such excesses are perhaps understandable, as the war-weary nobles attempt to deny the peril without by indulging every sensual delight and decadent whim. I am told (though, of course, have no desire to know firsthand!) of 20-course feasts of such ostentation that it seems an entire planet has been depopulated for the gastronomic delight of the rulers; of slave children forced into unspeakable tableaux with aliens for the amusement of countesses and marquis; of unarmed captives pitted against savage Vorox in barbaric gladiatorial spectacles. The depravities, I am further told, are most monstrous among those families who have long inhabited Byzantium Secundus.
And then there are the poor; and I misspeak not, I think, when I aver that their proximity to the jaded elite makes them only the poorer. Byzantium Secundus' many cities, though vast and superficially majestic, oft remind me of the vij-fruit of Icon, whose sweet and luscious core is surrounded by layers of stinking slime. So the palaces of the nobles spire amid endless expanses of tenements and hovels, and amid these slums countless humans scuttle like lice and die like mayflies. It is said that of those desperate brutes constituting the ranks of the Scravers, the Musters and other vile criminal syndicates, one in three boasts an origin from Byzantium Secundus.
Perhaps the only thing uniting Byzantium Secundus' disparate populace is a healthy contempt for all those not fortunate enough to have been born onworld. And so I warn the prospective visitant: Despite its civilized veneer, Byzantium Secundus is as hostile and unforgiving as the jungles of Stigmata. Nay, Byzantines are not quite so haughty as the Hawkwood, so savage as the Vuldrok, so avaricious as those of Leagueheim, so treacherous as the Decados; yet the soul of the Byzantine is a cauldron blending all of these dubious qualities, and many more besides, into a potent and unhealthful brew.
So: glittering palace and guttering slum. Zenith of human achievement and nadir of despair. Power-maker and fortune-breaker. Garden of tranquillity and cauldron of carnage. Whatever Byzantium Secundus may or may not be, she is the Axis Astra, the weathered but still proud Queen Mother of human endeavor, and he who would assume the mantle of the fading suns must reckon with and tame her if he would have any hope of victory.
Holy Terra Edit
We are children of the Diaspora, seeds spreading the Pancreator's truths hither and yon across this bleak cosmos; and so it is fortunate that we may still gaze longingly, across the night skies of a thousand worlds, toward the stellar madonna that nursed our species to adulthood. She may still be seen, though she too has ebbed in the manner of her celestial sisters: yellow Sol, beacon blazing all the more gloriously in her faintness.
I can still remember the exercise that every seminary student had to undergo beneath the watchful eye and ready cane of the chartophylax. I remember myself as a lad, reciting those hoary names: Mercury, Venus, Urth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto. And though I was born amid the fields of Ravenna, separated from my race's cradle by unfathomable gulfs, those simple names permeate me with simultaneous longing and serenity.
Or rather, I should amend, one name among them. The other eight planets are little known to me, save as words to be recited: orphan waifs of memory. Urth, though: third planet from the sun, that superficially undistinguished sphere on whose primordial seas, eons past, the Pancreator chose to smile...
Ye who peruse this humble work, ye are a scion of that third planet, no matter what star shines upon ye now; and so I challenge thee, can ye read of the mother-sphere without shedding a single nostalgic tear? Do the ancient names, Afric, Roma, Nova York, Pontus Pacifica, the Amazon, fail to tug your thoughts ever so faintly, across unimaginable gulfs of time and distance, toward that lone and flickering star?
Take heart: For though we have been weaned and grown and matured, and finally left the ancestral nest, as all children do when they have entered adulthood, do not imagine that we have abandoned Terra to the abyss. No, the Church has sanctified her as Holy Terra, and if Byzantium Secundus is the regal queen of secular power, then Holy Terra is the aged but honored matriarch overseeing the disposition of our souls.
There are, of course, those who interpret much too literally the Church's reverence for the natal soil. These "geomancers", byblows of an Eskatonic garbling of Book 23 of the Omega Gospels, would uphold the planet itself as some sort of sentient dominion, even going so far as to pay it worship and invoke its blessing in magical formulae. This is clearly false: Do not the Omega Gospels speak of the Pancreator's "single and supernal godhead" and warn against false idols?
Nonetheless, no planet, not Pyre or wondrous Pentateuch, does the Church hold in such reverence, and so Terra has been given over to Holy Church, the better that those who love her might preserve her beauty forever. And this task her curators have accomplished admirably: Terra has been transformed into the idyllic garden sphere of her youth. Her continents are lush with flowering shrubs and aromatic pines, her monuments have been restored and weathered against the elements, and no planet is as radiant with cathedrals praising the Pancreator's bounty.
