Before His Radiant Highness ascended to the Throne and the Krithali Empire fell, Krollis teemed with diverse faiths. Jungle dwellers sought power from the trees and animal spirits. The hard men of Krast worshipped an Iron Lord, a man literally made of iron that feared nothing and vanquished his foes with heat and hammer. Educated Krithalis rarely worshipped and few possessed any real faith. Religion in the great cities bordered on the obsolete.
Then came Burden and its unrelenting nightmare.
The Emperor saved the world, but only after days of murderous horror that destroyed the empire and drove many to grasp for any thread of hope. It was then that the first of His Radiant Highness’ Emissaries came. They came with stories, stories of victory and divine glory. Hope bloomed in the bloody ruin of the old empire. Long live His Radiant Highness!
The desperate readily accepted this new faith, but some resisted. These faithless were the first to fall to the Radiant Lord’s power. Most fell to their knees the first time an Emissary wielded Godlight. A few fought on, but they could not resist the endless might of the Emperor’s followers controlling power beyond imagination. Cities fell, thousands died and faith blossomed.
The church quickly organized itself in a strict hierarchy with the Radiant Lord at its pinnacle. Emissaries brought His wisdom to the people, while Circles of priests tended to mundane activities based on their level. First Circle priests are emissaries, articulate speakers of the True Word and His swift sword when needed. Immensely powerful, an Emissary inspires fear and awe from all that see one. No emissary has ever failed in a mission or fallen in battle. Second Circle priests guide the faithful at the city or regional level. The Second Circle often guides the Crusade against the Black Jungle and its minions. Third Circle priests run the mundane activities of the church, proselytizing, tending to the spiritual needs of a small community exploring the world in search of heresy or any artifacts from the Old Empire that are useful. Most importantly, they oversee the many Houses of the Lifted Burden and help those passing into the afterlife. Fourth Circle priests are novices fresh from the seminary. They tend to menial tasks and often live in remote villages until they absorb enough Burden to be useful.
The Fifth Circle is technically not clergy, but laymen that have specific skills useful to the church (eg blacksmith, cooper, etc) and work for the church. A few skilled and ambitious members of the Fifth Circle leverage their political, logistical and temporal skills to rise to great heights within the church.
Within ten years of Blackfall the first reports of the Burden surfaced. At the moment of death a pale yellow glow rose from a dead man’s eyes and quickly dissipated. An announcement quickly spread first to the clergy and then the faithful that this was a physical manifestation of the Blackfall’s evil. Everyone was tainted with its dark power and only the clergy could cleanse their soul before moving on to the afterlife. Only the clergy could safely control the Godlight, for its power corrupted.
As death draws near, anyone may enter a House of the Lifted Burden and cleanse their soul. A meal, clean room for the night and wine provide a bit of final comfort. Then, in great ceremony, a painless poison sends the supplicant to the afterlife as the priest draws the Burden from their body. It is a joyous moment as it is the only time a soul is truly free of the Burden. His Radiant Highness be praised!
To die without a priest to lift the Burden is considered the most vile of sins, so most will happily accept death in the comfort of the House of Lifted Burden rather than risk their immortal soul in a remote location, far from a priest. Several of the most popular stories in the Book of Light involve priests overcoming impossible obstacles to relieve Burden from a dying supplicant.
There are those that would use the Burden for their own purposes and prevent the church from completing its holy purpose. Foul to the core, these villains are the Corrupted.
It took nearly 200 years after Darkfall for the first Corrupted to appear. Some claim it was earlier, but the first documented case of someone other than an emissary or priest claiming Burden and wielding its’ power dates from 198 AR (Age of Radiance). Werlen, a starving thief, murderer and scoundrel committed the ultimate atrocity and ambushed an elderly village priest for his food. The priest, caught unawares did not have time to use Godlight and Werlen ravaged him with a knife. As the last breath left the priest and the Burden released, Werlen gathered it into himself. No one is quite sure if it was intentional or not. Regardless, forty years of accumulated Burden flowed into Werlen’s unworthy body. Absorbing Burden is a painful experience even for the initiated and Werlen lay with the priest’s corpse for hours, insensate with shock. The village peasants found the pair, leapt to a correct conclusion and immediately sought vengeance on Werlen. Before the first knife reached his throat, Werlen awakened and instinctively used Burden. Godlight flowed from him in rivers of fiery extinction. It was a brief battle.
Werlen stood alone for hours, until the bodies stopped burning and the crows began their feast, staring at his works, marveling at the truth of the world. The Burden was nothing of the kind, it was power. Real power that required no pathetic faith or Radiant Lord to control. Any man with enough strength, enough will to take a life could know power beyond imagining.
In the 800-years since, thousands have followed Werlen on his path of power, with warlords harvesting people like cattle to remote farming villages where a single man receives all the Burdens for the community to use for the common defense. And down this path follows the Father Church in its remorseless hunt to relieve these sinners of their Burden.
More on Monday.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer