Welcome to the tenth of November! My sanity is slowly crumbling under the pressure of NaNoWriMo–but since I tend to write best when I’m feeling my craziest, I’m sure this’ll work out just fine! Today on Loremageddon, we’re talking about–
The Cult of Ten. No other name on Canno provokes such strong feeling, or such universality of it. The Cult are unilaterally despised as a bloodthirsty band of lunatics operating under “principles” so obscure and inconsistent that they might as well be called whims. They’re constantly skirting the boundaries of Cannoan law, never quite giving authorities an excuse to hunt them down and mount their heads on stakes. No one knows precisely when the Cult started or why. A popular hypothesis in Tresamer even argues that they’re divine punishment for the sins of the stock system!
Tracing the Cult’s history makes difficult work for the most avid scholar. It often happens that anyone who might’ve known something died before they could finish pursuing their ideas–not usually through the Cult’s actions, but quite simply because the Cult of Ten never mingle with ordinary people unless there’s violence afoot. It’s rumored that the Cult have a fleet of invisible ships from the Age of Splendors which they use to to traverse Canno, that every time one dies, they are reborn as another elsewhere on Canno, that in the depths of the Cult’s armories there are eight legendary weapons from its nebulous founders…
Fighting through the thickets of hearsay and abject nonsense occupies so much time by itself that most historians quit in helpless rage without discovering a thing! Over time, however, enough threads have been collected to create a frayed outline of the Cult’s origins. They seem to have sprung up relatively early in the Loar War, and persisted throughout it–though not always as the same group of people. The phase tentatively referred to as the “True Cult” era dates through the first year of the Loar War into the end of the third, when the last of the original members fell in battle on the Ormesk Heights of Temana. Their own names have been completely lost from the records. Many accounts mention that the Cult grew around ten mythic warriors, but not a single one has been found which gives the names of these warriors. More than a few historians suspect that the Cult’s original founders have been excised from Cannoan history.
To find the culprits, most argue, you need only look to the New Cult. This mutant rebirth, like the original Cult, grew to prominence during the Loar War. This wave’s founder is remembered by history: Thomas Beckett, a survivor of the fall of Ulm. Beckett’s own writings have survived in fragmentary form, and give unsettling insight into his views about the Loar War. Beckett believed the Loar genocide was the perfect opportunity to “sort the chaff”, removing the the weaker or less desirable members of the human species. While earlier accounts about the True Cult portray them as honorable, moralistic warriors with a strict code, Beckett’s reinvention ditched these traits in favor of a pure eugenicist approach. Battle would be the ultimate smelter, removing the impurities from humanity.
For what little it’s worth, Beckett was not afraid to submit himself to his own test, and was promptly found wanting: the Loar tore him apart during the eighth year, in the waning days of the war. The damage he did to the Cult’s legacy has never been undone. While its members have shed their overtly genocidal overtones in the millennium since, it doesn’t take a genius to see the currents beneath the surface. The Cult of Ten’s members still insist that combat and bloodshed show the truest measures of a sapient being, and that no species unwilling to pit its strongest against each other will ever attain its true potential. Meanwhile, humans fight an estimated nine-tenths of all Cannoan Wars, and account for more than half of law enforcement, magic-regulators and martial artists around the world. If it’s battle that fulfills a people’s potential, then surely one people have been fulfilling their potential much better than those around them!
The contemporary Cult pop right out of any crowd courtesy of their distinctive crimson gambesons. Knee-length and thicker than normal, these garments are slowly enhanced over the course of a Cultist’s life and battles with mementos: sometimes stylized, sometimes hyperrealistic, but always depicting key moments of violence from the wearer’s personal history. The basic gambeson is given by the Cult’s craftsmen to each new recruit. The rest must be earned through slaughter. In time, most Cultists become able to afford armor, first chain, then plate. More than a few opt to armor only their limbs and occasionally heads, leaving the gambesons bare on the field of battle. It serves both as a challenge to the enemy, and a constant reminder of the Cultist’s own ability. The Cult argue that the relative lack of armor forces them to fight better, which is a surer defense than any breastplate. What use half an inch of steel when a bludgeoning strike from a quarter-staff can crush a man’s brain through his helmet anyway?
Like their garments, a Cultist’s weapons start simple and become ever more elaborate as she fights and kills. Most choose to specialize in a single melee weapon and one projectile weapon. A bow and a sword are the most popular choices, followed by a bow and a spear. The Cultists openly acknowledge that spears are the better weapons. In fact, they argue, that’s the very reason they don’t use them as often as they might! A battle should test the warrior as much as it does the weapon, and spears are so effective as to completely remove the challenge. It’s telling that regardless the vitriol they throw at the Cult otherwise, Canno’s people do nothing to dispel this notion. Their frequent impracticalities are among the few advantages they offer their enemies. Some Cultists choose to pour all their resources into a single style of fighting. Before he experienced a change of heart and left the Cult in disgust after slaughtering his own local chapter, the Sword-Adherent Tervud Jatar eschewed a bow or throwing spears in favor of focusing solely on his twin scythe-swords.
