Kalder: Deities & Faiths Part 3

William T. Thrasher

At long last, there can be no more delays, let’s begin this look at minor religions and heresies in the land of Kalder with a long-promised rundown of the Cynosure.

The Cynosure - Among the priesthood of the Axial Tabernacle of Edarh of the Wheel are many longstanding debates and questions of moral and theological philosophy. One of the oldest of these debates pertains to the true nature of Edarh. Since the Conclave of Hierophant Pavis II the dogma of the Axial Tabernacle states that Edarh is a god of order and law, which persists as official doctrine to this day. However, there have always been those within the clergy who entertain the notion that The Hand Than Turns is a purely neutral deity, unconcerned with order or chaos or the needs of mortal beings. Priests sympathetic to this interpretation of The Book of Days and Years have long been tolerated by the Axial Tabernacle. Indeed, the Cynosure began as a seminarian conclave tasked with compiling alternate interpretations of Edarh’s will and apocryphal texts for study and possible reconciliation with Tabernacle dogma by Hierophant Duni I.
    Over the decades the priests of the Cynosure became convinced of Edarh’s absolute neutrality, and as the organization grew in prestige and influence it became a shelter for likeminded theologians. Due to a history of producing renowned religious scholars and a succession of tolerant Hierophants, the Cynosure continued to grow as an organization while its increasingly divergent beliefs failed to boil over into outright heresy or cause a schism within the Axial Tabernacle. However, this state of affairs came to and end with a shocking revelation.
    The Axial Tabernacle has long held that death is an integral part of Edarh’s plan and a necessary and inescapable part of the turning of The Wheel. A soul can only hope to turn with The Wheel, and in the fullness of time return through reincarnation as Edarh sees fit. As a result, the Axial Tabernacle and the ordained warriors of the Bespoken have long opposed undeath, which they see as a violation of essential cosmic principles and a direct attack on the turning of The Wheel. The priests of the Cynosure came to see undeath as a useful tool, a state of being as neutral as their interpretation of Edarh’s will.
    The Cynosure, in their desire to preserve the greatest minds of their order and fulfill Edarh’s will without the stalls and inefficiencies of reincarnation turned to lichdom, creating a new order of immortal, undead Bodhisattvas. The Asphyxial Mendicants, as these unliving priests came to be known, had been guiding the Cynosure for generations. This state of affairs became known when Cardinal Relh, a former dean of the Cynosure believed to have died almost a century before, revealed herself to the Conclave of Cardinals and demanded the right to play her part in the working of Edarh’s will and cast a vote in the election of the next Hierophant. Thus began the Axial Schism.
    Despite swift action by the Bespoken and militias made up of faithful citizens from across Kalder, the Cynosure severed ties with the Axial Tabernacle and fled north, eventually settling in the high mountain peaks of Balkazi. The Cynosure carried with it a trivial cut of the Axial Tabernacle’s material resources, a substantial archive of irreplaceable sacred texts, and the contiguous lifetimes of wisdom possessed by the Asphyxials. To toll on the Axial Tabernacle was great as the common people of Kalder turned a suspicious eye on the church for the first time, wealthy patrons withheld their tithes, and laymen and clerics alike lost their faith in Edarh and their trust in the turning of The Wheel.
    The Cynosure claims it does not use lichdom recklessly. The Asphyxials teach that a being of sufficient faith, wisdom, and willpower can withstand the rigors and excesses of undeath, and by virtue of their enlightenment transcend the limitations of undeath to make the state of unlife holy. They risk the perils of unlife, they say, so the living may have access to their first-hand wisdom. Cynosure dogma claims lichdom is a burden as well as a sacrament, preventing the Asphyxial from returning to The Wheel for the sake of the living. They also claim that even their state of lichdom is temporary, and that when their work is done and their part in the turning of The Wheel played they will pass on into true death.
    For their part, the Cynosure takes precautions to ensure no Asphyxial becomes the sort of undead horror the Axial Tabernacle and the Bespoken have fought against for generations. No Asphyxial is allowed to know the location of their phylactery. Each phylactery is secreted away in a hidden shrine tended by a small circle of Abbots. These monks protect the necromantic relic, and are charged with destroying it should the Asphyxial it animates meet the Cynosure’s strange definition of heresy. These monks also ensure the phylactery under their care is feed a steady supply of life force, which typically comes from willing sacrifices who trade their lives for swifter passage on The Wheel and condemned criminals handed over by the magistrates of Balkazi.
    A recent innovation born from the Cynosure’s exile in the Balkazi peaks is the development of corpse style, a formal martial art that teaches its practitioners to fight as if they are already dead. The reputation of corpse style warriors, the rough terrain, and the protection of the Shield Lord and magistrates of Balkazi has prevented the Axial Tabernacle from launching a formal crusade to end the heresy of the Cynosure.

