History of the Ascension War
It is said that what is called “the spirit of an age” is something to which one cannot return. That this spirit gradually dissipates is due to the world’s coming to an end. For this reason although one would like to change today’s world back to the spirit of one hundred years or more ago, it cannot be done. Thus it is important to make the best of every generation.
— Tsunetomo Yamamoto, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai
History is a funny thing. It changes as you look at it from different angles, even when simple facts and dates stay the same; Columbus still lands in Hispaniola during 1492 regardless of whether you view him through the lens of daring explorer, mixed-up mapmaker or ruthless conqueror. Most of what you see here is from the point of view of the Traditions (partly because the Technocracy severely discourages its members researching back much further than the Victorian Era). It generally emphasizes the basic outline of events which the majority of mages would grudgingly accept as ‘mostly true’.
Where the narrative diverges into a more specific viewpoint, such as from the perspective of a single faction (or even individual), it has been included in the context of a spoiler tab.
A young Hermetic student writes an essay, circa 2000 CE:
Once upon a time, there were no Traditions. It was an early day of magic, when the world was younger. Mages were a solitary sort. There was no mass Ascension, no War. They worked within their own villages, striving to improve life around them. That was their world. It was all that they knew.
I have read that the earliest gatherings of mages occurred in Egypt, under the direction of one of the early Pharaohs. These groupings would later dissolve, but they would be the forerunners to the traditions we have today…a pattern, if you will.
I know little else of the first willworkers. Tutor White always said that he was “less concerned about my understanding of the Traditions of yesterday”, than he is “concerned with those of today and tomorrow”.
The Dark Ages were not an easy time, for anyone, but magic was much more potent. Still, fear of the unknown would grip men and mage alike. There became very strict divisions between the ideas of magic and religion as espoused by a Church whose influence was increasing. Persecutions would ensue, and myths and traditions would be lost. Still, it would be in these dark times that the Traditions of today would be born and solidify.
The Renaissance opened the world to a much brighter time. Reason would prevail and men would cease to live in fear. It was a better time for men, but for magic, things were changing. The rules were altering. Our Traditions were faltering, and the Technocracy was rising to power. It seemed as if they would win the world.
The Traditions, under the gentle and far-sighted guidance of the Most Unsurpassable Order of Hermes, would band together into the Council of Nine. I won’t pretend to understand numerology, but from what I’ve been told, nine is very potent as numbers go. I think it has to do with being three collections of three, and three being a completion; therefore it is a complete completion. It could also have to do with the fact that those were probably the strongest organized groupings. Of course, it is like Tutor White used to tell me, “In Magic, there are no coincidences.”
I miss Tutor White.
The Council hasn’t always been as it is at this time. Two Traditions that helped to found the Council, the Ahl-i-Batin and the Solificati, are gone from it now. The Ahl-i-Batin are testimony to the danger that all of us face if we do not band together. They left the Council to defend their homelands from the Technocracy and are now unknown to exist. It was very sad. The Solificati fell victim to scandal and left the Council after one of its members was sentenced to Gilgul. This was the first justice that the Council had to visit upon any mage. This was also very sad, yet I should think, entirely necessary under the circumstances.
The 20th century saw new life come into the Council. First the Sons of Ether and later the Virtual Adepts, both of whom left the Technocracy to join the Council. There was a new hope, that perhaps we could yet reap the world.
I am not sure what happened recently. I remember Tutor White waking in the middle of the night, though, screaming that his friends were dying. That they were just fading away, and that he couldn’t stop it. He went on like this for a very long while. It was very sad.
It wasn’t long after, a couple of months maybe, that we learned what happened. That the Enemy of the Morning had thrown down the gleaming spires of Concordia. The celestial firmament itself rebelled at this atrocity, flaying the avatars of the offending host in a mighty, spiritual storm. A storm that rages still to the peril of all who seek to investigate.
Again, we face dark times, but we are not without hope. I think it is like Tutor White always said; that “that is all you have ever really had, hope and your Will”. In the end, I believe he was right.
In the Light of Mercury Ascendant,
– Hermetic Acolyte Emma de Groot bani Bonisagus
Every culture and faith has its own myths and stories about how the world was created, where people came from, and who the first mage or mages were. And to be honest, none of that is really important. It doesn’t matter if Adam or Lilith or Zog the Caveman was the first mage.
Most of the Traditions have members who like to claim that their Tradition was first, with the unspoken implication that it means their clique is the most special and is obviously meant to tell the rest of us poor slobs what to do. The Etherites and the Virtual Adepts are the only ones who don’t, but they get their own unique brand of jack-offs — the ones who look down on the rest of us as sad little primitive throwbacks — to make up for it.
In actuality, the first mages were what we’d call Orphans. They didn’t join big groups and mostly kept to themselves, working whatever style of magic they either had an innate knack for. Paleolithic shamans and priests who interpreted the will of the spirits and gods. Mysterious astrologers and soothsayers who tried to read the threads of Fate in the stars or in sheep entrails. Wise herbalists and medicine men who healed the sick with potions and prayers. Ancient craftsmen and enchanters who built wondrous tools, talismans and even megalithic structures. Divinely gifted warriors who battled demons and monsters with lionskin and club. These were the first willworkers.
One of the first times disparate groups of mages attempted to form an organization was in Egypt. Thothmes III and his wife (or sister, or both; you can never tell with those Pharaohs), Hatshepsut, gathered together every mage they could from across Egypt, Babylon, Africa, and the whole Mediterranean world into two groups known as the Reed of Djehuty and the Cupbearers of Aset — although most people today know them by their Greek names, Thoth and Isis. The Reeds were early mathematicians, masons and artificers. The Cupbearers were healers, priests and mystics.
Unfortunately, the groups fell apart rather quickly. About the only records left of the two sects are some old manuscripts kept by House Shaea of the Order of Hermes. It seems that the Egyptian mages assumed that they would be in charge and everyone else would defer to them. The ancient Egyptian mindset was a lot like the Chinese of the same era; the idea that anything worth knowing could come from outside of Egypt was completely alien to them: if it was worth knowing, well, they’d already discovered it.
Needless to say, this attitude didn’t endear the Egyptians to their Nubian, Libyan, Minoan, Babylonian and Iberian guests. But to their credit, Thothmes and Hatshepsut had tried something no one else had done before, bringing mages of diverse cultures and styles together and laying the groundwork for groups that would later form parts of the Order of Hermes and the Celestial Chorus.
The next time a large number of mages banded together was a few centuries later, when the Middle East was overrun with a horde of demons. Of course, nothing can get people to work together faster than a common threat, and this was no exception. Most of the records of this period come from oral folklore, handed down among Arabian and Persian sorcerers, and a few cryptic Hebrew documents the Order of Hermes holds on to.
Supposedly Shaitan — or Baal or Set, depending upon whom you ask — unleashed the 10,000 Djinni as a plague upon the Earth. The sheer magnitude of the problem led to an alliance among various Hebrew, Egyptian and Babylonian priests and demon hunters. Under the leadership of Suleiman the Wise, King of Israel; al-Ashrad the Mighty, a demon hunter from the Arabian deserts; and Abana-ta-sherit, leader of the Egyptian House of the Sestat, the alliance managed to bind or destroy the majority of the Djinni.
Unfortunately, this group was only an alliance of convenience and, once the threat had passed, the various sects went their separate ways or even turned upon each other. No group formed solely on the basis of a common enemy has any hope of holding together in the long run. Take away the threat and they fall apart. This is a valuable lesson, given the Tradition’s modern struggle with the Technocracy.
When the Akashayana Sangha finally met the early Chakravanti sects in India, a disagreement of some sort — most modern Tradition mages have only the vaguest, most pointless notion of the truth — caused the two groups to declare war on each other.
Now, normally, something like this would last maybe a few decades and then die down as everyone forgot about it. But not with this bunch. You see, both sects had apparently mastered the arts of reincarnation (or had some sort of karmic destiny that insured it — again, hard to tell), so everyone who died in this silly little war — usually called the Himalayan Wars — came back a generation later and decided to get revenge.
What makes this turn of events even stupider is when you look at it in the light of each group’s beliefs. Both of them believe in learning from the mistakes in each life, so that in the next life they don’t repeat the same mistakes and can get that much closer to personal enlightenment. So here they are, reincarnating and continuing the same pointless fight they fought in the last life. About the only thing most of them seemed interested in learning was which was less painful, being hacked to pieces or being burned alive.
Eventually, enough people on each side were tired of the endless war that they were able to outnumber and restrain the fanatics. As they say, “what if they had a war and no one came?” Well, both sides just stopped showing up for the fights and the two sects started doing their best to ignore each other. Indeed, in spite of the antipathy between the two groups demonstrated by the Himalayan Wars, members of each group kept popping up in the other’s backyard.
To briefly touch on just two of the most famous examples; a number of Indian Buddhists and Jains have found the Brotherhood, usually as members of the Kannagara (the monastic ascetics who have traditionally served as the Brotherhood’s leadership). The Vajrapani (the Brotherhood’s martial arm) also count a small collection of Kalaripayit gurus among their numbers. All of this is to say, that despite the historical enmity wrought by the Himalayan Wars, the lines between these two groups are infinitely more nuanced and overlapping than a superficial recitation of past conflicts would suggest.
Around 514 BCE – when the Himalayan Wars between the Akashic Brotherhood and the death cults who would eventually form the Euthanatos had already been raging for several lifetimes – a company of Akashics battled a group of Handura in Afghanistan. The outnumbered Akashics fell back and found refuge among the Darwushim, an ecstatic cult of dervish mystics who were themselves fleeing persecution.
This fortuitous meeting is known as the Night of Fana. The hunted proto-Akashic mages found that the meadow was already inhabited by another group of adepts, whom the Batini call the Darwushim. While waiting for their pursuers to arrive, the hunted mages joined the dervishes in a magical ritual of dance and motion. At the peak of the dance, one of the Darwushim and one of the Akashics physically merged into a single entity, the Khwaja al-Akbar, which revealed to those present the Doctrine of Unity. Whether this was a metaphor for sex or some sort of heavy duty ritual — maybe both; sex is a powerful, magical focus, after all — the Batini keep the truth to themselves.
Suffused with power, the Khwaja al-Akbar spoke and affected the world around itself. For a few moments, all of space became one and Unity was achieved among all the men and women present at this event. Space broke down and became one in a moment of ecstatic union that has never been repeated since. Then, the Khwaja al-Akbar disappeared and separated into two beings once more. Yet they, like everyone else present, were changed forever. Their original affiliations meant nothing compared to the greater Unity they had experienced. The Ahl-i-Batin were born.
The newly formed “Interior Ones” spent the next few hundred years establishing themselves in the lands of China, India, and Persia, although they proved most successful in Persia. There, they established six distinct schools, called khanaqas, each of which taught its student a different aspect of the Unity the sect hoped to achieve. In time, they would prove themselves to be the most stalwart supporters of the original Council.
Unfortunately, even the Batini’s legendary patience and quest for Unity would one day reach a breaking point. But that’s a story for a little later.
The people known as the Celts first appeared in Austria around 800 BCE and over the next few centuries managed to conquer and settle most of Western Europe.
While modern Celtophiles tend to focus on Welsh and Gaelic (what are today the Irish and Scots) branches of the culture, the Celts include the English Britons, the French Gauls and other factions in Iberia and Germany.
Traditional Celtic society involved a regimented social hierarchy, with warrior-nobles and men of learning (known as the Filid) at the top and peasant-farmers and slaves on the bottom. It also placed high value on both beauty in crafts and passionate destruction in warfare. Unfortunately, this was untempered by the concern for long-term well-being and resulted in a culture with no real authority above the clan and village level and a very limited ability to organize against outside threats. This allowed the Romans to conquer the majority of the Celtic lands in less than two hundred years.
To the Celts, magic — or at least the possibility of magic — was everywhere. However, it was also extremely temperamental and unreliable. While warriors and craftsmen might develop mystical talents related to their chosen trade (the crafting of enchanted weapons or tools for example), the true masters of magic were the druids. The Druidic Avatars of these early willworkers frequently took the form of Celtic gods, mythical heroes or even one of the Fair Folk. The Avatar would almost always place the mage under a Geas which was tied to his ability to work magic.
As part of the Filid class, the druids served as bards, historians, teachers, judges, healers and priests. Prospective druids would spend several years studying with their mentors, memorizing the Celt’s vast wealth of oral history and lore while also learning the secrets of divination, herbalism, fertility rites, shapeshifting and how to enter the Otherworlds (the realms beyond the Gauntlet which are home to the spirits of the dead and the Fair Folk). It is here that we find some (but definitely not all) of the earliest, proto-organizations that would one day blend into the Verbena, among other factions.
While the Celts were settling most of Europe, the civilizations of the Mediterranean, Near-East and all along what would come to be known as the Silk Road would flourish by the onset of the 6th Century BCE.
It saw the start of Greece and China’s “golden ages of science,” as well as the creation of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Zoroastrianism. The Phoenicians advanced the art of sailing to the point where they could circumnavigate Africa. The Hebrews codified their beliefs into a doctrine durable enough to survive over two millennia of Diaspora and oppression and the Japanese islands were unified under their first emperor.
Most Tradition mages have met some nutjob who believes the sheer number of events during that period are too much of a coincidence to be anything but the work of some vast conspiracy, usually involving aliens, ancient Atlanteans or some similar nonsense.
Over the next few hundred years, men like Thales, Hippocrates and Archimedes laid the groundwork for western scientific thought. But one of the first and most important — to mages anyways — was Pythagoras.
Pythagoras was a genius mathematician as well as a magician schooled in the various arts and sciences of Egyptian cults devoted to Tehuti (or Thoth, as the Greeks called him). He managed to blend Egyptian and Greek mysticism with his theories of mathematics and acoustics and created his own mystery cult. By the time he died, his students were pretty much worshipping him as a god.
Pythagoras is important to the Traditions for two reasons. His mathematical theories influenced both the Hermetics and the Batini, and the Hermetics still incorporate these formulae into a lot of their rituals. In addition, his acoustical-based mysticism gave birth to numerous sects and cults that found their way into the Celestial Chorus and Cult of Ecstasy. You even find his handprints on modern groups: Such as a famous member of the Sons of Ether who would take complex mathematical formulae, convert them to music using Pythagorean acoustical theory and then use synthesizers to play the music through specially grown “Ether-sensitive” crystals.