This is not to infer has Terra been left entirely destitute, a revered but purposeless astronomical obelisk, in our quest for the heavens. On the contrary, over two billion faithful still walk close to the Pancreator's timeless blessing. Terra is a garden, yea, but a living garden, one complete with industrious and contented denizens happily going about their works, treading the very soil, sowing the very fields, plying the very streams that their ancestors trod, sowed and plied in the dim eras of time's beginning.
And so naturally, as with any garden, the Church must faithfully prune the grounds, encouraging the Pancreator's flowers to bloom while uprooting the weeds and poison toadstools, and in so doing suffer nothing to spread beyond its preordained bounds. Just as a dutiful son would never enter his mother's house with mud soiling his boots, so the Church must safeguard lest prodigal children bear to Terra some alien sin, some occult taint from the far reaches of outer space. Thus, the Church sternly but wisely forbids all Urthlings but the holiest from returning to Terra, save through the vicarious auspices of winecups and melancholy songs.
Certain agitators, ignorant of the Church's wisdom, decry this regulatory policy prohibiting homecoming. Their anger is understandable, but ultimately foolish and misdirected. They must realize that the Church's sapience on this matter exceeds their shortsighted needs. They must accept that humanity, as children of the Diaspora, needs must pay their penance in the void before returning triumphant to Terra, not as dutiful children, but as conquering spouses. Yea, only when all is cleansed, when the race is reunited under one banner, when the Symbiots and the Vau and the Ukar and the Krakens and all the other servants of the hells have been purged in celestial flame, only then may humanity return as one brotherly congregation and repopulate the seat of origin, and lift their voices to the immaculate heavens in exaltation of the Pancreator's work.
And so I adjure those who dissent: Turn thy tongues from ill speech, but go amid the heavens, and rest ye not until your humble star, your verdant planet of genesis is universally acknowledged as supreme in the Pancreator's esteem, until the Vau, the Ukar, the warlocks themselves come one and all to pay tribute amid the nurturing soil of Holy Terra.
And so, departing the elysian meadows of Holy Terra, I needs must beg the reader's indulgence, for we are to sojourn to its polar opposite, the nadir to its zenith. Alas, no work depicting the perils of technology can be whole without some reference to blighted Leagueheim, lair of the godless Guilds and engine churning out the Shadow's works at a devilish pace.
Here the Guilds' overseers prance and caper like mocking imps, brandishing their Sceptres of Regency as a noble's jester waves his fool-stick. Here all that is sacred is profaned, and all that is profane is upheld and worshipped. Here technology is venerated, and nature the reviled abomination. Leagueheim is the seat of the Guilds' commerce, the capital of such government as they uphold, and the bazaar, or shall I say brothel?, where they hawk their iconoclastic wares. (That we are forced to share the Regency with such as they!!)
How to describe the unspeakable, to categorize utter blasphemy? The reader has no doubt heard tales of Urth's ancient "sin cities": dens of vice, depravity and moral turpitude, the ruin of countless ingenues. A few names from the ancient days, Gomora, Tartarys, Vaygas, Naw'leens, raise their heads like horned dragons from the pages of yore: molochs which, even millennia after their ruin, still cause a shudder to wrack the frame of the virtuous.
Now, if the reader can swallow his righteously outraged gorge by imagining all these cities and many more besides, all placed on the same tortured planet and extruding outward and upward and downward, so that the entire world's face is erased in a noxious cesspool of sin, and then multiply that picture by a quintillion sordid, lewd, salacious and otherwise pernicious acts, performed in basement dens, tower eyries, bridges, public works and everywhere in between, at all hours of the day or night, perhaps the reader might glean some inkling of the abomination that is Leagueheim.
The approaching traveler, scrutinizing the descent to Leagueheim from the viewing portal of his transport, might well imagine that he is approaching that celestial phenomenon the Charioteers describe as a "nebula"; for does not a miasmic cloud hover in the blackness before him? In truth, however, this foetor is not starborn, but is the mephitic union of innumerable smokes, fogs, smogs, gases, hazes, mists, stenches, vapors and other atmospheric violations; for Leagueheim is if nothing else a cyclopean cauldron wherein brews and festers the machinae of the Guilds.
But now the traveler prepares to disembark; and so he takes to the shuttle, and his craft detaches itself from the body of the star-swimming vessel and plummets into that seething effluvium, and through it, sparks flying from the pitted hull of the shuttle, and at last hovers over the world and city of Leagueheim.
