The war of religion, or 15 years war, was a civil war within the empire of man. One one side were the staunch loyalist Imperials organized under the Pontifex, and on the other were heretic traitors who renounced the imperial creed and instead worshiped the old gods. The war ended in victory by the loyalists, but it was a pyrrhic victory in the end.
From the ashes of the empire, questions rose faster than hopes. Never had the population of the empire felt such shame from defeat. Not even when the violet rage tore through old westmarch, and daemons scoured the land, did such shame and confusion plague the lands. To add insult to injury, the invading orc forces demanded the humans to pay a tribute in gold in exchange for peace. For many who saw it, it was probably the lowest point in the empire’s history, to watch the leaders of the once great land make their way through rubble and broken buildings, in order to bow and make an offering to the monsters from the east. Thankfully they kept their promise and left the humans alone, proving again the orcs were much more than feral, bloodthirsty fiends.
The weeks after they left were quiet. The pontifex ordered all citizens to rebuild their own house and aid in reconstruction of common spaces. Citizens worked in silence with small whispers of conversation between those families who were lucky enough to have stayed together and alive through the war. Soon, the rubble vanished from the streets and there began to be less and less signs of destruction and death within the cities of the empire. But it seemed their land found it easier to forget the horrors of the war than the people did. All throughout the empire, even in the overzealous north, people began looking for who to blame. Some claimed it was the pontifex’s responsibility, claiming his reckless decisions led to the demise by the orcs. Others protested and claimed heresy, blaming the more secular war leaders for their lack of faith in the emperor. Then, there were those small groups of scholars, villagers, and soldiers, who began preaching and claiming this was the emperor’s fault. That he had deceived and abandoned his people. At first, these dangerous words were whispered in taverns and behind closed doors at homes of relatives and friends. But the more people listened, the more it made sense and the more people began agreeing. Eventually, whispers became screams, private became public, and within weeks entire villages were convinced not only that the god emperor was a deceiver, but that he was not a true god emperor at all.
“Listen to reason, I beg you”. The screams of cultists preaching of this new revelation silenced all other speakers in public spaces. “ Your emperor…Our emperor, lied to us. He is not a god, he is not a savior, he is a demon. For thousands of years Westmarch existed before the great rift, and only when a tear in the sky opened and millions of unholy creatures flooded our reality, did this “emperor” appear. An Emperor who had the very same qualities as those demons he told us to view as our enemies. What other human do you know that has his abilities? What holy god would know so much of evil forces if he wasn’t one of them himself? Tell me what kind of emperor leaves his people for years and years at the helm of incompetent fools hidden away in their castles of stone and glass!”
People roared, and began spreading the word of the false emperor to all those who would listen. Eventually, a large portion of the population, mainly in the sout, began rejecting the emperor as their savior, and blaspheming the pontifex name. Their enemy had become clear. The only question was, who would be their ally? What powers would support the citizens’ unrest and need for revenge. This was the time the cult decided to strike. Hooded figures who emerged from shadows and caverns came to tell them of the forces of the old gods. Chief among them, was a scholar, who took to the podiums and spoke words that would have had him hung not six weeks ago.
Blame also traveled through the military ranks. Whispers of the kings incompetence as a military leader and inability to sway the pontifex in the matters of security began to spread within the barracks. Citizens and family members of soldiers begun to also rally against the king. The monarch fell in battle against the orcs, and when the threat dissipated, a huge power vacuum was left in his stead.
The provinces within the empire crumbled alone. Every lord, whether he belonged to a small farmland or led one of the larger provinces in the empire, attempted to seize the position of power as king of the Empire. With the North so far away and so preoccupied with the uprising heretics, the aspiring kings all began a bloody civil infight. Convincing troops wherever they could to support them, they lead small and frequent guerilla attacks against political opponents only to be caught by surprise a week later by a completely different contender. If the Orcs had almost destroyed the empire, the daily skirmishes caused by this power vacuum surely would.
After a few months of this, the smarter lords realized it was completely unsustainable to keep sacrificing troops in pointless scuffles and ambushes. Real strides needed to be made if the crown was to be secured any time soon. And so, almost all fighting ceased and was instead replaced by a war of attrition. For nights on end, battalions spent their time depriving their opponents of resources. This not only left the entire empire famished, but angry. Angry at the pontifex, at the dead king, at the greedy lords… at everyone.