Another important thing happened in the Sixth century? Rome became a republic. Its Rise would define the mist-shrouded beginning of this Golden Age of Antiquity, just as its Fall would punctuate the beginning of the Mystic Age.
In time, the Fall of Rome gave birth to the opening act of what most Traditionalists refers to as the Mystic Age (for them at least, there was nothing ‘dark’ about it). Long before the Ascension War began, this was an age of mysticism, faith and war. Empires were carved out. Religions were born. And mages, one way or another, were right in the middle of it.
Pagan magic and Christian miracles thrived in Europe. The Ahl-i-Batin reached their greatest heights in the Middle East. The Akashics helped build the Shaolin Monastery in China. And the Order of Hermes was formalized. A lot of the old Masters (wherever they are since the Reckoning) are really nostalgic for this period. It was the last time they could do as they pleased without having to worry about the Order of Reason shooting cannonballs at them.
Never underestimate the power of faith. Faith can move mountains — literally, where we’re concerned. Mohammed’s new faith in particular swept through the Middle East’s mage community like a thunderbolt. A lot of the old Thothian cults and Dervish sects were destroyed, yet a few found themselves swept up in the changes and even managed to thrive during Islam’s golden age. A lot of the Batini saw Islam as being highly compatible with their Doctrine of Unity, and the idea of one religion replacing the countless competing faiths across the region was equally appealing to the sect’s goals.
Over the centuries, the Middle East had been plagued by a series of Infernalist wizards who fancied themselves as world conquerors. The threat wasn’t ended until the Ahl-i-Batini and the Taftâni put aside their grudges for a last assault against the infernal fortress of Irem, where they smote the last Devil-King Al-Malek Al-Majun Ibn Iblis and burned the sand to black obsidian. The unholy citadel’s vast blasphemous libraries were torn down and their apprentices killed, yet some claim the last Devil-King had foreseen this. They had hidden their most valuable lore in vaults hidden beneath the sand, waiting to be rediscovered and usher their reign again.
The Batini and Taftani mages created the Web of Faith to bind the things summoned into the Tellurian by the Devil-Kings, centering it around Mecca and the Kaaba. The result is the Keening that can still be heard by impure supernatural beings. The Batini maintain that the screams of the Keening are those of the former Devil-Kings who are now condemned to hell.
While the Middle East was undergoing a cultural revolution, the mages of Europe were experiencing a turbulent rebirth as well. The first was the creation of the Order of Hermes (767 AD). After Rome fell, the former members of the old cults devoted to Hermes and Mercury were drifting around without much direction. Some ended up in the Byzantine Empire trying to rebuild their former glory. Others tried to find their place among the new barbarian kingdoms, either as powers behind the throne or as eccentric recluses.
All of that changed around the end of the Seventh century, when Trianoma — one of the old Roman Mercury cultists who’d been wandering Europe for the past three hundred years or so — apparently realized that with the way things were going, the Hermetic ways would be dead and buried in a few centuries. She accordingly set off to round up as many old Mercurians, Thothians and Hermetics as could still be found. It was a truly legendary quest, requiring both supernatural might, cleverness and most importantly patience to convince each reclusive Master that they should ally with her. It took the better part of a century, yet miraculously, Trianoma eventually succeeded.
While the Hermetics were getting their act together, the Franks were busy putting together a kingdom in Western Europe. They reached their height under Charlemagne, who managed to conquer or annex the Saxons and the Lombards, eventually getting himself crowned Holy Roman Emperor. Despite all of his good press, Charlemagne was really just a very successful German tribal king, and his Paladins weren’t exactly poster boys for the chivalric ideal. Royal enforcers might be a more apt description.
Most of the paladins’ reputation probably comes from a secret society of mages formed during the Dark Ages. Called the Palatines, they were a diverse bunch of warriors, priests and mystics who wandered Western Europe, battling demons, Infernalists, vampires and other monsters with sword and fire, magic and faith. They drew members from numerous other mage sects, including the Messianic Voices and the Order of Hermes. The Palatines existed in total secrecy, believing that their work was its own reward, and that public acclaim would only lead to the sin of hubris. By the 12th century, the Palatines had reorganized themselves as a secret order of knights and priests called the Palatine Knights. When the Ascension War began, the sect was torn in half as members divided between the Order of Reason’s fanatical Cabal of Pure Thought and the Council of Nine.
A seemingly inevitable source of conflict in mage society is politics. Not just our own jockeying for power in the shadows, but the fallout from mundane politics coloring our own relations. A series of bloody conflicts left most mystic societies completely unprepared for the coming of the Order of Reason.
While the spread of Islam helped the Ahl-i-Batin to spread their Web of Faith across Africa and Asia, it also antagonized countless European and Hindu mages. The Order of Hermes — especially House Flambeau — had been involved in the Spanish Reconquesta since the beginning, but after Pope Urban II called the first Crusade to take the Holy Land, numerous European mages went to the Middle East, clashing violently with the Ahl-i-Batin and other members of the Web of Faith.
A lot of the Crusader mages were there out of faith and piety. Others just wanted to take the opportunity to carve out their own power bases or simply loot the Holy Land of mystic relics and wonders. The worst of it came when the Crusaders finally took Jerusalem and massacred everyone they found in the city, not caring if they were Muslim or Jew. The Crusades drove what sometimes feels like a permanent wedge between Western and Middle Eastern mages that hadn’t existed before, and despite the best efforts of Batini, Ecstatics and Chorusers over the centuries, that rift has never truly healed.
On the other side of the Islamic world, the Muslims gradually managed to conquer most of Northern India, establishing the Delhi Sultanate. Of course, Islam and Hinduism have a hard time coexisting and the leaders of the Sultanate were pretty ruthless when it came to holding on to their power and influence. As a result
of this, several of the traditional Hindu sects joined together in a loose alliance called the Asthika. This alliance was led by the Chakravanti cults, the old veterans of the Himalayan Wars, and the Vishnudharadhara, an order of Hindu priests and holy warriors formed during the Gupta Empire back in the 4th century.
Of course, those two groups never really got along. Luckily, the Indian Ecstatic sects were there to play peacemaker between the two, otherwise the alliance would have just fallen apart. As for the Asthika, it served two purposes. First off, it helped to preserve a lot of classical Hindu culture, art and literature from the Muslims. Second, it coordinated Vishnudharadhara, Chakravanti and Ecstatic retaliation against the Sultanate and the Web of Faith. The conflicts in India rivaled those of the Crusades for their ferocity and bloodshed and, like the Crusades, a lot of the bad blood is still there.
While the Web of Faith was fighting a two-front war, events in Europe nearly tore the Order of Hermes to pieces. It’s almost impossible to get the Order to talk about this time period, but recent events forced a lot of Hermetics to come clean with their fellow cabal members. Briefly, around 1200 AD or so, the Order of Hermes discovered that the leaders of one of their Houses had transformed themselves into vampires. On top of this, they’d been going around turning the rest of their House and any other Hermetic they could get their hands on into one of the undead.
While the Hermetics were busy tearing themselves apart, mundane politics were spinning out of control in southern France. Around the turn of the millennium, a group of Cathar missionaries arrived in Albi, France and started preaching their flavor of Gnosticism to the local peasants and nobles. This earned them the unrelenting ferocity of the medieval Catholic Church. By the time the Albigensian Crusade ran out of people to kill a few decades later, Pope Gregory IX wanted to make sure that the Cathars (or a group like them) didn’t come back to bother the church anymore, so he created the Papal Inquisition to go out and look for heretics.
While this was going on, Asia had its own problems. Out in the steppes, a man by the name of Temujin had managed to get himself named Genghis Khan — “Lord of the Nation” — of the Mongols. Under his leadership, the Mongol horsemen destroyed their more powerful rivals, the Tatars, almost to a man. Then he turned his attention to China.
The conquest of China wouldn’t be completed until Genghis’ grandson, Kublai Khan managed to become the Great Khan in 1260. In the process of consolidating his hold over China however, the Golden Horde of Russia and the Ilkhanate of Persia broke away from the Empire and became their own independent states. Kublai, already a confirmed Sinophile, decided to make up for it by finally conquering the rest of China. After the Song was defeated, it was obvious that the new barbarian king held the mandate of heaven, and Kublai became the first emperor of the new Great Yuan Dynasty. Over the years, the Akashics had managed to work their way into the Khanate’s power structure, and now the Wu Lung struggled with the Brotherhood over who got to influence the now reunified Chinese Empire.
By the end of the 13th century, mage affairs throughout Europe and Asia were a shambles. Mages everywhere were at each other’s throats or dealing with the fallout of the past two centuries of chaos. It was in this sea of confusion that two competing ideas for the future of mankind began to germinate. The first was the Council of Nine, although it would take a series of visionaries, each building on the work of their predecessors, to bring it about. That, and a threat bigger than any of them: The Order of Reason was already laying its plans to enact its own vision for humanity with malevolent precision.
The Order of Reason wasn’t the same thing as the modern Technocratic Union; rather, the Order is what laid the foundation for the Technocracy. The core of the Order of Reason was a group known as the Craftmasons. They were a band of engineers, social reformers and artificers who wanted to build a better world by bringing order and stability to Europe. Part of that stability meant getting rid of the vampires, goblins and other monsters that terrorized mankind.
Gradually, the Craftmasons managed to find allies through out Europe and parts of the Middle East and Asia to help advance their great work. A lot of the old Greco-Roman philosopher guilds joined them, along with Italian merchant houses, the Knights Templar and others. Calling themselves the Order of Reason, this group set out to remake Europe in their own image. And since this image didn’t include magic, they declared war on every mystical sect they saw.
In time, they would threaten the very existence of mystical sects throughout Europe and the Near East.
It has been said that the Council of Nine owes its existence to one man and, in a way, that’s very true. No one knows where Sh’zar the Seer came from. Some say India or Persia, or even that he was some sort of seraphim or dragon who’d taken human form. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Skilled in a variety of Ecstatic arts from all over Asia, he was a powerful magician and prophet.
Haunted by drug-induced visions of doom and destruction of a world dominated by a still unknown force, Sh’zar attended a gathering of magi in Persia hoping to share details of his vision with others and gain new insights on his dilemma. This gathering, now known as the First Samashti, included mages from all over India and the Middle East, as well as smaller contingents from Africa, Europe and China. The host was a Persian merchant, mystic and healer by the name of Sirdar Rustam. He was a member of one of the Indian Chakravanti sects, and the Euthanatoi consider this gathering the formal foundation of their Tradition (1314). All agreed that Sh’zar’s vision was an omen of something bad on the horizon.
What really happened next is lost to the sands of time, but the legend goes something like this. After leaving the Samashti, Sh’zar traveled across the deserts of Persia until one night, while sleeping, a new vision came to him in a dream. The ground Sh’zar slept upon was the very spot, over a millennium ago, where Khwaja al-Akbar handed down the Doctrine of Unity to the Ahl-i-Batin, and now Khwaja al-Akbar came to the Seer and gave him the answer he sought. Sh’zar was to go forth and gather every mage on Earth, binding them into a single unified brotherhood. Of course, it’s just as true that Sh’zar could have come up with the answer on his own. He’d seen sects from three continents band together into the Euthanatoi, and he could have easily spoken to members of the Ahl-i-Batin at the Samashti. Still, it’s a nice story.
Sh’zar traveled throughout the Middle East seeking others to believe in his new vision. Still recovering from the Mongol attacks a century before, the Ahl-i-Batin showed interest in the Seer’s idea — it was an extension of their own goals, after all — as did the newly formed Euthanatoi. Now Sh’zar had a bigger task ahead — getting the scattered, hostile and self-centered mage sects of Europe to listen to him. He traveled all over Europe, speaking to dozens if not hundreds of willworkers. Some listened; most dismissed his visions as the rantings of a madman. Luckily, he found three influential Masters who listened and believed.
in 1439, Sh’zar instructed the three masters to gather at the ruins of Mistridge, a Hermetic chantry in southern France that had earlier been destroyed by the Craftmasons under cover of the Albigensian Crusade (although at the time of the ‘First Mistridge Tribunal’, it was still thought vampires had been responsible). The Seer had never been to Mistridge before, nor had he even heard of the place; it had been revealed to him in one of his hashish-inspired visions. These abandoned, burnt out ruins, he told them, were all that would remain of their respective mystical traditions unless they joined together and helped each other.
This gathering lasted for a few months, and the four masters and their respective entourages spent most of it arguing and debating until they finally agreed on the idea of a council of mages to help bring some sort of order to the diverse groups, and to help formulate some sort of defense against this new Order of Reason. These debates helped bring the three rival European willworkers closer together; they didn’t quite become friends, but they at least developed a mutual respect for the others’ passion and intelligence. With the gathering’s end, the four groups, led by LaSalle, Valoran, Nightshade and Sh’zar scattered to the four winds, planning to gather more converts to their cause and meet again in nine years. Those next few decades are when the Council of Nine first starts to come together. It’s also the period three Traditions trace their formal foundation to.
Valoran set to work trying to reunify the Messianic Voices. He had his work cut out for him. The Voices had been split along Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox lines for centuries, and a collection of offshoots — Cathars, Armenians, even a few die-hard Celtic Christian hold outs — made things even more complicated. Luckily, Valoran had a gift for public speaking and was no slouch as a diplomat either. He shared with the others his vision from the Archangel, and worked hard to smooth over what differences he could. His faith and passion for his goal of unity proved contagious. Gradually more and more began to share his dream, and by the time of the second gathering, Valoran was able to present a unified faction of Christian magi from across Europe. Although he was far from alone (and aided by charismatic representatives of other faiths), over the next two decades, Valoran would be the driving force that transformed the Messianic Voices, Righteous Ghazi and Vishnudharadhara into the Celestial Chorus (1443).