Endless, endless, endless! Buildings, a maze, a jungle, a plateau, a canopy of buildings, spiring and stretching and arcing beneath and behind and above and sprawling unto the curve of the planet; burrowing into the groaning world's core; crazily towering in every direction unto the very horizon. Yea, if the atmosphere has been swallowed by the work of man, then the ground has been choked out of existence entirely. And even so there is little room for all the Guildsmen and their works, and so the buildings arc halfway to the Guilds' noxious substitute for clouds.
Everywhere the phosphorescent insignia of the Guilds blaze like the crazed cipherings of a mad god, and everywhere the stench of unchecked commerce wafts; for here, it is said, everything in the universe save the Eight Virtues can be purchased. At all times the air reverberates with the snap of a Muster's lash, the opiate-moan of an Analdyne prostitute, the whine of a vibrophilia engine, the wail of a vendor hawking klaj, the whirring of countless hovercraft skimming like minnows amid the gargantuan edifices, engaged on missions of trade; for, more than anything else, Leagueheim exists to buy and sell. He who descends to Leagueheim without mantises, claws or the like is as helpless as one who, ignorant of how to swim, decides to sport in the Madocian deeps.
Yea, Leagueheim is admittedly awesome, impossibly colossal, majestic, true, but then so, I am told, is a Void Kraken. I have no desire to measure the span of the ship-eater's tentacles firsthand, and I have even less inclination to view the Guilders' hive from anywhere but the pages of a distant book. I desire least of all to view its masters.
For amid Leagueheim's vertiginous eyries and pitchy corridors skulk and slither the dregs of the Guilds, the devils overseeing this hell: the Charioteers, navigators of the abyssal wastes and half-consumed with Shadow at their best; the brutes of the Muster, equally eager to haul a load or chain a slave or split a skull so long as the firebirds are ready; the Scravers, whose tongues are as light as their souls are dark; the Engineers, who choose to defile even the Pancreator's most fundamental gift, their very bodies, through mechanical intercourse; and behind them all, the Reeves, so eclipsed by Shadow that even the vast profits of their endeavors cannot force a smile or a laugh to lighten their countenances.
The whole is led, if such a term may be applied to such a motley and cacophonous mob, by a supreme criminal known as the Guildmeister. This individual governs the dispensation of the Guild's Regency votes. Naturally, competition for the spot is rife among the Guilds; and so naturally, blackmail, extortion, assassination and every other form of treachery taint Leagueheim's "politics." I have heard it said that in her lifetime a sceptre-holding Matriarch, anointed to her spot through the Pancreator's grace and holding it until the Empyrean calls her home, will likely make the weary acquaintance of a dozen Guildmeisters, as one after the other falls victim to the selfsame betrayal that won them the office in the first place.
Aye, I say: Let the nobles finish their struggle; and every day I pray that the one who takes the throne prove friendly to Church and fearful of Pancreator, that Emperor and Patriarch may unite in a great crusade to excise the cancer that is Leagueheim from the universe.
Take care, ye warring houses, for a blight greater than any temporal and temporary enemy walks among ye. Li Halan, drop thy scope against thy Hawkwood brother; Hazat, unclench thy ceramsteel cestus; embrace thy prodigal siblings, that ye may stand bold and resolute against the taint of the warlocks in our midst.
Who has not heard the tales of these apostates? Who has not heard of their stealthy descents into unhallowed sites anathema even to the godless Second Republic, there to emerge with all manner of obscene artifacts? Who has shut his ears to the whispers of their diabolic arts, their demon-bequeathed sciences? I am no Inquisitor, nor do I wholly support their crusades, but if ever the Avestites are needed, it is to purge the innocent of these.
They truck with demons and cavort naked under the abyssal skies; they descend into the desecrated ruins of laboratories, there to entertain succubi and conclude all manner of unhallowed pacts; they scorch the souls of the faithful with hell-flame and deaden the minds of the righteous; they play host to abyssal devils and chthonian golems; no sin is too great for them. They revile the Pancreator with their arts, which in a mockery of the Holy Names they dub Antinomy, the way of the Anti-Name.
These warlocks are also lovers of all manner of blasphemous technologies, avenues of exploration from which even the scientists of the Second Republic turned their cybernetic eyes in horror. Verily, they care little whether they corrupt the virtuous with technology or magic, so long as their masters' purposes are advanced.