Sonderhau and Rending Reckoner have become fabled enough that they–and their bearer–will surely receive all the attention they need later. In the meantime, many Cult weapons have eventually found their way into other hands. Whatever the wider world’s opinions of the psychopaths who craft and wield them, the Cult’s arsenal is known for its exceptional quality. A few famous examples:
-The war-pick of Jayani Sinesh, a Cusuman Cultist who lived and fought from around 622 V.R. until her ultimate death in 669 V.R. at the age of 64. She was killed attempting a tactic she’d used many times before: darting into a loose point in the lance-wall of a cavalry charge and sweeping her war-pick up into the skull of either horse or rider. This time the targeted knight–a Teman named Stanislaw Priskywicz–proved faster, and speared her through the middle. He claimed the war-pick as his prize and used it for a brief period before the weapon lost its interest. Afterward, he donated it to Her Majesty’s Royal Museum of Warfare in Nimensk, where it remains on display to this day.
The war-pick, which neither Jayani nor Stanislaw ever named, is archetypal Cult work. It took the Cusuman tradition of the time, which had a particular fascination with working elements of wildlife into weapon designs, and drove it to the extreme. The war-pick’s haft is stark white-lacquered shahir wood wound with pure-iron wiring inside brass spines; the inside faces of the spines were painstakingly hand-filed to seat well against the wires, and give the pick such a sturdy haft it would likely remain a solid weapon even if the shahir wood splintered a dozen times. The same wires hold its langets in place, meaning that even a broken tang wouldn’t put the war-pick out of the fight!
Like many of the Cult’s more exotic designs, these touches are arguably too much and add weight the weapon doesn’t really need to create durability it also doesn’t really need. While not precisely common, this crops up frequently enough in Cult designs that some historians wonder whether these reinforcements were necessary at some point. Some argue that they were vital in battle against the Loar; others counter that this couldn’t possible be the case when the Loar killed so many humans in any given battle that the survivors could each scavenge for a masterwork if they truly wanted to!
The pick’s head is forged from copper-encased emerald-steel, with the copper cut and polished into segments like a beetle’s plated shell. The war-pick’s conical head has delicate engravings which suggest the shape of a prying mandible, and after forging it was etched with a specialized acid to highlight grain differences in the emerald steel as black or white whorls, while enhancing the base steel’s green tint to a proper emerald. Ample scraping and gouges running down the head from the conical point serve as a reminder that Jayani used her war-pick to kill armored targets, and quite often. The langets resemble grasping legs, the spines are shaped smooth like tossed, tilled earth. The piece is considered obsolete now that sapphire-steel grows common, but it’s still a remarkable example of weapon-smith’s craft.
-Ulma Federschau’s halberd, which the notorious Cult duelist carried until she drank herself to death in a dive-tavern outside Dreusau. She did this in 1088 V.R. at the ripe age of 96! The halberd promptly fell into the hands of a local longsword-duelist, Ilgreta von Apingen, who cut down four Cultists over the course of the next few weeks to keep ownership of the weapon. It’s since become an heirloom of the von Apingen family. The current bearer, Baron Pelli von Apingen, has recently named it at last: “The Vast-Harbor Spike.”
The Spike features a scarlet haft streaked with black and bronze. Its langets are gold-encased steel riveted by pins of salvaged spring-steel from the Age of Splendors, securing a head with an abnormally long, narrow ax-head, a similarly slender five-sided spike at the top, and a wrathful hook–all forged from glittering sapphire-steel sheathed in blackened mundane steel and enspelled for strength, hardness, and rust-immunity. While it has no aggressive enchantments, the Spike does possess a remarkably tough ward of presence, making it immune to hostile spellcraft and worth a fortune for this fact alone. The flats of its ax-head and back-hook are engraved and inlaid with silver in assymetric fluting with other, smaller sets of fluting spiralling out between their sides: a style taken from Ansethi armor-designs of the period. The titular spike, meanwhile, becomes concave after the first third.
-Omari Anante’s winged spear, both a classic specimen of Ansethi work and that of the Cult. She dubbed it Opaque Gaze, a name whose exact meaning died with her. Omari hailed from the legendary Ansethi kingdom of Atzira, and participated in the Cult’s climactic offensive against Binusi during the Siege of Tushirsi in 1291 V.R. Omari fell when she threw herself into a throng of vampires; she managed to kill several, but the others hacked her down before friendly forces could reach the Cultist–assuming any had intended to. The spear was recovered, however, and given to Harowe Wisui, a member of the Faceted Lancers who distinguished himself during the battle. He carries it to this day, now as a Captain in the Lancers.