Sh’zar, meanwhile, returned to Persia. While he’d been in Europe, three of his followers had been busy organizing a gathering of Ecstatics from all over Asia and Africa. The Seer returned, bringing with him representatives from surviving Greek and Roman cults. This collection of mystics, visionaries and seers became the Sahajiya — what you know as the Cult of Ecstasy (1452). It was here that Sh’zar laid down the Code of Ananda, a set of laws and codes of behavior that the Ecstatics live by. The Cult has developed a reputation — here in the West, at least — of being nothing more than drug-crazed sybarites. Of course, if you believe that, you probably also believe the stories making the Verbena out as nothing more than New Age crystal gazers and the Euthanatoi as death-worshiping sociopaths. The Code emphasizes personal responsibilities for one’s actions and respect for others, and these were the cornerstones Sh’zar used for his new Tradition.
Meanwhile, Master LaSalle, had unfortunately run into a brick wall trying to persuade his fellow Hermetics to attend the second gathering. He spent eight years in endless debates, secret meetings and duels working to make his voice heard and to convince others of the Seer’s vision. LaSalle burned up every favor and boon owed to him and was forced to kill at least a dozen of his fellow Hermetics in personal combat before he began to measure any progress.
The seers of House Criamon supported him, and so did the artificers of House Verditius. Those two had some inkling of what was on the horizon, either through mystical prophecy or simply from moving in some of the same social circles as the Order of Reason. The other Houses either buried their heads in the sand, thinking that nothing could threaten the great and powerful Houses of Hermes or did nothing, paralyzed by the fear that taking any action at all might lead to a repeat of the destruction caused by the Massasa War.
Finally, the choice was taken out of their hands. A year before the second gathering at Mistridge, the Order of Reason attacked Doissetep (1448). This was the true beginning of the Ascension War. It was only later that the historians of the Traditions backdated the beginning of the conflict to two centuries before.
More than two hundred years before, in the the winter of 1210, the Craftmasons had laid siege to the Hermetic chantry of Mistridge. Located in the Languedoc region of southern France, the area was caught up in the Albigensian Crusade. At the same time, the Order of Hermes is in the middle of a bloody and violent war with the rogue House Massasa. Save for House Verditius, who draw portions of their membership from the same sources as the various European Artisan sects, the Hermetics had never heard of the Craftmasons. When Mistridge’s destruction was eventually uncovered, Hermetics assume it to be just one more casualty of the Massasa War. It wasn’t until the Order of Reason’s siege of Doissetep over two hundred years later that the Houses of Hermes finally realized they were facing a new threat. Indeed, the Hermetics might never have discovered the truth behind the fall of Mistridge at all had it not been for the Solificati. One of the founding Conventions of the Order of Reason, the breakaway alchemists’ guild shared this knowledge with the Order of Hermes at the Grand Convocation (1457).
Regardless, the Hermetics were caught off guard at Doissetep and found themselves unprepared for the mix of clockwork war machines and faith-welding knights the Order threw at them. The siege lasted for five months and only ended when the Hermetics were finally able to reactivate the wards and inscriptions they’d originally used to move the fortress from Turkey. Unfortunately, the Hermetics had added on to their little clubhouse over the centuries, and no one had bothered to rig the new buildings for transport. Almost half of the fortress was left behind when the leadership bolted. The Hermetics left nothing but servants and apprentices to defend what was left. They were quickly overrun and massacred by the Order of Reason’s soldiers.
The Craftmasons had attacked Hermetic chantries before, but always under the cover of other conflicts. Now they’d openly attacked the Hermetics’ pride and joy, their most important and most prestigious chantry. The Order of Hermes was now at war. And it was in a warlike spirit that they attended what has become known as the ‘Second Mistridge Tribunal’ the very next year.
The first Mistridge gathering (1439) had been a small affair — less than two dozen mages basically having a camp out. The second gathering (1449) had over a hundred people there, from all over Europe, Asia and Africa. There were even a few from the Americas, having returned with Nightshade.
Unfortunately, a gathering of that sized attracted the notice of the Order of Reason. They attacked the Mistridge gathering with every tool in their arsenal — hand cannons, Greek fire, clockwork tanks, armored knights and airships. The gathered mystics fought back, but they were badly outnumbered and might have been wiped out if not for one thing: The Order of Hermes had been caught flatfooted once before, and vowed to never let that happen again. Their representatives at Mistridge had come prepared for such an event and so summoned forth over a dozen dragons that the Order had made pacts with.
You’re probably too young to have ever seen a dragon, and their place in this world is long since over (in no small part due to the Order of Reason’s determination to avoid a repeat of this event). They are, as one Hermetic poet once said, “The power of the universe given form of flesh.” The Hermetics and their dragon allies tore into the Order of Reason, hurting their army badly. Before the artificers could recover, the other mystics had rallied and managed to drive the Order of Reason from the battlefield.
If you’ve ever wondered why the Order of Hermes ended up having so much influence over the formation of the Council of Nine, why they have so much say in setting Council policy, or even why the other Traditions have ever put up with such a collection of arrogant bastards, this is why. Not only did their actions save the lives of countless representatives, but also the Order of Hermes showed just how much power they could wield when fully united and roused to one terrible purpose.
After that, it was decided that the mystics needed a safer place to meet. So they built one. A realm was constructed in the spirit world, drawing power from nodes all across the world. The place was named Horizon, and it was here that the Council of Nine was created and the Nine Traditions formalized. If there were a hundred mages at Mistridge, there were five to ten times that number at the Grand Convocation (1457 – 1466). Groups were crawling out of the woodwork, including dozens that no one had ever seen before and a few, like the Mithraic Singers, that most mages believed were long dead. Groups from Polynesia and Australia showed up without even being invited; they said they’d learned of the Convocation from dreamquests or from spirit messengers.
They had to build a city to accommodate this many willworkers. And so they did. They called it Concordia. It would serve as the main city of Horizon and the headquarters of the of the Council of Nine Mystic Traditions for the next five hundred years. We thought it would last forever.
It took another nine years for the Traditions to be formalized, and very rarely did things work out smoothly. Arguments were common, as were formal duels and even fistfights. Just deciding on a number of Traditions was a problem. Some wanted every group to have an equal voice, but that got shouted down by almost all of the larger groups. Some in the Verbena and the Chorus suggested three groups, but that didn’t fly either. Thirty-three was proposed. The Akashics suggested five, then eight. Finally, everyone settled on nine — one for each of the Spheres that they’d decided upon. (The whole debate over the unified magic of Spheres was another one of those long, drawn-out fights, too.)
Then came the next big hurdle of whom those nine Traditions would be. Someone — one of the Ahl-i-Batin, I think — suggested groupings based on region. In theory, that sounded good, but no one would go for it. The Hermetics demanded their own group, and the Verbena and Chorus weren’t thrilled with the idea of merging. On top of that, the Sahajiya, having just formed, weren’t in the mood to be broken apart again. Through all of this bickering, the power players gradually emerged.
The Order of Hermes was not going to budge on keeping their own identity, and after Mistridge, no one was very willing to argue with them over it. Nightshade and Valoran provided the next two power blocks. Nightshade managed to gather folk mages from all over Europe under her banner, and started making alliances with groups from Africa and the Americas as well. Meanwhile, Valoran, after years of theological debate and discussion with Muslim and Hindu leaders, had managed to turn the Messianic Voices, Righteous Ghazi and Vishnudharadhara into something that could qualify as a confederacy. Sh’zar commanded enough respect that the others listened to him, and under his leadership, the Sahajiya continued to grow as they attracted more factions from Europe and the Americas under their umbrella. Chalech was the leader of the Chakravanti, and because of their alliance with the African Madzimbabwe and with European sects, he became the spokesman for mages across three continents. Likewise, the Ahl-i-Batin spanned most of the known world, and may very well have been the largest faction at the Convocation. After the Mongol conquest of China, the Akashic Brotherhood had managed to gain a fair amount of influence within the empire, and combined with their mystical and martial skill, they were the largest and most powerful mage sect in East Asia. It soon became clear that these groups would claim seven of the nine seats.
The eighth seat was auctioned off in a back room deal. The Solificati were a small guild of European alchemists, who’d been founding members of the Order of Reason. They left — or were kicked out, depending on whom you ask — and decided to throw in with the Council of Nine. The “Crowned Ones,” as they so humbly called themselves, used what they knew about the Craftmasons’ strengths and organization to literally buy themselves a seat on the Council. The Solificati barely outnumbered the average Hermetic House, and this left a lot of other mid-sized factions pissed off. To them, it looked like the Europeans were playing favorites with one of their own.
That left one seat. Star-of-Eagles was a powerful medicine-worker from the Powhatan nation — part of what’s called North Carolina these days. He’d been invited to the Convocation by Nightshade, and there he met Naioba, a priestess from the Yoruba of West Africa. Together, they decided to form a Tradition for followers of the spirit path: a union of shamans and medicine workers from both of their lands — the Dreamspeakers. The other Traditions agreed to this, but where Star-of-Eagles and Naioba saw a brotherhood of those who spoke with the spirits, the others saw a dumping ground for their little brown brothers, as well as any other primitive witch doctor who didn’t meet their standards of a “real magician.” Obviously, this left a lot of bitterness among the willworkers of Africa and the Americas, especially among those groups who were no more shamans than the Order of Hermes were. A lot of these groups fought to retain their cultural identity, and several of them found their way into other Traditions. A lot more of them just left in disgust.
Once the Nine Mystical Traditions were formalized, and their representatives chosen, the Council decided to create a symbol of this great unity. They called it the First Cabal, and each Tradition appointed someone they thought best represented their ideals.
The road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions and the First Cabal was the Council’s biggest success and its greatest failure. As noted before, each Tradition picked someone they felt best represented their group. Unfortunately, no one stopped to consider how these people would work as a group.
The Chorus’s choice was a sheltered nun who’d never been outside of her little corner of France, and here she was the only Christian in the group. The Euthanatoi at least had the common sense to not send someone who’d fought in the Himalayan War during a past life, but that representative and the Akashic one still went to bed every night wondering if the other was going to stick a knife in his back. The Dreamspeakers sent a Seneca warrior and Tradition historians are still surprised that he didn’t drop dead from smallpox or any of a hundred other diseases. Still, in spite of their differences, the First Cabal was able to make a name for themselves, serving the Council as ambassadors, explorers and leg breakers. Sadly, it wouldn’t be long before everything fell apart.
The leader of the First Cabal was the representative chosen by the Solificati; an up-and-coming young alchemist known as Heylel Teomim, whose true nature and origin remains an enduring mystery. As near as most can piece together, Julius de Medici, an aristocratic Italian alchemist disowned by his family, and Mia de Napoli, an impoverished Orphan who worked as a thief and a prostitute, undertook an alchemical ritual that fused them intro a single being. This was considered such an amazing feat, that some mages even accused de Medici of resorting to infernalism to achieve it. The resulting individual, simultaneously male and female, took the name Heylel Teomim, Hebrew for “twins of the morning star”. Since this sort of thing had a lot of mystical significance and symbolism among the early alchemists, the Solificati fell all over themselves lavishing praise on their young prodigy.
The fusion of two souls was not quite perfect; Teomim’s appearance was constantly in flux, and when speaking the first person, he routinely alternated between “I” and “we” even in the same sentence. Many regarded Teomim as unusually attractive and highly charismatic, but often found something slightly “off” that kept them from getting closer. Teomim himself (and his masculine side was clearly the more dominant of the pair, leaving some to darkly speculate if Mia de Napoli had been as equally willing in the fusion), for all his eloquence and brilliance, was prone to arrogance: he saw himself as a perfect being, or at least closer to perfection than anyone else, and this invariably colored his interactions with anyone who did not share the same opinion.
Teomim took part in the Grand Convocation as a representative of the Solificati, and was chosen not only to join the First Cabal but to lead it. His personal charisma helped smooth over many of the conflicts in the Cabal, at least in the beginning. Regrettably, over time he became frustrated by the inability of his colleagues, and the Traditions as a whole, to work together, especially compared to the unity of the much smaller Order of Reason.
In the summer of 1470, Teomim abandoned the Cabal and betrayed their location to the Order of Reason. He did so, according to his own account, because he had realized the Traditions could never be unified without a direct, material threat right in front of them. Teomim insisted his intentions were only that the Cabal be captured, not killed, but DuMonte, Fall Breeze, and Daud-Allah Abu Hisham ibn Muqla al-Baghdadi fought to the death rather than be captured, and Cygnus Moro was tortured to death in captivity. Teomim also claimed that he fled the battle with the intention of reporting it to the council, in order to provoke them to action, but Salonikas also escaped the scene and was the first to report that the Cabal was fallen and that Heylel had betrayed them.
Teomim was eventually captured and brought back to Concordia in Horizon to face justice. He did not deny his actions, and seemed to welcome punishment for them, although he rejected accusations that he had become a Nephandus or turned to Infernalism. He, and his supporters, dressed entirely in white during the proceedings. He was sentenced to execution by Gilgul, which was carried out in November 1470, and thereafter the title Thoabath (“Abomination”) was appended to his name in all records.
The surviving members of the First Cabal, Eloine of the Verbena, Bernadette of the Celestial Chorus, Walking Hawk of the Dreamspeakers and Akrites Salonikas of the Sahajiya each went into their own exile.
In the aftermath of the Great Betrayal, many mages lost confidence in the Council. The Solificati were torn apart by internal dissent until their leader was assassinated by one of his rivals and the entire group disintegrated, leaving the Seat of Matter empty for several centuries thereafter. Some managed to join the Hermetics as part of House Ex Miscellanea. Others showed their true colors and rejoined the Order of Reason. A few tried to go it alone and vanished into the mists of history.
The remaining Traditions descended into anarchy:
Star-of-Eagles and Naioba had married but she was murdered by one of her rivals. Star-of-Eagles sunk into a deep depression and all but abandoned his place on the Council.
Upset with his inability to foresee Heylel’s treachery, and under suspicion from the other Council members because of it, Sh’zar retreated into a drug-induced fog and eventually vanished altogether.
Shaken by Teomin’s betrayal, an ultraconservative faction tried to seize control of the Order of Hermes and withdraw the Tradition from the Council altogether. Master LaSalle defeated their entire leadership in a series of duels before dying of the wounds he received.