The White Goat People - The Kovahki Nations are not the only people living on The Horn. In contrast to the nomadic lifestyle of the Kovahki are the Olozahki, shepherds and farmers who live in close-knit settlements throughout the Horn and in scattered locations in northern Kalder. The Olozahki worship The White Goat, a fertility deity concerned with animal husbandry and agriculture. Adherents of The White Goat practice a subtle mastery over the land through herding, tilling, and herbalism. Druids who serve The White Goat encourage their followers to liver generally passive lives, trusting in the land to provide what they need so long as they practice basic stewardship of their environments and accept death in whatever form it comes, provided that death is not slow or wasteful.
    Followers of The White Goat typically acknowledge the existence of Horse Mother and Wolf Father, but are unconcerned with these gods or the motives of their followers. Likewise, the faith of The White Goat does not seek to explain what the world was or what it may be, but what it is. The oral tradition of White Goat Druids is strangely lacking in origin myths. Their teachings say only that all people alive today exist because they were born from the people who lived before, just as the goats born this season exist because of the goats born last season.
    The White Goat doesn’t walk the fields alone. On nights when the seasons change and at bloodstained altars tended by frenzied druids walks The Red Goat, The White Goat’s mate and grim counterpart. Where the White Goat is passive, The Red Goat is violent. Where the White Goat grazes the Red Goat ruts. Where the White Goat lives the Red Goat dies, spilling its bowel and blood to bring life to the soil. Olozahki do not speak of the Red Goat outside of their festival days and rites invoked by their druids. When the Red Goat is invoked Olozahki communities come together in a frenzy, clashing and coupling like goats in rut. Kovahki consider nights of the Red Goat ill omened, typically pulling up stakes and moving on at the first report of the rams horn that presages Olozahki seasonal rites. Outsiders who linger to glimpse the bloody, filth-streaked revelers all too often join sacrificial goats and ecstatic revelers under the druid’s blade.

Drow Lodges - The dark elves of Kalder eschew traditional relationships with the divine. Rather than worshiping the Threefold or the innumerable gods of other humanoids, drow enter into transactional relationships with patron demons. Drow who share the same infernal patron are known collectively as a Lodge. Between the patron demons observed by a drow’s family, house, and enclave, an individual drow may be part of several Lodges.
    Lodges perform services, sacrifices, and rites pleasing to their infernal totem in exchange for material and spiritual rewards. White these rites may take they form or worship, they are not expressions of faith. The way the drow see it, when their desires and the desires of an infernal being align, both sides can profit. When the drow or the demon no longer benefit from the arrangement, the bond of the Lodge is dissolved.
    Some of the most prominent and storied lodges active today include the House of Sa’lesheen the Serpent Mother, the Temple of Kracha’tnach of the Thousand Spores, and the Boudoir of Zelopherolex of the Envenomed Embrace. As a particular demon falls out of fashion or fails to live up to its supplicant’s expectations, it’s Lodge may dissolve only to be resurrected generations later by an enterprising drow demonologist seeking new opportunities and an edge over rivals in well attended Lodges.

The Rictus - Technically not a heresy due to the disorganized nature of her followers, the cultists of the Rictus nominally worship the Fortunate Lady. However, the true focus of their adoration is Isadova of the Four Lives, a Fortunate Saint renowned for cheating death three times and living 100 years while maintaining her youth and vigor.
    The high priests of the Rictus claim that Isadova still lives, having found a way escape death again and again by engaging in an unending game of chance involving the lives of others. Cultists of the Rictus believe that by slaying others in ritual duels, lethal battles of wits, and literally betting lives in games of chance they can forestall their own deaths indefinitely, In so doing, they can enjoy the pleasures of life forever and free from consequence. Members of the cult wear skull masks with exaggerated smiles to mock death and conceal their identities.
    Aldix Caln, the current leader of the Rictus, claims to be over 300 years old and a former lover of Isadova. From his temple in the left eye of the monstrous skull of the beast from which the city of Leviathon takes its name, Aldix initiates his followers in the secrets of the Rictus and dispatches assassins to play the games of death silence the cults enemies and preserve the lives of its members.