Opaque Gaze features the asymmetrical embellishments favored in Ansethi work since the dawn of memory, with its haft engraved in maze-like patterns with little floral bursts here, a terrifying animal there. The haft’s material is a local subspecies of ripplewood known for its dark-purple hue once finished, along with a rich grain like raindrops splashing a still pond’s surface. It’s bound by rings of bronze carefully polished to level with the haft so they don’t snag against the wielder’s palms when shifting grips, each engraved with further maze-like patterns. Its spearhead, like most contemporary cult weapons, is sapphire steel. The broad steel wings beneath its spearhead, sharpened on the forward faces, are supported by jade inlays with old Ansethi poems written on each side. Each has the theme of someone ashamed by their past actions and looking for a chance to make things better. Whether Omari found her chance in the end has never been agreed on.
Despite their seeming arrogance, the Cult spend more time training in and practicing violence than any other group on Canno. Fighting alone or in small units, they make terrifying enemies: exceptionally skilled, versed in and against every known style of fighting and against mages, and suicidally fearless to the last member. They’ve produced just over a third of all the War-Adherents in Canno’s history; considering their own small size, this is a borderline miraculous achievement!
The Cult mostly function either as mercenaries or freelance killers. They operate within local law, but are always keenly aware when they arrive in a country where they can claim “self-defense” against someone nettled into charging them by repeated jeering. They happily take money when it’s offered, but they’re just as happy to keep doing what they do without it. Otherwise, their training focuses as much on psychological conditioning as on martial arts practice. In an otherwise-unheard of move, the Cult happily take peacestock members, and have only grown more eager to do so since Tervud became such an enormous success. For all their other faults, the Cult are at least consistent in their respect for strong opponents. While stage-plays and bards often try to belittle them by portraying their sudden panic at being bested, real-world Cultists are remarkably consistent in their praise for foes able to threaten them meaningfully. No Cultist is happier than on discovering that she’s pitted herself against a superior enemy and about to receive a warrior’s death!
Because of their specialized–and especially insane–nature, the Cult have relatively few members. They often attract those with nowhere left to go, or whose lives have been so bitter they wish only to die. The Cult give these cast-off souls a purpose, a way forward, and weapons to fight with. Though the Cult infights frequently by its nature, its members treat each other like family even as they prepare for duels to the death. Their celebrations after victory are long, raucous and extraordinarily messy, and there’s a peculiar form of honor in that the Cult makes no effort to stop its members leaving if they come to hate its ways. Despite his loathing for them, most chapters of the Cult revere Tervud. After all, they argue, he’s become strong enough to throw them aside–what better fulfillment of his potential? These beliefs aside, their current membership is estimated at just over twenty-thousand.
While no search for the names or nature of the True Cult’s founders has yet born fruit, a few hints have been discovered throughout scholarship on the Loar War. Many fragments from the first year of the War make reference to “the Ten” or “the Ten Slayers”, and two fragments from an expedition to Ulm in 1288 V.R. claim that one of the Ten–under the portentous title “the Charring Sunburst”–killed over fifty Loar in a single battle. The number itself has been discarded as pure fantasy, but historians do believe this figure might have been able to fight the Loar on even terms; a few other fragments imply that the Ten usually did so. If this is true, the Cult’s original purpose might have been as an elite corps to aid these semidivine warriors against the Gaunt Ones.
As more of the Cult’s history comes to light, some rifts have opened between chapters in the Black Havens and Anseth versus those in Taifen and the rest of Ceslon. Historians from the Steel End, for example, have presented the remnants of a code–almost a set of tenets–from the ancient True Cult, and argue that the modern interpretation is missing not just the moral core of the founders, but the true source of their strength. Ulberta Bascher, a scholar from Graufeld, asserts that the True Cult’s ideology wasn’t intended to be interpreted by humans without guidance from the Ten, and that trying to do so has created the nightmare now called the Cult of Ten.
The Ansethi, mostly from the Crystalline Conclave itself, take this one step further. They argue that the Cult was never supposed to outlast the Loar War, and that its survival is the single greatest perversion of its own original intent. The Cult chapters in these researchers’ homelands have slowly begun to question their identity, and some of their members have taken inspiration from Tervud: throwing aside their crimson gambesons, they’ve sworn to seek atonement for their past sins.
It’s conspicuous that in doing so, few of them mention they were part of the Cult to begin with.