Opportunistically, the heretics slithered into these shattered provinces. The dominant two sects, that of the Warrior and of the Father, began sparking conversations, seeping into the taverns and encampments of the tired troops and starved citizens. They spoke of their new empirical truth. They preached of the old gods that had been abandoned so unfairly. They swore that all this misfortune came from their own neglect. Slowly but surely, they convinced more and more people of the emperor’s sins, the golden demon who deceived all those who called him father of their kind.
The eastern regions of the empire started mobilizing first. They were the worst affected by the war of attrition, and those who had suffered most from the war with the orcs. The lords of the east brokered peace with one another, and all those who were swayed by the cult of the old gods joined together and formed a temporary alliance. The priority wasn’t the crown, it was the pontifex who was still in power. The man who was the supposed voice of a monster and a false emperor. All those who still regarded him or the emperor as holy were sentenced to die. Within only two days, all those believers in the eastern provinces were cleansed, and the North would follow suit.
The western provinces had felt less damaged and betrayed by the orc war, and there was generally less anger and spite circling around the towns. All those lords who caught word of the impending attack on the north and were still loyal to the emperor were convinced to gather men and march to defend the pontifex from these newfound heretics. This shift in belief was so radical that it fractured the empire in half, but also reunited many provinces who would alternatively be at each other’s throats.
“We march for the North”. The messenger announced to all those in the west who allied with the pontifex.
“With the guidance of our god emperor and the wisdom of the pontifex, we will destroy these heretics”.
The North was under siege by the time the loyalists arrived. The outskirts of the holy city were submerged in fire and smoke. Citizens of all the cities and villages that stood between the heretics and the pontifex felt the vengeful touch of the Father. Disease and death spread through the towns as quick as wildfire, and before long an entire half of the empire was a rotting, bubonic shadow of its former self.
“Behold the Father’s Gifts, praise him for his care”. Malevolent priests would scream. They set footholds in the initial towns, while the followers of the warrior moved on forward to the North.
A first initial conflict broke off at the gates of the holy city, where the Emperor’s chosen, the personal guard of the pontifex, fended off the heretic invaders long enough for the loyalists from the west to arrive. The heretics were caught in a pincer maneuver attack, and forced to flee and regroup in safety.
It was a small stall, but valuable nonetheless. Heroes and lords all gathered in the great palace to shout advice at the pontifex. The room was filled with ego and rivalry that put progress in the backburner of the conversation. wealth and power were used as arguments when logic wouldn’t suffice. Some of the more aggressive lords even broke out into fist fights with their fellow countrymen. There was palpable panic in the room. Scribes and advisors looked around at their supposed leaders and suffered silently while they let their hope die a slow and painful death. The noise in the room went in crescendo, as more and more disagreements sprung from small comments and rebuttals.
“SILENCE!” yelled the pontifex.
The room quieted down as everyone looked to the last true leader of the shattered empire.
“To those who say we do not have men, I hear you. To those who say we do not have the resources, or the defenses, or the knowledge on how to defeat the most cursed and mutated of these traitors. You are heard. But our god emperor did not lead us to salvage this promise land just for us to lose it to an army of cowards and traitors, no matter how large. If the Emperor wills it so, each one of your men must fight for two, our arrows will light the skies and burn a dozen enemies at once. If the Emperor is with us, we will emerge victorious.”
The crowd murmured for a few seconds, no one was brave enough to say the first word. It was clear the lords were not as convinced with the pontifex’s blind faith in the emperor. Though still loyal to him, those from the west still felt apprehension to follow him as blindly as they had before. The first to speak was a cloaked, mysterious figure who was standing to the right hand of the pontifex.
“My lord”, the man slithered, “Perhaps, consider an alliance with the beasts to the east of here. They would help fight your heretics if they can ensure the curses that rot our city won’t reach them”.
A collective gasp filled the room. It was unthinkable to anyone in that room to ever ask the orcs for aid after the humiliation they were forced to endure.
“Who is this fool?” belted a more rugged lord from the back of the room. A flurry of insults and groans supported his disapproval.
