Was the most infamous criminal in Tradition history misunderstood? Did he set in motion a profound process of change over 500 years ago that would revolutionize all of the Awakened? Was Heylel the Ascension Warrior, Great Betrayer redeemed or a centuries old score that was finally settled? No one knows for sure, and anyone who might is dead or lost.
“Everything changes and nothing remains still … and … you cannot step twice into the same stream,” wrote the alchemist Heraclitus. He also thought that reality is not a constellation of things, but a processes. The fundamental base material of the world is not static matter, but volatile flux, namely fire, and all things are versions thereof. It is the process which is fundamental: the river is not an object, but a continuing flow; the sun is not a thing, but an enduring fire; the Traditions, Technocracy, the Crafts are not unchanging monoliths but living societies. Everything is a matter of process, of activity, of change.
Though his actions centered on the Traditions the Ascension Warrior’s actions set about a chain reaction who’s heat transformed everyone it touched.
The Bang Not The Whimper – Doissetep And Horizon
First came Doissetep, Fortress of the Aethyrs and Chantry of Cal Ladeim, the Order of Hermes stronghold and one of the greatest chantries in Tradition history. Dwelling for centuries in the Vadum of Forces it drank deeply from elements that there. More than that, Doissetep had dug so deeply into the Tellurian that when it fell in the Conflagration in the late 1990s it touched off a destructive chain reaction.
At least that is the prevailing theory. Its destruction is confirmed, but everything else is speculation. No on knows for sure, and anyone who could attest to it died with its flames. Rumors about Primus São Christavo being turned into a statue of gold, plots within plots boiling over into wizards wars, and the open dueling of archmages in the very heart of Forces lead to a metaphysical fire of unprecedented proportions. This fire released long held anchor points of the Tellurian resulting in a spiritual backlash like nothing that anyone had ever seen.
The Digital Web crashed on White Wednesday taking with it untold numbers of lives, and the fire weakened the pericarp of Horizon allowing an army to lay waste to it. Rumors exist about Hollow Ones treachery or the Grand Harvester of Soul’s treachery…and/or a Fallen Technocracy leading jackbooted armies burning Horizon to the ground. Its all mess with few survivors. Blame who you like for the treachery, but the combined catastrophes set the Nine Traditions reeling. Cut of from their leadership and Realms, they go underground. The Technocracy intensified its pogrom, focusing its attention mainly on the Crafts and what few Tradition mages it can find. Survivors of the Pogroms, seeking to preserve their own magic, petitioned the Council for entrance forming a sometimes fruitful, sometimes contentious arranged marriage.
Gold From Dross In A Cauldron Of Atrocities
While the mages were settling scores the fire was growing. Stoked by the volatile elements within the Vadum of Forces, the fire grew until what appeared to be a metaphysical back draft of primordial Forces. The ensuing Paradox formed what mystics call the Storm or what the Technocrats call the Dimensional Anomaly. In response, the Gauntlet contracted and thickened, shot through with jagged plumes of spiritual flame. These winds were attracted to Paradox and Will, and those caught in the Otherworlds were immolated where they stood. For years after, anyone trying to cross the Gauntlet did so at their own peril. No one is sure if the Storm was cause, effect, precursor or aftershock, but it forever changed the Awakened landscape. It crippled the the Traditions causing them to retreat as as Technocracy Pogroms intensified. The resulting chaos not only forged the Disparate Alliance, but transformed the rules of the Ascension War entirely.
By the opening of the new millennium the Ascension War was over, and the Technocracy had won, at least in their minds. The victory was a Pyrrhic and premature one. The Anomaly that had initially been so productive for them eventually cut them off from their Deep Universe Constructs. Its former leaders had kicked the Disparates and Traditions when they were down, briefly got the upper hand, but ended up in the same dire straights as their enemies. The new leaderless Technocratic Union reached for power, and it nearly broke the Union. While the Technocracy grappled with its internal matters the Traditions rallied, and Disparates formed an Alliance forged from the flames of the Pogrom.
The results of the Ascension Warrior’s actions were devastating, and the lives lost as a result are innumerable. If you look at it right, if you look at the big picture, you might see that reality really is “volatile flux, namely fire” then perhaps Heylel or the Ascension Warrior, whomever they are, are really a hero. Perhaps Doissetep was their alchemist’s cauldron, and the Awakened the dross from which the gold was drawn. Like so many other events of the turn of the millennium the Ascension Warrior vanished into the chaos that followed in their wake. Their identity remains a mystery, and their legacy is carnage, confusion, and transformation.
Epilogue for a Ghost Bomb
Conspiracy theories of a spirit-nuke had been circling since the days of the Manhattan Project. Some said it was Void Engineer barabbi while others said it was a hare-brained Etherite theory that somehow got taken seriously on a Virtual Adept BBS. A common rumor on the Digital Web was that a long forgotten Cold War era nuke facility somehow fell into the Underworld, and someone set it off. Not a shred of credible evidence of a so-called “spirit-nuke” has ever been produced, and conspiracy theories of one experimental tests in the Umbra are equally as foolish. Still, some claim that the Storm was actually the result of this sort of detonation, but anyone deranged or foolish enough to believe it gets laughed at. Most agree the spirit nuke thing never happened. It’s water cooler talk, at best, for apprentices who should be working, or the stuff of the paranoid and the mad. Only the Underworld knows the truth, and if there is one thing the dead know how to do is keep their secrets.