The Cabal of Pure Thought continued to hammer away at the Verbena, and in response a growing number of them wanted to declare all-out war on anything that smacked of Christianity. Some even advocated a purge of any Tradition mage who didn’t meet their standards of “real Paganism.” Nightshade would have none of it. She’d worked too hard for the dream she and Groth had shared, and wasn’t about to let it fall apart in a fit of fanatical orthodoxy or in some suicidal holy war.
Then real world politics stuck its nose in things. The Turks had finally managed to conquer Constantinople, bringing an end to the once great Byzantine Empire a few decades before (~1453). After that, they kept right on rolling through the Balkans until they were parked outside of Vienna (1529). The Order of Hermes, unable to grasp the idea that governments aren’t pawns that mages move around on chessboards, blamed the Batini for it and the whole episode drove a further wedge between Muslim mystics and their European counterparts.
Meanwhile, the Reformation had begun and as Catholics and Protestants across Europe started killing each other, the Celestial Chorus was tearing itself apart. Valoran exhausted himself through decades of peacekeeping and, though he was able to keep the Chorus together, the Messianic Voices fragmented into dozens of rival sects.
Outside of Europe, things were just as bad. The Akashics had gradually lost what influence they had over the Ming Dynasty. Their ancient rivals, the imperial wizards of the Wu Lung, were a lot better at the political game and ruthlessly attacked the Brotherhood wherever they could.
An ocean away, the Spanish and Portuguese had decided to divide the Americas among themselves, and Conquistadors went trampling all over the place with swords and cannons. Even worse, they brought disease with them. Smallpox, measles and worse spread across both continents like wild fire, killing millions in the ‘New World’. The Dreamspeakers were horrified. They’d never expected anything like this. Some blamed the other Traditions. Others blamed each other for not doing enough to help stop the plagues. By the 18th century, almost half of the Dreamspeakers in North America had left the Council and their Tradition out of bitterness or anger.
Slavery left an extremely brutal legacy on the Americas and its shadow continues to haunt race relations across both continents. The Spanish started buying African slaves from the Portuguese after all of their native slaves kept dying of disease, and the French and English followed their lead.
Given how close the Traditions came to total collapse back then, you’re probably wondering why the Order of Reason didn’t just wipe us all out. Well, for the simple reason that they were falling apart too.
It turns out, that much like the Messianic Voices, the Order of Reason’s Cabal of Pure Thought had also been shattered by The Reformation. As more and more Protestant faiths broke away from the Catholic Church, members of the Cabal went with them, each faction believing it followed the One True Faith. Clashes between the former comrades in arms often turned just as violent as any conflict with the Traditions. The chaos of the Thirty Years War, the English Civil War and other conflicts proved too much for the Order and by the middle of the 17th century, they’d fallen into their own civil war. After the dust settled, what was left of the Order continued with their plans for a safe and stable world, but they no longer had anything that could seriously be called a central leadership – at least until their resurgence amid the Age of Enlightenment.
When the Anglican Church broke with Rome in the 1530s, a faction within the Cabal of Pure Thought also breaks away and form the Knights of St. George, much to the fury of the Knights Templars who had remained loyal to the Cabal. The Knights of St. George would continue to clash with both the Traditions and the Cabal over much of the next century or two, although eventually they realize that remaining independent is not a viable option if they wish to survive. Grudgingly, the Knights would eventually strike a deal with the Celestial Chorus, trading their service and warriors and demon hunters in exchange for sanctuary. While this alliance does not always operate smoothly, it represents the mending of a rift that dates back to the breaking of the Palatine Knights during the 13th century. Although they didn’t know it at the time, their fate would be quite fortunate compared to those they had left behind in the Cabal.
Meanwhile, after a couple hundred years of growing frustration with theological distractions and religious fanaticism, the proto-Technocratic Union of the dawning Age of Enlightenment finally found the political strength to reorganize the Cabal into the Lightkeepers. Most Gabrielites (as the followers of the Cabal of Pure Thought were known) couldn’t correlate their belief that they were channeling the power of God with the increasing secularist attitude of the rest of the Order. However, some few members believed that reason and deduction were gifts from God, and thus they were able to coexist with the rest of the Order.
As such, the rival religious factions of the old Cabal were ordered to place their devotion to Order before their devotion to God. Although many agreed to this ultimatum for the sake of peace and prosperity, a sizable contingent of die-hard believers refused to compromise their crusade. The most famous of these were the Knights Templar.
Envoys of the Cabal of Pure Thought arrived at the Templar’s fortress headquarters of Montsalvat with dire news: the Order of Reason had decided to abandon religion altogether. The Templars were to forswear their faith and dedicate themselves to fight solely the enemies of Reason, to which they also counted overly zealous believers. Outraged, the Templars mounted their defenses, but the Order of Reason arrived earlier than estimated and their troops were a new breed of Hyper Intelligence Technologies. The Knight Templars fought valiantly, but were betrayed by sympathizers from within, who opened the new machines the way into the fortress. Numerous Templars, including its Grand Master, Roland III, died and they seemed to have been finally extinguished for the second time (the first having been at the hands of King Philip the Fair in 1314).
It is claimed that survivors of the Knights Templars went underground, where they operated in secret up until modern times. There is evidence, especially since 2000, of others claiming to be the inheritors of this Order. However, the truth or their descent remains unknown to the Traditions.
Things were falling apart for both the Order and the Council, and many of the old guard believed that the Traditions wouldn’t last another century. But thanks to a younger generation of mages, they managed to hold together.
The Traditions are always evolving and adapting to the endless stream of changes in human culture. Our biggest strengths have always been our flexibility and diversity, and most of the Traditions include cultures and influences from around the globe. When something new comes along, more than one Tradition will draw on it, adopting the culture’s practices as their own. These mutual interests helped hold the Traditions together, even while the Council was splintering. Some of those old cultural alliances which helped weather the times, like the remnants of the Web of Faith or the Asthika, were already well established. Others were brand new.
In the New World, the West African faiths of the slaves gradually started to mix with those of the remaining natives and later the Catholic or Anglican faiths of their overlords. A whole new religion sprang out of this mix. The Voudoun of French Haiti is the most famous, but there are variations all over the region, from as far south as Brazil to as far north as Missouri and the Carolinas. This eclectic mix of cultures created its own unique mystical sects as well as attracting the attention of at least half of the Traditions. Mages born into the culture became supporters of resistance movements, often taking part in slave uprisings. Others, called Maroons, escaped into the jungles or mountains, forming their own communities, usually led by priest-kings. Several of the sects — Dreamspeakers, Verbena and others — that were born in this period still exist to this day and maintain strong ties with each other.
Another boost to the Traditions came from the Romantic subculture in Europe. Romanticism was a philosophical movement from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that emphasized emotion and intuition over logic and reason. Music, literature and art were where the philosophy found its greatest outlet. Lord Byron epitomized the Romantic ideal. He lived his short life to the fullest, making a name for himself as a writer, athlete and party animal. Several Traditions had a swell in membership as magically-talented Romantics found themselves part of one faction or another. It wasn’t uncommon to find gangs of Ecstatics, Euthanatoi and Hermetics traveling Europe and getting drunk on absinthe together.
The passion of the Romantics attracted European and American Ecstatics in droves, spawning several sects within the Tradition. The Kiss of Astarte was an all-female sect that drew inspiration from the idea of the “noble savage” and blended classical Greek and Celtic rites with African and Native American rituals. Other groups, such as the Fellowship of Pan and the anarchist Dissonance Society also drew upon Romantic influences.
One sect traced its roots to England’s 18th century Hellfire Club. Meeting in the ruins of Medmenham Abbey in Buckinghamshire, Club members engaged in countless acts of debauchery, including taking part in satirical “black masses” simply for the thrill of being blasphemous. The group was censured and broken apart after only two decades, but a handful of Ecstatic members allegedly decide to keep the Club alive as the Acharne down into the modern nights.
The Romantic movement has faded into history, but its legacy continues to echo down through the ages. From Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein to Jack Kerouac and Jim Morrison, writers, artists and musicians continue to deal with themes of emotion, passion, spiritual alienation and social criticism.
I don’t know which came first, the book or one of the actual creatures, but after Mary Shelley’s story came out, it seemed like half the technomancers in Europe were trying to create their own Modern Prometheus. It’s not like creating artificial life was anything new. The legend of Pygmalion aside, the Hermetics had been creating homunculi for centuries and some Verbena were even rumored to transform plants into humanoid servants.
Suddenly, supposedly rational scientists were tripping all over themselves to develop their own version of élan vital — stitching together parts of corpses, synthesizing bodies out of chemicals or even trying to turn animals into humanoids. Some of these things were too freakish to survive, but others proved disturbingly durable. More than a few are still out there, still alive after all these years. The Sons of Ether claim that some are members of their Tradition, and a few Etherites go so far as to claim that the original creature is one of theirs. Of course, they’ve never been able to produce this mythical member.
Of course, the Promethean Plague was nothing compared to Le Terreur.
The French had grown tired of their decadent monarchy and increasingly antiquated law codes. A failed harvest led to starvation, and food riots turned into revolution. A republic was formed but the new government, finding itself at war with Austria and on the verge of a civil war, became more and more radical until the fanatical Committee of Public Safety took over. The Committee abolished the Church in France and even outlawed Christianity, replacing it with a state religion devoted to the Goddess of Reason. Death squads roamed the countryside, guillotining anyone they thought disloyal — or who just looked at them funny. The slaughter became so bad that another rebellion overthrew the Committee. Finally Napoleon managed to seize control and declare himself Emperor, dragging Europe into another fifteen years of war.
Reason raged out of control, leading to a Corsican tyrant conquering Europe and monsters born from blasphemous experiments. They claimed to bring stability and control, yet instead brought mass executions and war. In the midst of this bloody Age of Enlightenment, the once The fractured Cabal of Pure Thought (Its religious origins now seen as a hindrance, see ‘The Reformation‘ above), and they were transformed from holy crusaders into soldiers of order. The other factions also reorganized, updating and standardizing their methods until they became the predecessors of the Conventions we know and fear today.
By the middle of the 19th century, they’d gotten their act together and re-christened themselves the Technocratic Union. One world order, ruled by the technological elite. The new Technocratic Union was leaner and meaner than the older model. We were caught completely off guard as Manifest Destiny and Victorian Imperialism steamrolled their way across the globe.
Western Europe — especially Britain — and the United States became world-transforming vehicles for Union progress, and the sun never set on the mighty Anglo dominion. Filibusters traipsed all over Latin America hoping to carve out an American empire from the Great Lakes to the Amazon, while the European powers carved up Africa like a Christmas turkey. In their quest for ivory and wealth, the Belgians brutalized the Congo so badly that even the other empires considered them butchers.
The Dreamspeakers were hit the hardest. One by one, their home nations were subjugated at gunpoint, and missionaries came to help teach the poor savages how to act like civilized men. With Indian Schools and the Stolen Generation, Americans and Australians did everything possible to try and obliterate their lands’ native cultures and languages. A lot of Dreamspeakers wanted to leave the Council altogether. They weren’t alone.
After the Sepoy Rebellion (1857), half of the Euthanatoi of India and nearly a fourth of the Chorus wanted to join them in turning their back on the Traditions, whose European members seemed unable or unwilling to help them. Imperialism brought China the Opium War and the Taiping Rebellion; by the time of the Boxer Uprising, most of the Akashic Brotherhood didn’t want anything to do with the gwellio, be they Technocrat or Traditionalist. It was the Ahl-i-Batin who helped hold things together. Diplomacy was always an area they excelled at, and they pushed themselves to the limit, emphasizing the ties American, African and Indian mages had with each other and with the other cultures within their Traditions. But even their best efforts amounted to trying to hold together an airplane with bailing wire and chewing gum. Things were ready to fall apart at the drop of a hat.
European mages had a slightly easier time of it. The Supernatural was just one more thing that science hadn’t gotten around to explaining yet, and spiritualism and mystery cults like the Golden Dawn thrived. Still, the Union was perfectly willing to respond to a perceived threat with deadly force. It kind of takes the fun out of a fight when you pull a cane sword and the other guy pulls a clockwork-powered Gatling pistol.
When the Technocratic Union was born under the lights of the Crystal Palace, they had two main goals. One was to bring order and stability to Europe and America after over half a century of war and revolution. The second was to use science and technology to create a utopia for humanity: an end to war, disease, crime, fear and ignorance. The Union worked throughout the Victoria Era to spread their ideals to all all nations of the world.
When Japan reestablished full contact with the West in 1853, the country was forced to negotiate from a position of weakness. Japan’s two willworker alliances of artisan-philosophers (the Court of Chrysanthemums and the Court of Plum Blossoms) recognized the tremendous advantage of modern technology and threw their full support behind the Meiji Restoration. Allying with the Technocratic Union, Japanese philosopher-scientists join the Analytical Reckoners (Virtual Adepts), Electrodyne Engineers, Mechanicians (Iteration X), Æsculapians (Progenitors), Invisible Exchequer (Syndicate) and Lightkeepers (NWO), all while maintaining their close ties under the Courts’ overall umbrella.
Japanese Akashics and Dreamspeakers were horrified as centuries-old traditions were thrown aside in favor of western fashions and rapid industrialization. This shock left the Japanese Traditions unable to offer effective resistance and much of the nation falls into the Technocracy’s camp, where it remains even to modern nights. Even after the ruination and devastation of the the Second World War, Japan would soon re-emerge as an industrial and technological giant, wielding economic influence throughout the Pacific Rim.
Today, the struggle for the fate of reality is a global one. But the Ascension War began primarily as a conflict between Europeans. The Order of Reason and its successor, the Technocratic Union, were both founded in Europe and grew largely out of European belief systems and philosophies (with some input from Chinese Artificers and Legalists). The unique conditions — both mystical and mundane — of the Middle Kingdom (as many within Asia’s supernatural community refer to the region) deserve notice.