That warlocks serve and venerate the monstrous demons beyond the stars is evident to even the simplest among us; yet for all that, their specific aims remain as mysterious as the foul ends by which they achieve them. Perhaps it is just as well, that children and the feeble may sleep soundly of nights thereby.
The Synod has killed many, but has had less fortune in securing some for interrogation. Captured warlocks rarely stay imprisoned long, for they are as cunning as jala-vipers; I have heard rumors that one warlock, bound and writhing under the Avestites' shock prods, spontaneously gave up the ghost in a puddle of deliquescing slime, causing all present to flee the dungeon lest they be overwhelmed by the rancid stench.
I must now warn the gentle reader; for warlocks are often fair of face, and readily mingle with the innocent when they must come among us in pursuit of their goals. By certain signs may ye know them, for their blasphemous practices leave a taint upon their bodies. Yea, the Pancreator does not lightly dismiss these prodigals' deviation from His will, and causes their sins to be made manifest upon their flesh. All have heard, no doubt, of the "witch-marks" by which warlocks may be detected in our midst, the third nipples, cataract-plagued eyes, pus-bearing tumors, hidden horns and other signs of the Empyrean's displeasure. When a stranger bearing such signs comes among ye, contact the Inquisition at the first opportunity; for warlocks seek nothing less than to contaminate and defile all whom they encounter, and they take particular delight in debasing the holy.
I remember the days before my ordination, when I was sent to study and pray at the great Cathedral on Pentateuch. I became fast friends with a fellow student, a devotee of the Eskatonic Order, one Brother Marcos; we held lengthy discourse on all subjects theological and exalted the Pancreator in the pursuit of all manner of manly sports. Marcos was as fair as I am dark, and so perfectly formed that one might well imagine him blazing forth incarnate from the Celestial Sun itself. A great bond formed between us, and the bishops thought us nigh inseparable.
His fall came at the hands of a warlock, the infamous harlot Kylena Decados, disowned even by that iniquitous house. Even at this age I cannot bear to speak aught of it, but I must tell that his corruption was so complete that he spat upon me as I wept at the auto-de-fe. It was Marcos' voice that wailed and gibbered as he died on the pyre, but his soul had been taken by the Decados and replaced by that of a demon. I only pray he has found the Empyrean's peace.
I repeat: This is one cancer that must not be tolerated among us. These are no Ur-Obun, to be scrutinized and warily tolerated; warlocks, any and all, are naught but a cosmic sickness, a tangible dimming of the Empyrean. They give the godly no respite and must thus expect none in return. Display only sufficient mercy to give them an opportunity to recant; should they refuse, send them to their reward with as little regret or compassion as ye would display to a stinging swamp-fly.
The Inquisition Edit
When a soldier falls wounded on the battlefield, or a farmer is smitten by plague, it is often necessary to bleed the injuries, lance the boils and press the glowing iron to the mortified flesh, the better that it may heal. Certes none save the mad or those addicted to the vices of the Guilds would claim that this process is pleasurable, or that, given the choice otherwise, they would seek to have such done to them. Nonetheless, there often is no choice: The patient is sick, she must be saved, and in order to do so she must endure a measure of agony. Thus is our Inquisition justified.
I myself have no stomach for it; I am but a country bishop and, though I revile heresy and loathe wickedness, still it sickens me to view the wretched witch writhing on the stake, or the warlock casting out his demons under the caress of the propane torch. I freely confess my admiration for those of sufficiently steely resolve to carry out these disagreeable tasks, though it is an admiration not unmixed with pity: Spending such a measure of their lives gazing upon the works of Shadow, Inquisitors' own souls seem often to grow chill and wan, like the spark of a magnesium flare or the radiance that glows from the drij-fungus at night. Heavy the burden to bear, so that others might bask in the Pancreator's joyous warmth.
You see, contrary to ignorant peasants' superstitions, not all clerics of the Pancreator are Inquisitors (praise be to the Pancreator!). Inquisitors are ordained by a special synod of righteous Urthlings, currently housed at Pyre; this body, upon determining the suitability of a candidate to assume the robed mantle and the need for such a role to be assumed, bestows upon the invested one a seal bearing a symbol of the Sacred Flame. By such a sign do the folk of the galaxy know that one of the Pancreator's avenging angels walks among them.
Also, contrary to what the unlettered masses whisper, seals are not bestowed randomly, or even to all of the cassock who desire one. The synod generally bestows seals only for specific aims, and for only a specified period. But, yes, there are those fanatics who seemingly harbor a greater affection for flamegun and shock prod than for Pancreator and Prophet; and, sadly, their numbers wax by the week.