Earth & Heaven
The Storm, the Ascension Warrior, and the assertion of the Technocratic Paradigm blew away centuries-old masterworks of Will. Many of the great chantries and Horizon Realms are history, or at least not readily accessible. Doissetep is now smoking ruins in the Martian Umbra. Horizon shriveled into a ghostly husk that wanders tetherless like a slowly contracting balloon in Etherspace. MECHA, Null B, Balador and the other Realms of excess are all gone. While many chantries and realms have been reduced, powerful facilities still remain, at least on Earth. Earthbound chantries, while weakened, were largely spared the cruel winds of the Storm, and the events of the past have opened up potentials for all sides to start anew. Magic may be rarer, but chantries and constructs can be wondrous places again if we choose to make them that way. Beyond the Gauntlet, Realms of old could be waiting to be re-discovered. Then again they could simply be ruined shells. The Storm did a lot of damage so it is impossible to say.
Both the Union and the Council claim to care about Sleepers, and even go so far as to claim their mission is for them. Yet, the better part of the Ascension War was fought about other things in other places. While the Earth burned the Union and Council played the fiddle. No wonder the Alliance is so pissed off and fed up with the both of them. Today, the consensus among the Awakened, whether it is Council, Alliance, or Union, is that they won’t make the same mistake their mentors did by isolating themselves in distant Realms, and abstract Otherworlds. Realms are tools to be used to achieve ends, but one should not let them distract from what is most important. While this isn’t news to the Disparate Alliance, all agree that act two of the Ascension War isn’t about what happens in the heavens but what happens on Earth. The fate of the Earth literally depends on it.
The World Ended or it didn’t. It was the Technocracy’s fault or it wasn’t. The Nephandi won the war or maybe just an important battle. The Traditions lost the war, or maybe just an important battle. No matter how you look at it the Awakened world will never be the same. Though few will admit it, the Storm was necessary, and despite the pain and despair it caused, it was in the end only temporary. Horrendous as it was it debrided all of the detritus that clung to the works of mages leaving only that which truly mattered. Its origins, purpose, and ultimate demise remain a mystery that mages will debate for a long time. By 2002, the Storm showed visible signs of abating, by 2005 its winds were little more than a whisper, and by 2007 the Storm had passed.
The Awakened must rebuild, renew, transform, or whither and in the Storm’s wake. The Gauntlet is no longer a deadly wall of flaming concertina wire, and the Awakened may once again venture beyond it. What they will find there is yet to be determined. Mages have only just begun to return from excursions into the Otherworlds, and the reports they bring back are eerie and haunting. Attempts to contact former strongholds on all sides have been met with a haunting silence.
The 90s are over. A new era has dawned. When the dust settled no side has won. The explosive events of the turn of the millennium have proven everyone wrong. Whether you see it as an alchemical marriage, or a chemical reaction the explosive synthesis resulted in a changed humanity who’s will the Awakened must now grapple with. Neither the cowering peasants of the Mythic Age nor the obedient Masses of Technocratic ideals, the humanity of the new millennium understand all too well that the choices they were offered in the previous age were all false. The choice itself was false. They never had to choose. S instead they have embraced a vibrant synthesis of technology, faith, mysticism, and imagination.
This mélange of disparate elements has reconfigured the Ascension war – yet another paradox of the modern age that the Awakened must reconcile. If one gets blinded by the brilliant dynamism they may fail to see the shadow it casts. Within this new humanity is the potential for madness on a global scale, or worse, a self-inflicted apocalypse. If the Awakened wish to see their visions through they must understand that the choice isn’t theirs to offer. It never was. It is humanity’s. No side is winning, but Union, Council, Alliance, Fallen, and the Mad all have a chance at capturing a piece of the worldwide Consensus.
The Council Transformed
With the destruction of Doissetep and Horizon, and the losses of the Storm there was little in the way of open aggression against Technocratic schemes. The defenders of Ascension were on their heels. Disorganized, wounded, and leaderless they retreated to wait for a sign.
A sign did come, but it wasn’t what they wanted to hear. As the Storm subsided it became clear that the greatest archmages of the Traditions were either dead or in hiding. The few masters who did emerge after the Storm appeared fragile. With a haunted look in their eyes they turned away from their former students, and retreated to monasteries, hidden chantries, or the ruins of their Horizon Realms. What they seek there only they know. The sign was clear: they could not be counted on to lead the charge of the next phase of the Ascension War.
Leadership of the the Traditions fell to a collection of Disciples, Adepts, or really, whomever would step up to lead. But they simply lead the Traditions underground. Holed up in the isolated chantries and safe houses, the Traditions seemed resigned to let the Technocracy have Earth.