“He is my advisor, sworn to always uphold the faith and serve this empire. If he suggests something like this, It is for a reason” The pontifex spoke. “Continue, Egrimm”.
“Orcs fear chaos as we do. They are aware of its destructive power, and have always respected the emperor for keeping them at bay all those years ago. If you were to broker an agreement, you could scure long-lasting peace with the orc tribes, and eradicate the threat in one strik-”
“Preposterous! Lord Pontifex, you cannot seriously expect us to ally with those monsters? They destroyed our cities, killed our families, and humiliated us!”
“They did as we did to them, Lionas”. The pontifex spoke. He then turned to one of the messengers standing far in the corner of the crowded room. “Gather a small convoy to escort you east, and offer a treaty to the orcs. If all goes well, we may yet have hope”.
The messenger left, and again, silence took over the room. Lionas, the same lord that had spoken before, stood up. He had a look of disgust and fear on his face, and it was one very clearly shared by many in that room.
“If the Emperor was here today, he would shed a tear at the sight of what his most holy representative has become. I will not wait for these beasts to come simply to stab us in the back. My men and I march now.” He turned to the rest of the lords and heroes. “Those who wish, may follow into battle. Courage and Honor brothers. If we die, we die for the emperor, not this phantom replacement.”
To no one’s surprise, almost the entire room began to leave the chamber, leaving hollow echoes in their stead as the room began to look more and more bare. Any other time, anyone who opposed the pontifex would have been sentenced to death. Now, no member of his personal guard moved a finger as the lords slowly left the room and moved out of the city.
The war began at dawn. and in a few short hours of fighting it was already clear the loyalists were fighting on borrowed time. heretic soldiers had seemingly gone insane, carving axes and shivs out of their own bones while fighting mercilessly and without respite. Some of them had even grown stronger and taller, looking more like malformed giants than actual humans. One by one, loyalist soldiers dropped at the feet of the blood thirsty heretics, until there were only 100 left.
“Together!” Lionas screamed, as he raised his sword up high and rallied his final troops to battle. Suddenly, a horn blew, so loud it shook the trees and rumbled the ground. From the treelining behind Lionas, a green tide of orcs rampaged toward them with the look of death on their faces.
Lionas Pivoted, his sword now in defense position ready to weather the attack from both sides. “Hold…!” he screamed, as he prepared for the first strike. But it never came. The orcs moved around the remaining loyalists and charged into the heretics, pushing them back a couple hundred yards before entering a deadlock. Lionas looked in disbelief, and praised the emperor for his favor that day. Without a word, he marched toward the battle to help his unlikely allies defeat their common enemies.
From then on, the battle changed course, and the heretics were slowly purged until none were left. Summoned demons disappeared back into the nether, and the plague children of the father all returned to their normal state. It was as beautiful as it was unsettling to witness the curses all across the empire be lifted as quickly as they came. But relief was palpable among the ranks of those survivors.
“It took Dark times for the emperor’s true vision to come to light. Our home has been ravaged and torn apart by both invaders and our own kin. Chaos has walked the streets as it did in the time of the crusade, and we have lost countless brothers and sisters to the whims of fate. We have been on the brink of collapse… yet we remain. Not only do we stand victorious atop the corpses of our foes, but we stand united, a greater people than ever. Orc tribes came to our rescue when we needed it most, and for that I will grant them permanent passage and amnesty within the confines of our great empire. Let it be known that from this day onward, Orc and Man will live as equals and as friends, never to cross blades again in the field of battle. May the Emperor guide you all.”
From this day, the borders of the empire were completely open to orcs and a long-lasting peace was brokered between the two. it took time for both species to be acclimated to each other, there were still fights and disdain the first few years of this new adoption, but over time, those were overshadowed by friendships and alliances that lasted an entire age and more.
Despite their best efforts, chaos was a difficult stain to clean, and in the dark corners of ruins and catacombs, there were still a faithful few who believed the old gods were the true rulers of their realm. On quiet nights, the door to a hidden underground church would open, and all those present would kneel for the figure that walked through the doorway, cloaked in black and blue robes, murmuring enchantments unknown to most present.
“we bow to you, lord Egrimm”.