The reader must understand that in older, less turbulent times, the synod comprised members of all sects, yea, even the Amaltheans, and was reined and guided by the devotees of our own Orthodox sect. Now, alas, in these chill and dismal days, the leaders of men will have nothing save extremism; and so the synod is almost entirely dominated by the zealots of Temple Avesti, and the wartorn skies reverberate yet again with the sizzle of the flamegun and the wails of the scourged.
I need not trouble the reader with twice-told tales, those countless bogey-stories of the robed prophets of doom, with their brands and their flameguns and their tortures, which are known to every peasant in the Regency, but there is more to the Inquisition than that. The Inquisition serves several functions, predominantly punitive ones, may the Pancreator have pity. In all fairness to my brethren, a myriad verifiable accounts of Inquisitors selflessly defending the faithful from very real evils are perhaps less popular in most quarters than are lurid ballads of straps and flames and wretches shrieking up their damned souls on the rack.
The first task of the Inquisition is to discover heresy or protoheresy festering among the faithful. The Inquisition, upon hearing rumors of such a crime, elects a seal-bearer, as I have already detailed. This priest then infiltrates the suspect group (and from this process no one is immune, not the electors of a village, not the Hawkwood Court, not even the upper echelons of the Church) and ascertains whether the rumors of anathema are in fact true. Occasionally the Inquisition finds naught amiss, and the seal-bearer returns to the synod; alas, in this wicked age, all too often the verdict is guilty.
Guilt in this instance can consist of a multitude of sins: consorting with demons or hostile aliens; employment of forbidden technology; corruption by any technology, anathema or otherwise (the reader may now understand why I say that any invocation of technology is problematic at best!); and practice of sorcery are but a few. Contrary to superstition, however, the Inquisition does not deign to punish secular crimes; the starving peasant who pilfers a loaf of bread from her Hazat master has naught to fear from the Church, though she may well dangle from a noble's gallows come the morrow.
Upon ascertaining the guilt of the accused, the Inquisitor decides whether the danger is sufficiently great to require reinforcements: usually several more Avestites, occasionally an entire squadron of Brothers Battle. Inquisitors in distant areas may have no recourse to such things, and in such circumstances the hunter may indeed become the hunted. I have heard more than one harrowing tale repeated amid monastic alcoves and cathedral naves, and it is perhaps understandable that Inquisitors subjected to such life- and soul-threatening combats often become prone to a zealotry bordering on the paranoiac.
Following the decision to wait or proceed with the trial, the Inquisitor confronts the guilty parties, informs them of their crimes against the Church (yes, this is a necessary step) and bids them recant. Effort is also made to induce the guilty to confess, the better that the Inquisitor might ascertain the extent of the crime, the purpose and means, and whether other sinners remain at large. In so doing the Inquisitors often extend the scope of the trial to the sinner's compatriots, fellow villagers and the like.
I confess that this policy of collective responsibility, though permitted by Church law and sanctioned by all secular authorities, causes me no small amount of distress. Just as a jug of Pandemonian eylo-oil has varying degrees of viscosity, from the near-liquid fringes to the colloid center, so the taint of sin does not always diffuse itself equally among all in proximity. Cast the warlock to the flames, yea; but for the Prophet's sake, spare the son, the niece, the dutiful wife. Teach them of their error; let them understand the folly of their beloved, for it is often love that leads them into sin along with those dear to them; and let them return to the fold cleansed and purified in the crucible of grief.
Sad it is, however, that those penitents on the verge of turning to the way of the Pancreator are so often brutally purged by the very agency that would save them. The Inquisition oft reminds me of the grenades lobbed by our Brothers Battle: absolutely effective, blindly hasty, and completely indiscriminate.
Yea, I adjure, cultivate the Inquisition as ye would a Pyrian cactus: Bred to grow small and pruned meticulously, such a plant may serve ye well; but should ye neglect to regulate its growth, allow it to sprout thorns and branches willy-nilly, and guard not thine own palms when handling, its spines may turn on the innocent, or even on the godly.
The Regency Edit
There are as many accounts describing the character of the late Vladimir Alecto as there are suns in the sky. Architect of peace or brutal warlord? Stern judge or bloody tyrant? Hero or monster? A thousand histories grace the libraries at Pentateuch, and I can attest that no two tell the same story.
Whatever Vladimir Alecto may have been, he was emperor, and his assassination sent the realm spiraling aimlessly and out of control, like a war-vessel damaged by cannon fire. Years of campaigns had left him no time to sire an heir (despite a number of strumpets' claims to the contrary), and so no sooner had his corpse cooled than the hungry scions of the Ten circled in, eyes gleaming and tongues lolling like feral scavenger-gokks, homing in on power as their bestial counterparts trail the scent of blood.
