World Building (1): A Brief History of The Faith, the One True Church, and Heresy

To keep myself accountable on my novel (which I’m determined to finish this year), I thought I’d spend some time writing short pieces fleshing out the world, giving potential readers (who have the patience to stick with me), a glimmer of what kind of world my characters inhabit. For me as a reader, one of the things I always most enjoy when reading an epic fantasy are those parts that fill in the history of the secondary world. Since I’m assuming that there are others that share that pleasure, I aim to provide some of that detail, saving most of the plot details for other posts.

Around 2,000 years before the start of our story, the entire continent was under the aegis of the mighty empire of Haranshar. Since its founding back in the mists of time and myth, however, the empire had always been roughly split into three administrative districts. The core was Haran, wherein were located the capital of the empire as a whole as well as its chief religious sites. These were ruled over and administered by the magi, the priests of the Faith of the Flames. The lands of Korray, the mountainous region separating east and west, were a patchwork of constantly shifting alliances, with various heretical faces emerging at different periods. It was in the West, though, in the most nebulously-controlled territories, that politics and religion both came to take on increasingly rebellious tones.

While the Faith of the Flames had always been the predominant faith in the lands directly under the rule of the Shahs, such had not been the case with the patchwork of kingdoms known as Korray (who remained stubbornly tribal) as well as the western half of the continent. The vastly different administrations in these parts of Haranshar ensured that they had their own ways of doing things that often didn’t take the East into consideration at all.

The mystics who would later dub themselves the Prefects of the One True Church were, at first, relatively minor figures, hardly worth the attention of the provincial governors. Gradually, however, they began to increase their power, and they swayed many of the western nobles to their cause. As nobles have throughout history, these men and women saw in this nascent the opportunity to strike a blow at the overbearing administrative state that was a bane to their independence. As a result, they drew the mystics to them and, together, they began to forge a full-fledged revolution.

It was not long before the mystics renamed themselves Prefects, and the thirteen most powerful of them formed the core of the leadership of the new Church (or “the Faith,” as they termed it). Meanwhile, the nobles elected one of their own to reign as Imperator, a figure that would serve as a counterweight to the political might of the Shah and his nobles. The revolt was quickly far more successful, and the western provinces soon achieved full independence, while the lands of Korray remained as a buffer zone, independent of either the Imperium or Haranshar.

However, shortly after the self-described Faithful split away from the Haranshar and declared themselves part of the independent Imperium, the new faith was riven by a number of conflicts. As is almost always the case with new faiths that arise in times of conflict, once the initial breaking is done, it is hard to stop further schisms from occurring. Such was certainly the case with the movement that became known as the Arkadian Heresy.

The man who would become known to his acolytes as the Blessed Ascendant was, to all appearances, a rather unremarkable creature, certainly not the type that one would imagine starting a religious faith that would continue on in his name for a millennium and a half.

The Ascendant preached that the body was not to be transcended but instead embraced, that it was through the sacred nature of the corporeal form that one could actually attain union with the transcendent, spiritual Name. To those who had come to believe that all of the created world was hopelessly befouled, that the Demiurge, the demented spirit of creation was to be spurned and fought against, this was the worst sort of blasphemy. His words found a great deal of popularity with the poor and the downtrodden, who saw in his emphasis on the pleasures of the world a solace in their drudgery.

However, the majority of those who subscribed to the fledgeling Faith denounced the Ascendant and put him to death. He was flayed alive and thrown to the wild beasts, a truly gruesome and terrifying fate, suitable only for the basest of criminals. To the political and religious leaders of his time, however, this was only fitting, as he had dared to pose a challenge to everything they held dear.

Chief among his supporters was the man known as Arkadius, who continued to preach the word of his master throughout the Imperium. It was only when the first Imperator Yishadra and her consort Herklaios turned the full force of the state on the apostle that he was at last done away with, flayed as his master had been. Yet Arkadius had followers, and they managed to secret away some of his most cherished writings, those that spoke of the Blessed Ascendant, that described how his body had been saved from the ravages that had been visited on it so that he did indeed find transcendence and union with the Name.

Since that time, the Prefects of the Church and the Imperator have worked together to ensure that the heresies of the past do not reawaken and weaken the Imperium from within. While this has sometimes necessitated brutal and violent repression, they have undertaken these only with the gravest misgivings and with the full knowledge that what they do is in the service of the greater good. Anyone, no matter how high or low their estate, may be sacrificed on the altar of stability.

Unbeknownst to them, however, there are still many, both in the remaining lands belonging to Haranshar and in the Imperium, who would like nothing more than to see the Arkadian Heresy become the dominant faith, and who will do everything in their power to ensure that such a future comes to pass. For them, the stakes are high. The very world itself might be at stake, as they are all soon to discover.

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