But some say the Council wasn’t really hiding. They say it turned over and played dead until the time to rise up again was right.
The Rogue Council…
A mysterious entity…
An alleged cabal of unknown mages…
The will of an Oracle….
Says the the time is now.
Messages have been sent to chantries all over the world once again stoking the flames of Ascension. They claim to represent the previous Council, but refuse to provide proof. For those who believe, their message is proof enough of a righteous call to action. They inspire the young, and vex the status quo with their message: Ascension is not only real, but is possible. The message spread slowly at first, but over the next ten years spread like wild fire. The Council emerged from the flames invigorated and transformed. Horizon and Doissetep are distant memories of the excesses of the past age, a caustic lesson that forged New Horizon Council, and renewed several of its Traditions. The New Horizon Council has been around for about 10 years, and under their insistence, the Traditions have re-established their chantries and begun the fight anew.
But were the previous Council masters Nephandi? Most say no, but a few say…maybe. There are still some lingering doubts, and doubt is mana to the Fallen. One can argue that the explosive chain reactions of the Conflagration, the Horizon War, and the Storm have the patina of Fallen schemes. On the other hand, perhaps they were desperate attempts cauterize the corruption before it overwhelmed the Council. Then again, maybe this was simply the Tower of hubris finally falling. We are, after all, each our own devil, and we make this world our hell. What evidence do we have? Do we believe the philosophic claims Chakravanti? Perhaps this is what the Fallen want us to think in order to divide and conquer. When we are in hell can we really trust the devil to point our way out?
A Union Reformed
Whether they are heroes or villains depends where you stand. On course for what seemed like an inevitable victory in the Ascension War that course was altered by something on one expected: the Dimensional Anomaly. Cut off from Control, the Computer, and the Inner Circle, the Union was plunged into chaos. The power vacuum coupled with the termination of the Pogroms lead to massive internal dissent within Iteration X. The the 2008 financial crisis caused the Syndicate attempt a power grab in an effort to retain some sort of control after the crash. The New World Order crouched in a defense position while Progenitors bucked against the opioid crisis. Meanwhile, Void Engineers, floundering in the wake of the Dimensional Anomaly, closed ranks and adopted a democratically elected military leadership called the Existential Threats Directorate (ETD) to wage a campaign of their own. So much for an infallible Union. By 2009, with the Storm over, cooler heads prevailed. Just barely. Convention leaders were called to a retreat Iceland where the Reykjavik Accord was agreed to. Deals were made, bailouts were agreed to, and programs were funded. While this by no means settled the divisions that nearly sundered it, a stronger Union tentatively began to emerge.
While some still push for a Union that preaches the enlightened tyranny of the past, most Technocrats question the old order to produce an ostensibly more humane Technocracy. Constructs are coming back online with an eye on long-term, humane reforms, or even a reorganization. The Storm has faded, but the scars remain. The Technocracy has reconciled the disruption, faced some of its frailties, and adjusted its mission. The agenda is no longer set by an Inner Circle in Horizon Constructs, but by Earthbound Technocrats who saw firsthand the disastrous result of those decisions had on humanity. The Union now stands at a crisis point where it is confronting its own excesses. The Achilles Heels of greed, selfishness, and hubris that undermined its mission in the 20th century are being re-focused with precision on perfecting science and technology for their own sake. For some, this has resulted in a more humane approach, but there is a vocal minority who would see it return to its old track of chain-guns, pogroms, and winning at any cost.
But was all that internal dissent a sign of a deeper infection? Some say the devil rewards insurrection since rebellion is the original sin, and he invented it. Considering the inhumanity of Realms such as Null-B, MECHA, or Research Plantation No. 4 it is easy to see these as signs of a greater malignancy. On the other hand, what is the difference between spiritual corruption, and simple power corrupting? One could ascribe the recent history as schemes of the Fallen, but if every atrocity were the work of the Fallen reality would have lurched into Hell long ago. We are, after all, each our own devil, and we make this world our hell. Then again, are you a coward if you blame the devil for your actions? But what if he really did make you do it? What evidence do we have? A contrite Union saying it will do better this time? You could say that the Union didn’t just cultivate cruelty and inhumanity they made an industry of it. There is a joke among the Syndicate that the devil has probably re-designed Hell with the information he had gained from observing airport layouts. Doubt is mana to the Fallen, and they would like nothing more to take credit for any actions that advance Descension.
A World of Gods & Monsters
The Storm is over, but it has left scars only the Awakened can see. Nodes have been diminished while new ones have appeared. The Digital Web is damaged and requires repair. Strange Umbrood have emerged from ages-long slumber to threaten Earth once more. Other monster once kept in place by ancient magick have awoken, and stalk the shadows. The Otherworlds have been injured, reconfigured, or shaped in unknown ways by the Storm. The Storm drove mages of all stripes Mad or to the Cauls, and now former friends are now enemies. The Awakened must keep their wits about them. The second act of the Ascension War is shaping up to be nothing like the first.