And thus a peace of weeks once again erupted into years of flame and blood. Every pupil knows the rest: Five of the Ten Houses fell into ruin or ignominy, the Guilds violently declared their sovereignty, and we of the Church tried as best we could to mitigate the damage to an already weary cosmos.
Finally, praise the Pancreator, simple attrition succeeded where diplomacy failed. The barbarians still swept across the borders to loot and burn, and increasing numbers of holdings fell to poorly led raiders simply because no forces could be spared to defend them. And so peace was declared, and it was decided that, as no contestant was equal to the task of rulership, a substitute should be elected by a tribunal of politically significant electors.
This substitute, henceforth known as the Regent, was to rule in the accustomed fashion from Byzantium Secundus. During his tenure of office he could do as he would; but never would he reign for longer than 10 years, at the end of which time he would abdicate and a new successor would be chosen. (I have heard rumors alleging an outrageous suggestion made by the Decados envoy to the proceedings, namely, that the retired Regent be ritually sacrificed at a great gala, in the manner of certain ancient cultures of Urth, but the rumor concludes that this Decados was shouted down by outraged Hawkwoods.)
And so the sceptres, those symbols representing one or more electoral votes, were manufactured and distributed. Each party of political stature, regardless, it seems, of equivalent moral stature, was presented with this tool. Every 10 years the vote would be cast, and the chosen candidate would ascend the seat of absolute (in theory) government for a decade.
Of course, the greedy nobles would not suffer themselves to be barred from such an arena. The evenhanded division of sceptres among them was aided by the fact that, of the Ten who had initially competed for the throne, a scant Five remained. These Five, Hawkwood, Decados, Hazat, Li Halan, al-Malik, were each given custody of sceptres, and so the intrigues began almost immediately, and have not ceased since.
Alas, too many imperial warriors had succumbed to the vices and military luxuries proffered by the Guilds, and so a certain allotment of sceptres went to the lords of Leagueheim. Thankfully, internal squabbling among the Guilds often stymied any individual Guildmeister's sordid aims, and so the Guild often abstained from voting, or used its influence only to block the rise of a candidate detrimental to its goals.
Wisely, if surprisingly, the guardians of Urth's souls were deemed worthy to exert some measure of control over the race's secular destiny, and so the Church currently holds a number of sceptres. (I sometimes question the amount of good such a gesture does, for such is the moral turpitude of most candidates that abstention often proves the only ethical way to vote.)
But in the end, I suppose, it matters little; for the Regent himself (or herself; there have been a few female rulers) was, and is, a relatively impotent figure, ruling as he does at the behest of powers that would sooner dance naked in the pits of the Voroxi malga-beetles than see their personal interests stymied for the welfare of the whole. Would the Regent raise taxes on the Byzantine populace? Would he deploy the Imperial Navy against Malignatian belt pirates? An excellent decision, my liege, the nobles cry. Would the Regent dare to conscript Hazat levies for use in the Vuldrok campaigns, or demand that the Decados account for the contents of the Imperial granaries built on Cadiz?
He would be dead within the fortnight.
And so, in lieu of a contender strong enough to unite the children of the fading suns by dint of might, the Regency continues, decade after weary decade. Because all parties of power vote, none can agree on any candidate of real magnetism or magnitude; and so the Regency is but a puppet-show of weak diplomats and figureheads without any real purpose or power. I am no lover of tyranny, but I would almost wish a despot, so long as said tyrant proved subservient to the will of the Pancreator, upon the throne of Byzantium Secundus. At our borders our enemies array themselves, and they are many. I aver that a chilly peace would be preferable to these centuries of endless war.
There is a maxim of our species, more ancient even than the words of the Prophet: "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." One need but look about in these discordant times, when nobles spread fire and strife, the better that they and they alone be allowed to look after the welfare of all, to evince the veracity of this statement. Nothing is simple and true; all things have become a maze of mirrors within mirrors, and the very h'naa-lizard that devours the Karangian ass is also the dray animal bearing medicine to the provinces.
And so what to make of the jumpgates? Beloved of the Prophet; way stations of the barbarians and Symbiots. Windows to a thousand paradises and gates whereby demons can emerge from nighted hells. Tools built by unknown hands, bearing the virtues of Zebulon and the vices of Leagueheim indiscriminately.