When Qin Shihuangdi became the first emperor of a united China, he created the Ministry of Works to regulate the activities and excesses of his nation’s willworkers. All who registered with the Ministry found their magic to be coincidental; all who refused found their work to be vulgar. The Wu Lung, ardent supporters of Qin Shihuangdi, quickly gained control over the Ministry of Works, and through it dominated China’s magical paradigm until the fall of the Ming Dynasty in the 17th century. Mystic and artisan-philosopher alike were forced to defer to the Dragon Wizards. Although numerous Chinese willworkers claimed membership in the Order of Reason (especially the Artisans), or with local counterparts such as the House of Hua T’o (healers and physicians) or the Zi Guang (agriculturalists, farmers and social scientists), they can do little to challenge the Ministry’s stranglehold on the local paradigm.
While this saved the Akashics and other mystics from much of the damage visited upon their European allies in the Ascension War’s opening volleys, it also left them unprepared for the coming of the newly reorganized Technocratic Union in the 19th century. The Wu Lung, content in their power, were unable to view anything outside of China as a serious concern. Their representatives had attended the formation of the Order of Reason and the Council of Nine, listened politely and then returned home.
When the Technocratic Union comes to China, the native willworkers — Traditionalist, philosopher-scientist or Disparate alike — lacked the strength or influence to oppose Western Imperialism at a time when the injustices and imbalances in their own society were already leading to increasingly vicious cycles of internecine conflict. The Taiping Rebellion left Chinese sects exhausted and disorganized. This was the bloodiest civil war in history, wherein Western powers found themselves aiding the Qing Dynasty in suppressing dangerous, revolutionary cults like the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, Red Turban rebels and the Black Flag Army. The most prominent example of this support was the successful campaigns of the Ever Victorious Army lead by the famous Charles Gordon. Every supernatural race or creed of the Middle Kingdom was monstrously distorted – or even destroyed and remade – by these events.
Eventually, the Akashics and the Wu Lung would throw their support behind the Righteous Fists of Harmony (called the Boxers by Westerners), but the move backfires horribly. Once the Boxer Uprising is put down by Western armies, the Qing Dynasty began an attempt to modernize China with modern schools, a modern army and the promise of a constitution, furthering the goal of Chinese and foreign Technocrats to form a Chinese Republic.
During the 1920s, China again fell into one of its warlord periods as Traditions, Wu Lung and the Union each back their own factions in the struggle for influence over the nation. Mao Zedong’s rise to power proves as destructive to China’s Awakened community as Stalin’s regime does for the Soviet Union. The Cultural Revolution plunges the country into political and economic chaos, leaving the Traditions mauled and the Conventions in disarray. As moderates come to power after Mao’s death, the Chinese Technocracy (embodied in the New World Order) would find itself firmly in charge of the most populous (and in the modern era, most comprehensively surveilled) nation on earth.
Founded during the early days of the Delhi Caliphate, the Asthika (“believers”) were an alliance of Hindu mages devoted to preserving India’s traditional culture in the wake of outside conquest. Originally created to stand against the Web of Faith (with whom the Asthika have had mostly unhappy and violent relations with ever since) the group has waged bloody battles against the Portuguese and British as well. They would eventually emerge as zealous supporters of Mahandas Ghandi’s drive for Indian self-rule in the early 20th century, adopting an extremely nationalistic ideology. Continuing conflicts with the Technocracy, the Web of Faith, British Imperialism, the prospect of nuclear war with Pakistan, lost cricket championships and an influx of foreign demon-leeches from both the West and East would only serve to continually aggravate a historically volatile landscape.
For all that, India has been and would remain a stronghold of the Traditions. A fact which doesn’t seem in any danger of changing, anytime soon. It is a sacred homeland for the Vishnudharadhara (Celestial Chorus), Sahajiya (Cult of Ecstasy) and the Chakravanti (Euthanatoi), including several Akashic and Dreamspeaker sects on the periphery. The Technocracy never enjoyed much success in achieving anything but the most superficial penetration of the sub-continent, and even into the modern nights, many of the most powerful mages remaining in a post-Reckoning world are found in India. It has more than compensated the Council of Nine for the loss of China and Japan.
Of course, not all went as the Technocratic Union would have liked it to during the 19th century. Back in Europe, the idea of social order was more important than building a perfectly just global society. For others, the utopian dream was at the heart of every thing they did. Those twin ideals of total order and progressive utopia could never quite get in synch with each other, and the two camps became rivals for control over the Union’s soul.
Near the end of the Victorian Era, the Order camp had become the dominant force in the Technocracy, and the high ideals of the Utopians were being set aside in favor of social conformity and global hegemony. The dream was souring and the Utopians became increasingly discontent. Some even wondered — quietly and in private, of course — if the Union had become a threat to their vision of a perfect world.
The Utopian ideal was strongest among a Convention — that’s the name the Union uses for its various cliques — called the Electrodyne Engineers. The Engineers started as an eclectic fraternity of natural philosophers and tinkerers known as the Voltarian Order. Inspired by Count Volta and his experiments with batteries, they focused their skills of advanced science and technomancy toward the fields of electromagnetism, conductivity and electrical power.
As the Order of Reason reorganized itself, the Voltarians became the Electrodyne Engineers and their work with electricity made them the sister Convention to the machine-oriented Mechanicians — what we know today as Iteration X and whom older mages still derisively refer to as the “Clockwork Convention.”
When the Michelson-Morley experiment in 1887 did not prove the concept of Aether among the Sleepers, factions within the Technocracy used the opportunity to remove it from reality altogether, outraging the Electrodyne Engineers. Some wag among the Union’s leadership seized on this and dubbed their humiliated colleagues the “Sons of Ether.” The tongue-in-cheek name became a symbol of rebellion against those who had hijacked their vehicle for bringing about a scientific utopia, and it stuck. It would also be the only name they took with them, when they finally defected, years later.
That’s one story, anyways. It’s also true that members of the Electrodyne Engineers had been holding academic symposiums under the auspices of the Society of Ether since the early 1800s. That’s not as amusing an anecdote, however.
Many of the Engineers were offended when the Union moved against the young and brilliant Serbian Nikola Tesla via the more predictable Thomas Edison. To the Invisible College, Tesla represented all the dangers of the scientific paradigm without proper control and procedure, while to the Electrodyne Engineers, he was a figurehead for the innovative nature of Science and an inspiration. His ruination inflamed what was already a cockpit of tension and resentment. Around the same time, Albert Einstein got around to publishing his theory of special relativity, which was the precursor of his theory of general relativity that is so famous. This theory pretty much disproved the idea of luminiferous ether once and for all — the mysterious, invisible, undetectable and immeasurable substance that filled all space and served as a medium for light waves to travel through.
It wasn’t until the higher echelons of the Technocracy finally turned against the Engineers for their attempts to advance the Time Table too quickly by moving the concept of luminiferous Ether out of the Consensus in 1904, that the Engineers could take no more. They left (or were kicked), renaming themselves Sons of Ether in order to honor the concept that was central to their doctrine. No one agrees as to who took the first step, but by the turn of the century, several leaders within the Electrodyne Engineers had already been in close contact with members of the Order of Hermes. This smoothed the way for the Etherites, along with a few Utopians from other Conventions, to quickly join the Council of Nine.
The reaction within the rest of the Traditions was mixed, to say the least. Some were as horrified to greet their new ‘allies’ as many zealous proponents of Order within the Union were as gleeful to shed their Utopian rivals. The Hermetics, obviously, were thrilled with their ‘masterful’ coup. Others on the Council saw the Etherites as little better than the enemy, or at best, further proof of European plans to dominate the Council. It was amid this backdrop of anger and distrust that the lunatic Czar Vargo did what he did.
Born Andreas Vargo in what would become the Republic of Georgia in 1870 CE, Professor Vargo became a Master of Forces and Matter, and developed the Chemical Conversion Engine by the age of 19. A staunch member of the Utopian camp, he became famous for the speech he gave at the 1900 Paris Exhibition against the development of increasingly more powerful war machines by and for Sleeper governments. He severed his ties with his fellow Etherites in 1909, disgusted by their continued research and development of military weapons.
Vargo also was a prodigy in the field of airship design, building bigger, faster and more powerful models. His biggest success though was his experimental “conversion engine” which was said to transform air into energy — what would today be called cold fusion. He had hoped that his airships might lead to an increased global inter-connectivity among peoples and cultures, such that war would become unthinkable. Instead, it wasn’t long until Europe found itself on the brink of cataclysmic conflict in 1914. Unable to stand by any longer, Vargo decided to act.
On July 14, 1914, now calling himself “Czar of Terra“, Vargo launched a fleet of airships over all of Earth’s great cities simultaneously. Huge floating leviathans — a mix of powerful armored zeppelins, flying wings and hoverships, all designed and built by Vargo and his Etherite followers over the years — appeared over the capitals of Britain, France, Germany, Russia and Austria demanding that each government disarm its military and cease all hostilities.
The New World Order and Iteration X launched an assault on him with an army of robots, but he defeated them soundly. However, when Progenitor-mutated human soldiers were deployed against him, he and his fleet retreated into the Umbra rather than cause more damage and loss of life – a tactic which itself would provoke the worst Paradox event in recorded history. Some claim that the real reason for Vargo’s retreat was his insane remorse over the death of a former mentor of his, a powerful Etherite known as Michael Faraday who had sought to defeat his old apprentice by undermining his scientific convictions, albeit at the cost of his own life.
Much of what the operatives exactly do is classified information. Tradition propaganda paints them as perpetrators of abuses against the Masses, who come and erase the minds of those who witnessed supernatural acts, leaving them as mental vegetables. Even within the Union, most are uneasy around them. The Operatives themselves do nothing to discourage such rumors.
Whatever the truth, the subsequent Paradox backlash not only wiped all memory of the event from almost all non-Awakened citizens of Earth, it destroyed Masters and Archmages alike on a scale that wouldn’t be seen again until the slaughter of the Second World War or the Reckoning near the close of the century.
There are many young mages who refuse to believe that the event ever happened or that Vargo even existed. That it might have instead been a collective hallucination – a nightmare brought on by the vast scale of unprecedented death and suffering. That it was as if Unity itself – the Universal Soul of Mankind – was at risk of coming apart as murder on an industrial scale, followed by plague and disillusionment equally threatened both the Technocracy and Traditions alike. Perhaps. The world has certainly never been the same, since.
Vargo’s attempts to stop the Great War failed and Europe turned into a slaughterhouse. An Etherite once told me that the entire system of treaties and alliances which bound Europe together were part of a carefully engineered system of Technocracy political engineering designed to bring an end to war: two huge super-armies, each acting as the other’s deterrent. If that’s true, one must suppose that the immense Paradox backlash slapped that ambitious plan down too. Or maybe it was bullocks all along.
The Four Horsemen laid siege to the world. An entire generation of young men was eaten alive by machine guns and poison gas as Europe’s monarchies lay in ruin. Russia fell into a civil war that left millions dead and starving. The Turks massacred their Armenian subjects and no one cared, setting a precedent that would come back to haunt everyone. War was followed by plague as influenza swept the globe, killing millions more. By decade’s end, people were forced to confront the horrors technology could unleash, as well as science’s limitations in the face of God and Nature. Everyone had their own way of dealing with it. Some turned to political movements like communism and fascism; others tried to lose themselves in bathtub gin and jazz music.
It was during this time that the Council of Nine suffered one of its worst blows. The British and Russians had been meddling in Persia for years, but after the Ottoman Empire finally fell apart, the British and French carved up the corpse for themselves. With the new wave of Imperialism came the Union, eager to get their hands on the recently discovered oil. For centuries, the Batini had been lucky. The Order of Reason had considered the Middle East a low priority, and the Union had never made a major effort to bring the region under its thumb, the way it had with Africa, Australia and the American West. Now they were hit with the full force of Technocratic Imperialism.
After a series of initial, unexpected setbacks, the Ahl-i-Batin urgently requested assistance from its fellow Traditions. However, they found that their European colleagues, many still reeling from Czar Vargo’s lunacy and the events of the World War I were hesitant to intervene. They feared prolonging a conflagration that might finally shatter their already fragile wounded and bruised sects. Hoping to preserve the Tradition’s unity, the Council of Nine scheduled a special session in Concordia to respectfully assess the concerns of their fellow mages.
Perhaps no single individual did more to drive the Ahl-i-Batin from the Council than the haughty Hermetic envoy, Getulio Vargas São Cristóvão bani Tytalus. After a particularly heated exchange with the senior Batini delegate, he told them “Once you had great promise, my brothers. But in an age brought about by your peoples’ own examples and arts, they themselves gather in filthy streets and stink of sheep dip and camels.” What had provoked such a response is lost to history – but nothing could have justified the consequences. The outraged Ahl-i-Batin formally withdrew from the Council of Nine that very session, and severed all ties with those mages who weren’t native to the Middle East. The Batini had always had the smallest presence in Horizon (owing to certain reasons of Islamic theology), and now even that would be no more. The Seat of Correspondence was left empty.
The Batini, who had for centuries been the Council’s strongest pillar, helping to hold the Traditions together through countless obstacles, had finally declared the undertaking a failure. At the time they left, the Second World War was looming on the horizon, and by the time that was over, the Batini had disappeared into the deserts to rebuild their Web of Faith.
The interwar years were not completely without hope, however. It is also when some of the greatest heroes of the 20th century Traditions made their mark, many of whose names ring down through history and remain familiar to young Apprentices and Initiates alike. With the end of the War to End All Wars, many saw the 1920s as a time of unbounded opportunity for anyone with the will to seize it. Mages are will incarnate, so it comes as no surprise that mystical adventurers thrive during this eerie period.
With square jaws and two-fisted derring-do (augmented by a little magic, of course), countless Cabals set out to travel the four corners of the world and battle dastardly villains, be they Technocratic or monstrous. The rise of Fascism in particular galvanized many to do whatever it took to avert the possibility of a Second World War by confronting evil without flinching. Many of these adventurers are still the stuff of legend within their respective Traditions and continue to serve as inspiration for those who wish to take a more proactive role in the struggle for humanity’s future.
The Etherite Doc Eon is only the most famous adventurer. Every Tradition can point to someone: Lady Rebecca Bolingbrook, Jaguar Queen of the Amazon (Verbena); Richard O’Dare, soldier of fortune and the luckiest man alive (Euthanatoi); Dr. Geoffrey Bleys, Investigator of the Uncanny (Order of Hermes); Black Lotus, scourge of San Francisco’s underworld (Akashic Brotherhood); The Unkillable Erica Riley, escape artist and daredevil extraordinaire (Cult of Ecstasy); Prof. John Anselm, intrepid archaeologist (Celestial Chorus); The Crimson Ghost, the African manhunter who is said to be immortal (Dreamspeakers). Even the Virtual Adepts have Jimmy Kelly, the investigative reporter and social crusader.
The Second World War is the darkest period in the Tradition’s history, bar none. There had been war and devastation before — those seem like a historic constant sometimes. Mages squabble and fight over mundane politics all the time, from the Roman Empire and the American Civil War to Vietnam and the Cold War. Neither of these things was new, but never before and never since have they happened on such a scale. The world stood at the edge of the precipice and was only a small step away from tumbling into the abyss. During the Twenties, it was like a twilight had settled across the world. Now we were in the darkest of night.
Germany was humiliated after the Great War. Adolph Hitler gladly stepped on the scene and gave the Fatherland exactly what it wanted: a scapegoat to pin all of its troubles on. Germany rearmed and, after testing their forces in the Spanish Civil War, began to swallow up more and more of Europe while the other nations stood by and did nothing out of fear of repeating the First World War. Instead, they helped bring about the Age of Blitzkrieg. Poland, France, Greece and more would fall to the Nazi’s ‘lightning warfare’, growing ever more barbarous with success. Soon, entire villages were massacred as the Nazi war machine rolled across the Soviet Union. The Nazis turned mass murder into a science, slaughtering Jews, Rroma and Russians by the millions.
The Japanese had already carved out an empire in Korea, and were keen to add most of China and the Pacific to it. Wherever they conquered, the butchered the populace with gleeful brutality. Japanese newspapers eagerly reported on contests between officers over who could behead the most peasants in the shortest time, while scientists tested their latest germ warfare experiments on human guinea pigs. They might have gotten away with it in a world distracted and horrified by German military conquest, had it not been for the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor drawing the United States into the war on the Allies’ side.
While modern mages are uncomfortable with the truth, both sides had originally large Axis supporters. Hitler’s delving into occult mysteries and the State Shinto mysticism of Japan attracted numerous Traditionalists, while the Technocrats appreciated the apparent success with which these countries had left the Great Depression and had become superpowers, hoping to use their ideals to install one world government.
Although Technocrats scoff at what they claim to be Tradition propaganda now, the truth is that amidst the hyper-inflation meltdown of the Weimar Republic, the murderous tribulation of Bolshevik-convulsed Russia, the ecological degradation of the Dust Bowl, the impotency of the League of Nations, and the apparent crippling of capitalist democracies by the Great Depression…Fascism enjoyed a brief window of intense popularity as the only political system that could ‘make the trains run on time’. It wouldn’t be until the Spanish Civil War (1936) and the ruthless bombing Guernica that many of fascism’s early supporters would be disillusioned. Indeed, it wasn’t until the Blitz and the Attack on Pearl Harbor that the Western democracies even outlawed their own Fascist parties.
In Europe, the Iron Circle of the Verbena, preserver of the secrets of the Valdaermen, inserted themselves into the occult societies of the Nazis and began a hunt against rival Awakened, even from among their allies in the Traditions. German Hermetics were part of numerous occult societies such as Thule Gesellschaft which threw their weight behind the Party. Several Etherites leant their scientific knowledge to the Nazis and used their funding for their own experiments. In Japan, the Akashics and Dreamspeakers devoted to Shintoism served the empires as spies and assassins, eliminating Chinese mages that could become a threat.
Technocrats in Germany involved themselves deeply into the studies of the Third Reich, with no Convention being exempt (although the Virtual Adepts claimed to have eradicated all of their brethren that supported the Axis before the end of the war, thanks to Alan Turing). These mages would conduct experiments that were recorded in forbidden documents like the Black Papers, including the shattering of Avatars. Their practices were strange blends of technology and mysticism, combining the worst traits of both to horrifying effects.
Resistance rose in the later years of the war, although individual mages had already fought for their homelands earlier. The Euthanatoi had uncovered evidence of the crimes committed by the Nazis from the ghosts of the dead and presented evidence before the Council of Nine. When the Council was locked in bureaucratic debate, the death-mages took matters into their own hand, delivering the Good Death to known Axis-supporting mages. On the Technocratic side, the Virtual Adepts proved invaluable in convincing the rest of the Union of the corruption of the Axis, providing information about the persecution of scientists and the dealing of Hitler’s inner circle with occult forces, even as they were vital in deciphering the Enigma Cipher.
Things went from bad to worse. The sheer level of hatred, fanaticism and murder engulfing the globe, from genocidal death camps to countless cities rendered into funeral pyres on the altar of total war attracted the Nephandi — the fallen sorcerers who seek nothing less than the annihilation of the universe. It is true that many of the German and Japanese mages were corrupted into their ranks, especially those driven by suicidal despair and desperation during the last year of the war. Yet the demonic ideology of the Nephandi worships only malevolence and destruction and is bound by no racial or national loyalty.
The Nephandic power grew even as the mundane Axis Powers reached their high watermark and were driven back. Although nothing fueled the bestial Infernalists so much as the inhumanity of Treblinka or Auschwitz, they took strength as well from the destruction of German cities and the agony of a continent writhing and convulsed by war and famine. Soon, swollen by sheer numbers, they nearly possessed the mystical power to destroy the world. It was a desperate situation, and equally desperate measures were needed. On the very cusp of an eternal midnight, The Sons of Ether engineered an alliance with the Technocratic Union, and we joined forces to wage relentless war against the Nephandic onslaught.
By 1945, the shadow war reached its climax with an event known as the Sundering of Berlin. The Nephandi archmages had gathered outside of Berlin for a ritual that would summon their dark lords and destroy the world. A huge assault force, made up of the best leaders, soldiers and martial mages the Traditions and the Technocrats could still muster, attacked the site just as the ritual began. We might have been too late, but at the last moment, the Fallen Ones’ powers failed them. Both the Void Engineers and the Hermetics try to claim credit for it. The Chorus believes it was an act of divine intervention. No one really knows how and why it happened — It just did. The strike force destroyed the Nephandi ritualists to the last man, though in doing so, suffered almost equally complete losses.
A few idealists speculate that if a few more of that joint strike force had survived, the bonds wrought from the shared struggle against an otherworldly evil might have brought a tenuous reconciliation. It was not to be. However, the Traditions and Technocracy were still able to agree on one matter: Every surviving Nephandi would be ruthlessly hunted down. At the Wewelsberg Tribunal, several mages who had collaborated with the Axis even after its Nephandic subversion became known, were sentenced to Gilgul by a shared council of the Traditions and the Technocratic Union. This is despite the fact that ample evidence attested to Nephandic infiltration on both sides of the war, their only motive being to create more death, regardless of national loyalties.
It took almost a decade before most considered themselves satisfied that the Nephandic threat had been eradicated. Despite that, it is rumored that there is still one aging Cabal dedicated to searching for those still unaccounted for, even after all these years.
After the war, the two new superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, immediately saw each other as rivals. The world was divided between their two spheres of influence and a cold war began as both sides tried to out maneuver the other. The West entered an era of paranoia where “commies” were seen hiding under every bed and “National Security” was all-important. The Technocracy shared this new paranoia, looking to make sure what had happened to them with the Axis powers never happened again. As the control-freaks went to work, the Union drifted even further and further from its Utopian ideals until finally another Convention decided to jump ship.
The Virtual Adepts trace their origins back to England at the start of the 19th century. Charles Babbage, a genius mathematician and scientist, designed and invented a mechanical calculator he called a Difference Engine. His work inspired a number of British mathematicians and artificers to form a society called the Difference Engineers. A decade later, Babbage designed an even more advanced device he called an Analytical Engine. It was the first computer. The Difference Engineers were ecstatic, and they took to the thing like ducks to water. Babbage was also big on the idea of collecting social statistics and studying them in an effort to predict changes in society. The Engineers took advantage of the analytical engine to process and analyze information, and after Morse invented the telegraph, they set up networks of machines that shared data across cities and later across continents.
When the Union officially formed, the Engineers changed their name to the Analytical Reckoners and became some of the Technocracy’s best theoretical thinkers. They latched onto every method of information collection, storage and exchange they could find: the telephone, the radio, television, the written word — some even did research into the areas of thought transference and telepathy. This interest in information meant that they gravitated to nations where they could more easily share information through open communication. That meant the lion’s share ended up in the UK and the United States.
When the Second World War broke out, the Reckoners lobbied for the Union to condemn the actions of the Axis, but too many Technocrats were enamored with the illusion of an orderly authoritarian society. A very vocal faction thought fascism was just what the Union needed and advocated it as a world government. When the Nephandic threat became clear, they helped the Sons of Ether engineer the alliance. It is unknown what course the Virtual Adepts might have taken next, if left to their own devices. They might have proven themselves a moderating influence within the Union. Instead, events would soon take the decision out of their hands.
If Babbage was one of the biggest mathematical and computer geniuses of the 19th century, Alan Turing was his 20th century counterpart. Renowned as a code breaker and cryptographer during the war, he earned his fame by cracking the Enigma Cipher that allowed D-Day to commence. Turing was also a skilled physicist and mathematician who pretty much invented modern computing. After the war, he turned his attention to quantum mechanics and wave function. To aid his work, he built a nonlinear mechanism — a computer that could think intuitively. With this computer, he tried to test the idea that the universe was formed entirely of numbers by recreating a portion of it in his computer.
Turing dreamed of a virtual reality not unlike the Consensus that could be defined by equations and ultimately used to refine reality. To achieve this feat, he eventually sought the assistance of an old contact (some say lover) of his from war – a member of the Sons of the Ether who had cooperated with during the brief détente against the Nephandi. In exchange for Adept-designed computers, the Etherites would share their own research with them, resulting in the first trinary computer. No one is quite certain why Alan Turing thought that he could get away with this. The barely civil relations of only a couple years before had already savagely deteriorated. Perhaps he hadn’t noticed. Regardless, he soon succeeded beyond his wildest expectations. Turing created a sub-dimension made entirely of information and accessible through computers
Agents within Iteration X noted that Turing became dangerously popular within his Convention and warned the rest of the Union. In 1947, the N.W.O. confronted Turing about his contact to the traitorous Etherites and his dream of virtual reality. The Virtual Adepts claim that the N.W.O. blackmailed him with knowledge of his homosexuality. When he refused to comply, they followed through on their threat, disclosing his sexual relationship with another man to the public. Turing was publicly humiliated and, in the same year, he died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound (1954).
The Traditions claim that Turing was assassinated by a N.W.O. agent while he was within the proto-Digital Web, even claiming to have proofs of Technocratic involvement. According to them, Turing had uploaded his Avatar into the Web, where it is theorized that it could have survived. Some Virtual Adepts claim to have since glimpsed a man fitting Turing’s description in the dark corners of the Digital Web, or heard his tortured screams echoing from an unidentifiable source. The Union, particularly Iteration X, claim that Turing was exposed as a homosexual by fellow Adepts jealous of his success and committed suicide by himself.
The Reckoners broke with the Union in 1956, and after five years in hiding, they formally joined the Council of Nine (1961), taking the vacant Seat of Correspondence and renaming themselves the Virtual Adepts in honor of the virtual reality Turing had discovered. Today, Turing is honored among the Adepts as their most elite martyr, with observances on both his birthday and the anniversary of his death.
Do you believe in magic? Do you believe that two men could be wounded seven times by two bullets? Do you believe that eighteen witnesses could just magically up and die over the next three years?
— Steve Darnall, UNCLE SAM
Morale hit something of a high point after the Adepts joined. The Traditions finally had nine members again, and it didn’t look like anyone was getting ready to jump ship. Unfortunately, the Technocrats were furious that yet another of their number had defected. After World War Two, the Union leadership was already pretty paranoid about how close the Nephandi had come to plunging the world into eternal darkness, not to mention how many German and Japanese agents they’d lost to the Nephandi’s ranks. When the Virtual Adepts defected (1961), it must have driven them perilously near the edge.
People have been formulating conspiracy theories about the Kennedy Assassination (1963) since before the body was even cold, so it should come as no surprise that mages have developed their own. Theories involving the mob or that ill-defined entity known as “the military-industrial complex” inevitably lead to some combination of the Syndicate, the NWO and Iteration X. Others point to the Void Engineers, claiming they turned Kennedy into a martyr to motivate NASA in their quest to put a man on the moon. Of course, not all theories involve the Technocracy. A string of (supposedly coincidental) Masonic symbolism involved in the assassination casts suspicion on the Order of Hermes. One theory claims the Euthanatoi killed Kennedy out of concern that a repeat of the Cuban Missile Crisis would result in a nuclear war. Some even believe a rogue Virtual Adept engineered the assassination as part of a highly misguided and extremely convoluted plot to either avenge Alan Turing, or else act on the mysterious, insane commands of the famous martyr’s supposed Digital Web Avatar.
Perhaps the main evidence of the Technocracy’s potential innocence is that it provoked such a genuinely furious and brutal onslaught that took several decades to play itself out. The Technocracy went into total war mode and came down on the unsuspecting post-war Trads like a ton of bricks. Not even the defection of the Etherites or the madness of Czar Vargo had provoked anything like it. What had changed? Those calling the shots had been on the frontlines of the Nephandic War in the 1940s. Perhaps these hardened veterans had learned one or two things from the ruthlessly effective Gestapo and NKVD death squads. Some idea had infected their thinking. Perhaps they simply realized that they were playing for higher stakes in a world with nuclear arsenals. We might never know.
The Technocracy called this the Pogrom. We just called it war. No skunkworks project was denied funding so long as it could lobotomize or mutilate a pointy-hatted wizard better than the last. Their sudden assault caught everyone off guard. Everywhere you turned it seemed like MiBs, cybernetic war machines (what kind of a nutjob makes a cybertooth tiger for Porthos’ sake?), a new HIT-Mark prototype or chemically augmented supersoldiers were crawling out of the woodwork. Hell, they even went at us with psychic squid. Once, you may have disagreed with or disliked the Technocrats, but as long as you didn’t do anything stupid, you didn’t have a whole lot to worry about. Now, you felt hunted. Cornered. Paranoid. After a while you just got angry.