Much has been written of these structures since their discovery in the dim eras before the Diaspora. Nobles, priests and Guilders alike have acted, if for no other common purpose, to understand these artifacts, at once utterly enigmatic and completely essential. And yet all Urth's collective efforts have gone for naught; the gates are as much of a conundrum now as they were millennia ago. Who created them? For what purpose? What logic behind the intricate web of stellar leaps? Ah well, perhaps it is the Pancreator's will that they should remain a riddle.
The gates themselves hover in the astral night at the fringes of certain solar systems, evidently those which the Pancreator desired us to claim for Him. However, just as the Pancreator requires His servants to prove their devotion through earthly works before He deigns to allow His angels to bear their soul-sparks to salvation, those who would dare the jumpgates must first free themselves of their planetary ties, traveling to the fringes of their solar systems through the harnessing of often recalcitrant spacecraft. This journey to the gate itself can take as long as a fortnight, during which the travelers are at the mercy of pirates, rival houses, Void Krakens and a host of other horrors. One indeed needs the favor of the Pancreator even to attempt such a trek.
And perhaps the gates are indeed the work of the Pancreator, simultaneously allowing humanity to carry His message to the stars and instilling Everyman with a much-needed sense of humility; for I personally aver that it is impossible to approach one of these structures without a sense of awe evoking itself in the witness. Certes the approaching traveler, viewing the vast metallic ring, hovering in the void like a hollow moon, and I use this simile deliberately, for many jumpgates are indeed of lunar proportions, becomes consumed with a profound sense of humility, as she can do naught but tremble before one of the universe's greatest works and most fundamental mysteries. Nor is this wonder diminished when, awakened by the call of the star-pilot, the gate begins to throb and pulse, and luminescent orbs play up and down the arcs of the metal hoop, and the entirety of the inner circumference is litten with a lambent radiance, as if a sun had erupted new-formed from the abyss.
And so the gate, newly roused from slumber amid the silence of the void, awaits its passengers as the leviathan anticipates its meal of krill. Of the gates' inner workings, few know much save the heathen Charioteers. Of their operation more is understood. These gates mystically connect disparate tapestries of space, allowing a traveler to enter the glowing portal at the heart of the jumpgate ring and thereby "leap" across vast cosmic distances in a matter of moments.
The time of travel remains the subject of heated conjecture; most travelers agree that a jump, while not precisely instantaneous, transports the users across vast gulfs over a period of mere seconds at most.
What, then, transpires during those moments of bodilessness, adrift in an incorporeal state? Those of learning will recall the suppressed Sathra heresy of the early Diaspora. The devotees of this cult, jumpgate pilots all, claimed to be elevated into ecstasy by passage through the gates, and to have heard disembodied voices bearing messages of paradise. Ever seeking further enlightenment, Sathraists indulged in frivolous cosmic jaunts and all manner of dangerous practices, until they came to seem less like mystics and more like addicts. The early Church, recognizing the Sathraists as foolish degenerates likely deluded by demons, put a swift end to these false revelations, and prevented further experimentation by ordaining the installations of wards dampening the astral narcosis: wards which still grace spacecraft to this day. A few Sathraist rants yet survive in the depths of the Church archives, but offer less insight concerning the jumpgates than about the addled brains of the authors.
More enlightening are the epistles of our Most Holy Zebulon, who himself was a student of the jumpgates, but toward a nobler end than the unfocused rapture of the Sathraists. In his writings he often speaks of the peculiar "ephemeral" state of the jump, and about its relationship to both the Pancreator's Empyrean and those hells housing the dwellers that wait between the known cosmic gulfs and the Outer Darkness (which is to the void we know as the dinosaur is to the gecko).
In the end there is little more that can be explained, and so the jumpgates remain as they have always been: monuments to powers greater than we can hope to explain. I add only that vigilance is critical; for the jumpgates are the bridges to celestial and infernal powers alike, and in this treacherous age it would serve us well to monitor closely what sorts of beings travel freely in our midst.
Plague (The Great Moax) Edit
There are malignant intelligences between the stars. On the howling abyssal winds they soar, to descend like carrion birds upon the hapless worlds of men. Their passage, ofttimes invisible, serves as a harbinger and a precursor of their demonic masters, who bid their servitors siphon the life from the cosmos' inhabitants as they do to the suns themselves. Yea, all about us loom omens of the impending apocalypse, when the suns will finally flicker and die, and from the spaces between the stars will fall the demon-legions, to disport amid the ruins of the Pancreator's chosen.