After recovering from the initial shock, we started to react. That seems to be the defining characteristic of the Traditions, doesn’t it: The Technocrats act; we react. One very noisy faction decided to meet force with force and retaliate with everything they had. These people were veterans of Sixties’ radicalism and militant nationalism. They saw all-out armed revolution against the Technocrat Oppressors as the only way to go. A lot of ancient Archmages, still nursing their wounded pride from centuries old attacks by the Order of Reason, encouraged this view. Together they sold an entire generation on the idea of an “Ascension War.” Initiates were convinced that this was the way things had always been and the way it would always be until the Traditions triumphed and the Evil Empire of the Technocracy lay in ruins. This state of affairs would continue well into the early 1990s.
Not all was well behind the Iron Curtain either. Russia has never been described as a nice place. For centuries, the people of the Rodina (“Motherland”) have labored under the harsh rule of the Mongols, the Tzars and the Soviets. Stalin’s brutality left millions dead of war, famine and mass execution. In 1991, the Soviet Union finally collapsed, ending seventy years of Communist oppression. For Russia’s supernatural population, what arrived in the wake of Glasnost is far worse. A demonic beast claiming to be Baba Yaga, the monstrous hag of Russian folklore, awakened from her ancient slumber and began a reign of terror. The creature gathered hundreds of monsters and demons under her leadership, badly mauling the willworkers of Russia and her neighboring nations.
Among the Hag’s so-called army were a dozen mages — primarily Verbena and Chorusers — bound to her will through lies and dark sorcery. Bolstered by the creature’s infernal powers, this “army of the arcane” erected a mystical barrier that left the nations of the former Soviet Union cut off from supernaturals in the rest of the world. In the spirit world, demons and wraiths attacked and killed any who dared cross the Gauntlet, while in the material world, a string of coincidental effects prevented any supernatural creature from leaving the country. Mages, Technocrat and Tradition alike, were detained by border guards or their planes and trains suffered mechanical failures. Even communications were cut as phone lines failed and letters were lost.
Once the shock of the Hag’s assault wore off, the mages of Russia began to organize for retaliation. Calling themselves the Bogatyri (after the mystic heroes of Medieval Russian epics), the Tradition mages organized into secretive cells and waged a guerilla war against the armies of darkness. By 1999, the last of the Hag’s enslaved mages had been hunted down and killed. With that, the mystical barrier collapsed and the Hag herself destroyed (although the exact nature of her fate remains a topic of much debate among Russia’s willworkers). However, her monstrous followers still haunt the Russian nights and the war continues even decades later.
The Council of Nine Mystic Traditions was forced to confront a number of serious crises in the 1990s, including the appearance of a rune representing the mysterious Tenth Sphere in their own council chamber. The war with Baba Yaga, followed by the corruption of Voormas, and attempts by members of the Order of Hermes to cover it up, weakened the the trust of some mages in the council’s ethics. Long-term mistreatment of the Crafts, such as the Hollow Ones, reinforced the perception that the Council was out of touch, and a number of younger mages felt embittered that they were being thrown into the front lines of the Ascension War to die while masters stayed safe in their chantries and impenetrable Horizon realms.
There is little agreement as to what exactly happened next, yet most surviving Tradition mages roughly agree on the following sequence of events as either true, or what they hope to be true:
Nothing ever happens without consequences. Never forget that. Some people are really lucky and can go their whole lives without having to pay their tab. Not us. Reality sees to it that we always settle our accounts sooner or later. And the longer we wait to pay, the more interest we owe. The Archmages of Horizon used younger mages as cannon fodder until in 1999, some of them finally rebelled.
It started when a pattern clone with wildly enhanced physical abilities called the Ascension Warrior was created by the Technocracy (of course); it was intended to be an empty shell into which the mind of a great technocrat could be implanted. However, the Ascension Warrior awoke fully conscious and self-aware, and announced he was Heylel Teomim, back from the dead. He appeared before the Council of Nine in Concordia to demand leadership of the Traditions as their only hope for salvation, and when he was rudely rebuffed, he turned Hermetic representative Getulio Vargas São Cristóvão bani Tytalus into solid gold in retaliation. The remaining eight representatives of the Council of Nine were alarmed by this, yet one suspects (given Getulio’s infamously unpleasant nature and harsh tongue), not entirely inconsolable. All the same, rumors of the incident spread to Doissetep, fueled by agents of Teomin, where it caused quite the consternation.
Soon, some came to believe that São Cristóvão’s death was the result of a plot of Archmage Porthos Fitz-Empress, who allegedly had cut a deal with the Ascension Warrior to remove a long-time political rival for him (Porthos had tried to have Getulio removed from the Seat of Forces a mere two years prior). Arguments became heated, until it erupted in open dueling. So many masters of Forces in a single Realm strained it up to its limit, leading to the event known as the Conflagration.
It is impossible to learn who exactly was the first mage within the Chantry to use force against a fellow mage. The assembled Masters and Archmages attacked each other, and in doing so, destabilized the whole Horizon Realm that had contained Doissetep. Only the sacrifice of Porthos Fitz-Empress, himself an archmage of incredible power, contained the following explosion to the realm, although shockwaves erupted through every umbral portal connected to the chantry, among them Concordia. The disruptive feedback from the unleashed energy was strong enough to weaken all of their defenses.
In the end, Doissetep had disintegrated in a fiery explosion that could have easily destroyed a large part of the Umbra and the Material World, had Porthos not used his powers to contain the explosion to its realm. News of Doissetep’s destruction sparked off an unbelievably vicious struggle among its ruins, where members of every part of the Ascension War flogged to the realm to scavenge it for Wonders or similar relics that might had survived the Conflagration. This greedy struggle would only end when the Avatar Storm (see below) finally scoured the Umbra, taking most of the contenders by surprise and shredding them.
Most mages do not know what really happened at Doissetep. They suspect betrayal and Technocratic involvement. Only few of the original ruins remain, most of them having been destroyed in the conflict or worn out by the winds of the Avatar Storm.
In addition to the damage done to the Traditions as a whole, the Conflagration also affected other spiritual realms: The Digital Web crashed for several minutes, killing all users that were currently connected to it. The Virtual Adepts call this event the “Great White-Out” or “White Wednesday“. The destruction of Doissetep also saw major upheveals in the Order of Hermes, mainly in the loss of most of the powerbase of House Janissary and other Houses that had invested themselves much into Doissetep’s political intrigues.Meanwhile, the so-called Ascension Warrior hijacked telecommunication equipment to broadcast an appeal to any disaffected and frustrated young mages, inviting them to join him in overthrowing their corrupt old masters. The call was answered by many, even including a few disaffected Technocrats who slaughtered their own supervisors before flocking to the ‘reborn’ Teomim’s side. Also joining the cause was Jeremy Case, a bitter Hollow One (a group of mages who had either been orphaned or rejected by the Traditions yet were still repelled by the Technocracy) who had been campaigning (and failing) for years for the recognition of the Council. Case secretly became an ardent disciple of the impostor Heylel Teomin, and it was his Hollower cabal, already inside Concordia as a supposed emissary, that helped breach the city’s already weakened defenses, allowing Heylel’s army to rampage inside.
Although the attackers were much younger than most of the Tradition mages in residence, their sheer ferocity killed many of the leaders of the Traditions and left Concordia in ruins. Even for those who didn’t join the revolt, the Ascension Warrior’s condemnation of the corruption and venality of the Traditions triggered bitter disputes. While the false Heylel Teomim was eventually killed during the course of the invasion and his followers scattered, Horizon as a whole was permanently damaged.
In the two decades since this atrocity, the Hollow Ones have repeatedly disavowed responsibility for Jeremy Case’s part in it. However, it is only the most rare and benevolent Tradition mage who gazes upon this so-called Craft with anything but the most resentful hostility.
The destruction of Doissetep and the battle for Horizon had been devastating. Concordia was smoking, battered and broken. At least half the Council was dead, and even today, no two casualty lists are the same.
Then something even worse happened. There are some who claim it was some sort of demonic summoning, not unlike the previously foiled Nephandic Sundering of Berlin, or maybe someone just opened up the wrong Bronze Age tomb. Some people think it was an old and deeply deranged Marauder who’d managed to claw its way back through the Gauntlet from its galactic exile. A more plausible theory is that the Technocrats had set off some kind of prototype ‘spirit nuke’ to destroy Horizon once and for all. In the two decades since the event, no evidence of any kind has been found to support a grand coup or sinister conspiracy. It might be that the truth was rather more banal.
Perhaps the metaphysical shockwave of the Ascension Warrior’s death, along with so many Masters and Archmages who were killed trying to stop him, hit the universal fabric even harder than Doissetep did. This is what kicked off the Avatar Storm. Perhaps after the lunacy of Czar Vargo, the gore-drenched Second World War and then the excesses of the renewed Ascension War, the rapid-fire succession of magickal atrocities had finally proven too much. Perhaps the loss of so many formidable and powerful Archmages whose Will had shaped reality itself for centuries, if not millennia, was the final straw.
Reality had taken all of the crap from uppity mages that it was going to stand. The cosmic forces in this universe decided that they didn’t want the old Archmages having anything to do with this planet any more, and they’ve locked the old bastards out. That’s one theory, anyways – if a rather less dramatically compelling one than Technocratic nukes or Nephandic summonings.
The Horizon Realms was a term that Tradition mages used to describe a pocket universe located in a specific area of the Umbra known as the Horizon, with its capital city of Concordia located at the exact center of it. The Horizon Realms required a connection to a Node on Earth to supply them with Quintessence and sustain their existence. They also usually had one or more portals to allow easy access from Earth, although these were always heavily guarded. The Avatar Storm cut off many of the existing Horizon Realms, destroying some completely and leaving others unmoored in the Horizon. Those residents who were not killed faced disembodiment, transforming them into pure spirit. For example, Balador had been the Horizon Realm controlled by the Cult of Ecstasy, where they and honored guests could engage in variety of mind-altering pleasures. It was destroyed in the Avatar Storm, along with the surviving council representative, Marianna, the Mistress of Balador. Other realms fared similarly.
Technomancers fared little better. Victoria Station was an Etherite space station located in the Moon’s Penumbra. Originally a train station from Victorian London, it served as a forward base for many Ethernauts exploring the Deep Umbra. After the Avatar Storm, it fell into disrepair and most of its trapped inhabitants discorporated, transforming into spirits.
Essentially, the Avatar Storm was a huge influx of spirit energy which coalesced within the Gauntlet, although its effects could be seen – and sometimes felt – throughout the Umbra for many years afterwards. The Technocratic Union referred to it as the Dimensional Anomaly. It would almost be tempting to blame the old jackbooted bastards for everything, if it hadn’t devastated them as well.
At the same time, the Gauntlet thickened, apparently embedded with jagged shards of destroyed Avatars, although no one is sure if this was cause, effect, precursor or aftershock of the Avatar Storm. The Storm’s winds lingered for some years afterwards, and were especially drawn to Paradox and willworking of all natures. Initially, a mage caught undefended might have counted death a minor penalty compared to some of the effects of the Avatar Storm that have been observed. It took a decade before any mage felt entirely safe to explore the Umbra again.
All great and cataclysmic events have their conspiracy theories – and the Avatar Storm is no exception. To give just one example which enjoys the most currency among the Traditions: It is said that during World War II the Nazi aligned mages of the Thule Society experimented with a localized version of the Avatar Storm at the Dachau concentration camp. Which they referred to as the Folterbrunnen or Torture Fountain. In the wake of the Wewelsberg Tribunal the Technocracy took possession of this research. And eventually let Nazi mages like Alois Richter continue their experiments. Perhaps some measure of the same research went into whatever blasphemy the Progenitors had cooked up with the false Heylel Teomim. Almost anyone who might know the truth is dead, by now.
In the end, disillusioned and leaderless, the remnants of the Traditions declared a unilateral cease-fire and began devoting their energy to personal enlightenment (or at least survival).
The Ascension War was over.
Shortly after Horizon’s devastation the Traditions fell into disarray. With most Masters vanished or fled to seclusion, the younger mages found themselves stranded without leadership or direction. Ascension, then, seemed like a cruel joke, and the remaining Tradition mages weren’t laughing. The supposedly triumphant Technocracy was still out there of course; and in some parts of the world the Pogrom would get much worse before it got better; yet by and large, the over-extended Union soon had a raft of its own problems to deal with, exacerbated by the massive loss of personnel and resources they suffered from the Reckoning’s impact on their off-world powerbases.
Without a doubt, the Avatar Storm did more to disrupt the status quo of mage society than almost any event in history. Only the formation of the Nine Traditions itself, tying mystics of countless lands and beliefs together in a lasting alliance, could even compare. The Avatar Storm disrupted communication through the Gauntlet and made the journey to and from the Otherworld dangerous for Masters and potentially lethal for Archmages. This state of affairs had the side-effect of opening up a world of opportunity for younger mages still on Earth. This sudden freedom to seize initiate lead to both tragedy and triumph.
Once the initial shock of the Reckoning wore off, mages from around the world began work on a solution to the Avatar Storm. Gradually word of the larger and more famous undertakings spread through the grapevine, and researchers began sharing data, notes and ideas. By the beginning of the year 2001 these efforts had coalesced into Project Stormwarden. Although Stormwarden was a popular (or at least respected) undertaking among most mages, many Dreamspeakers, as well as Ecstatic, Akashic and other shamans, did not consider the Avatar Storm much of a problem. To these mages, the damage received from the Storm was simply one more sacrifice they had to make to prove their worthiness to the spirits.
It didn’t all go so well. Certain incidents of infighting, such as a vengeful sect of the Euthanatoi slaughtering the weakened remnants of the infamously Machiavellian House Janissary of the Order of Hermes over alleged conspiracy at the destruction of Doissetep and the death of Archmage Porthos Fitz-Empress was a prime example. Although grimly sanctioned by the embittered Hermetics who had often suffered from House Janissary’s intrigue… It still felt more like overdue housecleaning than true justice for Porthos to many.
House Tytalus briefly went rogue, beginning the Second Massasa War to raid the chantries of ‘undead warlocks’ for knowledge on how to combat the weakening of magick, with many seeking the answers in stolen vampiric vitae as a source of power. This war, which was considerably shorter than the first, largely ended when the Massasa struck the Tytalan’s most powerful chantry in London (already severely weakened from losing an entire cabal in the Conflagration of Doissetep), killing many. The House of Baldric LaSalle had fallen to a low state indeed, and would still be recovering even twenty years later.
And then, in late 2002, almost three years to the day since the destruction of Doissetep and Concordia, the transmissions began.
Enigma takes you where dogma cannot. We do not create the Path to Ascension; we explore it.
In a flurry of communications, that message and others started appearing, usually linked to some mysterious clues about secretive matters. Manifesting in various forms – graffiti, tape recordings, letters, emails, billboards, overheard whispers, TV commercials, newscasts, even commercials no one sees except the intended recipient. Most, if not all, of these transmissions featured the image of a sphinx: the hybrid riddle-maker of Greek mythology and Egyptian statuary. Shortly after each transmission was received, the image would disappear. As for the messages themselves, they arrived clean, untraceable by any method of technology or magick. Each transmission seemingly tailored to its original recipient, peppered with riddles, hints, and the apparently universal message about enigma, dogma, and the exploration of Ascension. Unsurprisingly, the sender of these transmissions was quickly dubbed the Sphinx.
Who is, or was, the Sphinx? Nearly two decades decade after the transmissions first appeared, no one really knows. Because those transmissions favored the Nine Traditions, most recipients assumed that the Sphinx was a Tradition Archmage, a collection of Masters, one or more Oracles, the lost (surviving) Horizon Council, or some entity sympathetic to the Traditions as a whole. Disturbingly, not all of the known recipients were Tradition mages. Certain transmissions were sent to Orphans, or Disparates, and a few even manifested to Technocrats or Sleepers. All of them contained a certain degree of helpful information, but they suggested courses of action that often seemed dangerous, radical, destructive, or even suicidal.
The faceless nature of the Sphinx and its concealed motivations, lead certain mages to distrust its influence. Other mages, cheered by its hopeful attitude, embraced the Sphinx with near-fanatical devotion. A Technocratic group called Panopticon formed in an effort to track down and stamp out the Sphinx and its newly inspired adherents. The majority of Tradition mages took a skeptically optimistic approach, following the Sphinx’s guidance but watching for traps and hidden agendas. The phrase Rogue Council started to make the rounds, possibly inspired by the idea that a cabal of the old Masters was taking charge of the Traditions again. Given the old Council’s excesses and stagnation, certain parties were less than thrilled with the idea of some shadowy council returning to the old ways. Within the Traditions, most mages eventually fell into one of the following two camps over the ten next years.
It was in response to fears of the old, stagnant ways returning, that a faction of younger mages calling themselves the Emissaries crafted a Rogue Council Manifesto that affirmed the old Council’s ideals while embracing new levels of freedom, greater diversity, a focus on Earth rather than hiding away in distant umbral lands and an acceptance of technology as a valid tool in Ascension’s quest. Refusing to fully concede the Ascension War, these Emissaries followed the Sphinx’s directions and began pushing back against Technocratic encroachment once more, undermining Nephandi schemes, and seeking to re-unite the scattered Tradition cabals under the banner of a New Horizon Council.
The Guardians remained skeptical about, or even downright hostile towards the Sphinx and its covert agenda. Protecting what little they had left and dedicated to their individual priorities, these mages took a wary view of the Emissaries and their so-called Manifesto. Some may have lost friends to the Sphinx’s machinations, whereas others simply see an ominous mystery behind the entire ruse. These willworkers refused to join the New Horizon Council, either out of loyalty to the “true Horizon Council” still lost beyond Earth somewhere or from sheer suspicion towards the Emissaries, who they considered the ‘real’ Rogue Council.
Without the grand chantries of the past, Tradition cabals had been left to their own means. Young mages were more autonomous than ever, and were increasingly at risk of coming apart, much like the Lost Traditions and Crafts in earlier centuries. The Emissaries realized that they would have to pull off something incredible – something that most of the surviving Traditions could rally around.
Relying on an ad-hoc network of Heralds, five regional Tribunals and word of mouth, the Emissaries gathered a cabal of the nine most promising Adepts and Disciples known as the Scions of the Phoenix. In 2004, the new cabal prepared for many long months in Los Angeles to trap the notorious Nephandi known as Jodi Blake. They finally managed to lure Jodi Blake to them by disseminating rumors of a Los Angeles Convocation, where the leading lights of the surviving Traditionalists would come together to debate the current political impasse.
It worked like a charm. The malevolent Arch-Nephandus couldn’t resist the opportunity for sadistic mischief on such a grand scale. She arrived in a city where the cabal had already been preparing for months with wards and triggered rotes. At first, they decimated her minions through cunning stratagems and hit and run attacks. Finally, they harried the ancient barabbi herself to the dead and abandoned Hawthorne Plaza Mall. There, at exactly 3:37 AM conducted a joint ritual that slew the ancient Infernalist in such a way as to shatter her corrupt Avatar forever and thus prevent her reincarnation. Or so they hoped.
This victory did not come without a cost: It is said that almost every member of the Scions of the Phoenix gave their life to stop Jodi Blake forever. The place where they made the circle to perform the rite has remained a icy cold, circular plane of perfectly smooth obsidian. The eerie location seems has been been thoroughly warded and avoided ever since, both by mages and Sleepers alike.
The Scions’ sacrifice galvanized a critical mass of Tradition mages to rally behind the Emissaries. Roughly a decade after the Manifesto’s publication, the New Horizon Council would be up and running, its agendas still occasionally guided by, but not dependent upon, the Sphinx and its transmissions.
For over five hundred years, Concordia – the only true mage city in existence – in Horizon stood as the political center of the Nine Traditions. But nothing lasts forever. Decades later, Horizon still lies in ruins. Its buildings shattered; its leaders lost or dead. The Horizon Realms are no longer a place of sanctuary or refuge, but of mystery and danger, explored by only the most daring Adepts and cautious expeditions. Its few surviving sane denizens are in disarray, many of whom are unfit to ever return to Earth again, and as for the rest… they had become something rather less than human.
It was finally accepted once and for all that leadership of the Traditions had fallen to the young mages of Earth. There was no longer a serious debate as to the way forward, which meant that by 2012, there were few mages who would bother identifying themselves by either the Emissary or Guardian factions, even though certain old resentments lingered.
Meanwhile, the spread of interest in technology and technomagic has made two primary differences in the lives of mages who belong to non-technomagical Traditions. On a mundane and practical level, the majority of mages now admit that the wonders of modern technology are exceptionally useful and that there is little virtue to be gained in eschewing the advantages this technology can provide. As the number of technomancers continued to grow, their influence would continue to grow as well. There is hardly a single young mage born since the late 1990s that doesn’t incorporate at least some technological tools into their magick.
As far back as ~2004, after the events of the Los Angeles Convocation, it was agreed that the Traditions should establish a secure place to meet. Although many mages thought this was a worthwhile idea in principle, hardly any could agree on where it should be. Building a new Umbral Realm was clearly no longer practical. There was however, nearly universal agreement that it shouldn’t be in Los Angeles, given the overbearing age, territoriality, eccentricity and divisiveness of its native Masters, Marjorie Prince and Harold Montague. Indeed, the Convocation nearly broke down on several occasions over the efforts of both Prince and Montague to either subvert or monopolize its agenda!
The Los Angeles Convocation ended with only three theoretical agreements: The first was that a New Horizon Council should be elected to lead them, as soon as a majority of each Tradition was brought onboard. The second was that the Council’s seat would need to be on Earth. And the third was that it shouldn’t be located in any city, or currently established territory, so as to keep it free from the more banal politics and ambitions of any local chantry that might claim it.
Numerous proposals for this new, Earth-bound “New Horizon” were put forth over the next few years — an island in the South Pacific, the Canadian Rockies, the Amazon, the Australian Outback, under the sea — yet none gained enough support. It wasn’t until five years after the Los Angeles Convocation, when the first elections were held to name the Nine Primi of the New Horizon Council (2009).
Since 2011, this New Horizon Council has been building a stronghold in the Southern Alps of New Zealand’s wilderness – close enough to civilization to be accessible to mages from around the world, yet remote enough to stay under the Technocratic radar.
Disguised as a movie studio called Colony Filmworks, this “New Horizon” is gradually being shaped from a combination of natural materials, high-tech capabilities, and Quintessence drawn from a series of natural Nodes that have remained largely untapped. Even so, the Colony (as it’s often known) is still a work in progress, its materials and support carefully filtered in so as not to catch the Technocratic gaze.
Connected to other Chantries across the world (yet specifically not to Los Angeles, owing to lingering resentments as to Marjorie Prince and Harold Montague’s mischief), the Colony has portals to several Earthly and Otherworldly locations, as well as a backdoor into the Digital Web. This effort, however, is far less grand than either old Concordia or Doissetep. The New Horizon Council has learned its lesson. If and when the Traditions regain their old power, this council intends that said power will be used more wisely than it had been before.
A controversial manifesto (some say ‘screed’) began making the rounds a few years ago among Tradition-influenced social media groups. It has even since come to the attention of Technocratic operatives, and is still occasionally shared, either seriously or ironically. It has been reproduced as faithfully as possible below:
Although the foretold Apocalypse has yet to show its face, that’s not for lack of trying on our part. The last decade or so has seen perpetual upheaval, innovation, and revolt. Surging through the second decade of this brave new millennium, we seem more poised than ever before on a precipice of our own design. Not long ago, people expected divine revelation – waking gods, rains of fire, that sort of thing. Now, though, it appears that revelation comes through the mirrors we hold up to our faces… and that reflection is both fascinating and awful beyond words.
Slapped in the face on September 11, 2001, the American giant became a Frankenstein monster. We rained Armageddon on the guilty and innocent alike. Riding high on a swell of nationalistic fear, we embraced things that should never have been allowed. Torture camps opened. Holy books were burnt. In the name of ancient scriptures, our leaders aimed the greatest military machine in history at our enemies… and then found ourselves hamstrung by our own cultural presumptions.
Promises of prosperity got torn down by the realities behind them. Roughly 15 years later, our economy staggers. A few folks eat cake while the rest of us scrabble over crumbs. Our counterpart fanatics turned industry’s toys against us, crafting a global network in which geographic boundaries disappeared. Power tools ripped skin and bone in Allah’s name, and the Internet – proud tool of Hermes unbound – became a hall of mirrors that all show a different face. Across four continents, a generation has grown up in the shadow of terror. Thanks to the tools we made to keep us safe, no one truly is.
Across the world, prosperity and poverty chase each other’s tails. Slave-children make toys for the privileged elite. Governments mortgage their own lands in order to keep their richest people fat. “Revolution” is on everybody’s lips. Streets boil with epic protests. Militarized and often corrupt police wage war in our cities. Weeping prophets foretell blood in every gutter. The so-called Holy Land burns with insane zeal – and with three religions literally hell-bent on bringing about their Apocalypse, we might still see the visions of that demented scripture played out on the global stage. May all the gods help us then… but I wouldn’t count on them for deliverance.
Over 15 years back, the Technocracy declared victory. What a joke that was! The irony is that wonderful things have happened. That Internet – a toy for the elite 25 years ago – is now an intrinsic part of the world as we know it. Devotees of the Correspondence Sphere were right: in a virtual sense, at least, you really can turn all places into one. Social media, cell phones, high-speed wireless connections, and instant videos are at the literal fingertips of people across the globe. You can watch the streets of Istanbul from a laptop in Tokyo and call a friend in Sao Paulo from the phone in your pocket on the Appalachian Trail. We can speak to one another, see one another, care about one another in ways that were impossible 20 years ago. This should be Utopia. And instead, it’s… well, not.
Who needs cannibal gods when you’ve got human beings? When scared and bored, we devour one another. Social media and a consolidated mass-media machine have turned us into a global box of angry rats, biting our neighbors over each perceived infraction. Terror’s profitable, so our media keep us terrified. Every channel, it seems, blares “SPECIAL REPORT!” and “It could happen to YOU!” in a round-the-clock orgy of orchestrated fear. We can see each abduction, every murder, the daily holocausts we inflict on one another. In our poisonous utopia, we turn miracles to miseries. Every neighbor is a monster, and we all live right next door.
Our gods must be laughing through their tears. And here’s an unpopular truth for you: we made this world. It’s the reality we’ve built – all of us. Sleepers and Awakened and the folks in between… we’re all responsible for this. Mystic mages blame the Technocracy, the Technocrats blame the mystics, and both sides of that divide are right. Folks will tell you that vampires made this world, that it’s corrupted by some cosmic Worm, fallen to demonic hands, or trembling in the shadow of God’s wrath. All those theories might be true. But the fact is, we allowed it to happen. This world is what we make of it. If it’s dark, then Darkness must appeal to us.
Thankfully, it’s not all dark.
Beyond the nightclubs where folks go to dance their fear away, outside the churches and the protest camps, you’ll find love in strange places and hope in the night. Candle-lit shops and gleaming penthouses, soup kitchens and blessed sanctuaries all draw the people who refuse to be afraid. Those social media glory holes also help find lost kids, send out cries for help, dig up the truths our leaders choose to hide, and reveal that “the other” we’ve been told to fear looks pretty much like us.
The global rise of technology has given us something else as well: the rise of extraordinary citizens whose dynamic worldviews accept broad and inclusive paradigms. The Technocracy likes to claim those people as their own, but the fact is this: people with open minds have a wider range of freedom. Sure, you might spend all day checking your Twitter account, but those tweets could have you thinking all kinds of subversive thoughts. Freedom of information undermines tyranny. The source of that information does not dictate what you do with it.
So yes, our world is scary. Yeah, things look kinda bleak. But here’s the secret for both mages and the Masses alike: hope trumps fear when you dare to make it so. The tools of the masters have given slaves a voice. Magic’s as real as the “preferred reading platform” in your hands.
Every life, human and otherwise, has the potential to tip the balance in favor of a better day. It’s up to us, then, to go nurture that potential – to strive against the weight of fear. Now more than ever, the power is ours to choose.
Use it well.