Certes it is that those who scoff at the pious' accounts of demons have never found their world visited by the Great Moax, the Ravener, the Scourge of Suns. I could list a thousand other names, uttered in horror by the hapless victims of a thousand ravaged worlds; but, lest I mystify the reader, I shall simply state that this demon manifests as a disease, an illness, a plague of unsurpassed virulence and uncertain cure.
Plagues aplenty infest the stars, true; but none so hateful, none so relentless as the Moax. Accounts of the Moax's passage taint the pages of countless codices, tales of continents turned to necropoli in one lunar cycle's time; legends of entire peoples dropped lifeless amid decaying fields; stories of garden worlds reduced to endless expanses of crumbling gray rock. Neither stellar expanses nor Amalthean prayers can check the spread of this cancer, which has decimated the worlds of men since the early Diaspora, and its recent resurgence can only be interpreted as an omen of the doom that the Shadow's demons would have engulf us all.
Upon arrival on a world, the Moax displays a sentience, indeed, a cunning. It lies in wait, purposefully haunting inhabited areas, and can be transmitted through nearly any vector. Ingestion, inhalation, contact with living or dead victims, merely being in the same vicinity, any or all of these can spread the plague, as can a thousand other methods besides. Nor is there any reliable defense by which the Moax may be resisted. Staves of oko-wood clutched in deliquescing fingers; pinches of noma-powder dusting the undersides of swollen tongues; the hedge-cures of a thousand worlds: all lie withered beside their erstwhile practitioners.
The Moax is exceptionally abhorrent, for though it is immediately and irrevocably fatal, it is neither painless nor quick. An index of symptoms, while loathsome, might help the wary reader recognize an infected area and thus hopefully avoid the loathsome illness that laid her fellow humans low.
The first signs of the Moax's presence are a dizziness and loss of coordination, as the demon invades the psyche and unleashes its assault on the victim's soul. Loss of vision is next, as the inner soul flickers and dims under the Moax's onslaught. Would that blissful release follow immediately anon; but alas! the victim has only begun to suffer.
The joints begin to calcify and swell, and agonizing pain gnarls the victim's extremities into things resembling Pyrian cacti moreso than limbs. Nor does this initial pain mark the terminus of the victim's suffering; nay, the demon has only begun its cruel sport. A series of purplish blotches discolors the skin, as the Moax marks its own, and as the disease progresses these maculations spread and swell, until the victim's entire epidermis is livid and violet.
A strange duality occurs, as the demon within dries the victim's orifices to withered holes, akin to those on the visage of a Suteki mummy, while simultaneously bloating the victim's extremities into sausages of stinking yellow pus.
The victim's moans and sobs, I am told, are most piteous, made all the more so by nightmarish hallucinations that begin to bedevil him, as the cerebral cortex dissolves and the myriad minuscule threads connecting the various regions of the brain fray like ikju-weeds in a strong wind. Anyone with a trace of mercy or human compassion can do naught but rush to succor the devil-plagued wretch, or at least to end his suffering.
Alas, this is just what the Moax anticipates! For this stage, the second instar, as the Amaltheans dub it, is when the demon is at its most fecund, and the plague thus at its most virulent. The lustful demon impregnates its host with pustulent cysts, which froth and bubble to and through what shreds remain of the epidermal layer. These seeds of foulness are most contagious, most easily disturbed, and thus it is that the hapless victim spreads his infection to the ones most dear to him.
After the bursting of the pustules and the contamination of the entire vicinity, the enervated victim at last enters the third and fatal instar. The demon's lust to procreate transforms into a ravenous hunger, and so the Moax begins to devour its host from the inside out. The victim's innards and bowels rupture and desiccate, finally liquefying altogether, and this effect quickly consumes the muscles and bones as well. Finally, when the skin itself deliquesces to a viscous paste resembling the trail left by a grik-slug, the sated demon departs the victim, who at last expires.
And thus even proper burial is stymied, for, though the Moax does not prove contagious at this stage, how does one inter a mass of seething pus, or perform the last rites without gagging at the deceased's stench?
As if this were not sufficient horror, occasionally a few proximate individuals are spared the Moax's kiss, that they may lament the demise of their families, their cities, their very world.
Yea, O my feuding brethren, aroint ye to this invisible enemy, this sentient weapon more malignant than any stratagem of your rival. That the Moax walks so strong is surely a sign that the end times are nigh, and that the final Armageddon between Light and Shadow is soon to be fought. If ye must make war, let your battles be earthly mirrors of the celestial struggle, and turn your weapons against the Adversary that would engulf us all.