As a preface:
My idea was to create some sort of 'worst case scenario' for the west's future. With this as a base, I intended to give an Agrikan Cult of pure fighting, some kind of spiritual Agrikan Order, a plausible background for it's existence. This means effectively a complete failure of their usual creed, namely that they are the most formidable force of all that simply has to rule the world one day.
Maybe one GM or the other finds some of this brainstormed material useful. I make no referrences of timlines or dates but I imagine the events to be about five to ten years in the future from TR 720.
It's just an idea of mine. I you have questions, derision, criticism or feedback, hand it over! Anyway: enjoy your Harn!
The True Flame
The war was over. The west had bled, o so dearly bled in the skirmishes, the battles, the all too many last stands and the carnages that ensued. Some of the finest orders of warriors had gotten erased in the fights. The foundations of the kingdoms and the republic had been shaken and battered. Some said the west was done so severe a damage that it was beyond repair. No one dared to declare himself a winner. Those who had escaped with their lives considered themselves blessed by luck; and tried to survive in the chaos the west had become.
After young King Puril had fought his last stand in Caer Chaftar, supported by the forces of the golothan Morgathians, the Kingdom of Rethem had virtually ceased to exist. The forces of his rival, the King of the North, Saval Lynnaeus, which were largely comprised of kuboran warriors and what meagre worldly forces the barons of the Realm were willing to trust to the Lynnaeus were severly taxed by the storming of the city. The Kubora and what other mercenaries were in his service left after Golotha had been sacked so thoroughly they said even the rats were beginning to starve. The city was in ruins, the merchants gone, robbed or dead. The morgathian Church had practically evaporated. No one claimed to speak on her behalf anymore.
The Apalankh had long deserted Golotha and made camp at Hyen Keep where a large army of agrikan Warriors had gathered. Almost all the remaining orders had been present. What remained of the Warriors of Mameka was with the Apalankh. A token force of five knights with the usual group of retainers had been sent by the Cohorts of Gashang. Even a force of the Order of the Crimson Dancer had been present, since there was no superior autority to prevent them from returning.
The Warriors of Mameka had been driven out of Bedenes by the combined forces of Tormau and several kuboran tribes and the Red Shadows of Herpa had gotten practically hogtied between the Cohorts of Gashang, the Earl of Techen and the kuboran threat from the north. The Companions of Roving Doom had fought their last stand some years ago during the fall of Shostim when King Chafin III had been butchered by Tormaus Mercenaries. The Crimson Dancers had had more than their fair share in that carnage.
The Republic was all shambles. Kronas had been 'forced' into action by strange occurences that had brought up the senate against him. The civil war had been as bloody as could be expected, with strange alliances and a good deal of meddling by various religious factions notably the Cohorts of Gashang. When the Kandians finally had attacked, they had had an easy time at first. Eidel Province was theirs in a matter of weeks.
That was the time when the Agrikan Fighting Orders had launched their attack. Not only on Kanday by way of the forces at Hyen, but on the Gerium Province of Tharda too by the Cohorts which had gained a substantial number of followers in the Republic. More, and bloodier battles were fought. Leaders were killed with no one to replace them at hand. Armies withered down to small bands of battered veterans, little more than wandering brigands in search for food and shelter.
In the end, if it was one, three realms had fallen. No central authority had remained that was able to claim even a defeat for themselves let alone a victory.
It was during these times that the monks first appeared. From the way they moved and held themselves these men were clearly veterans of fighting. Under their cloaks of black wool they bore not only luridly colored tattoos on their bodies, many of them were also riddled by scars. Not that there were great numbers of them. All in all there were probably only a few dozen about, maybe thirty or forty men at best. Usually, they travelled alone or in pairs. Strangely, save for a hefty stick or a staff, they were unarmed.
As always, rumors began to spread. No one knew anything for sure, but everyone had an idea what they might be. To some they appeared peacful and meek, to others they were tense and watchful as if expecting desaster to strike at any moment. Yet others percieved them as eager for a fight.
To most though, it wasn't as if they were looking for a fight. Fights seemed to find them, at least in the beginning. Maybe many found their strange appearance menacing. The black cloaks, the tattoos, the scars. Some certainly got tempted by the coin in which they payed their food from the farmers. They never bargained. They payed well and willingly.
Those who had a mind to rob them of their meagre possessions (and the wealth everybody suspected them to carry) or bully them into submission just for the fun of it quickly learned that those cloaked men were well able to defend themselves. They fought better than most, certainly better than the backcountry rabble they usually had to deal with. Sometimes they took upon a mob of half-scared villagers who only tried to drive them away. People had had their fill of strangers visiting only to rob and rape, maim and kill all their kin and finally torch their homesteads. The 'black monks' as they got soon called, never even tried to evade a fight. They seemed eager for fights, yet some said they never openly provoked one.
It was their way to stay calm in the greatest turmoil, amidst the hardest press of a fight. Soon they had a reputation in all the west. Everybody had seen a black monk or at least knew someone who had. Many claimed to have fought them. Almost none claimed they had won, at least not, as long the monks were still close. Strangely, nobody knew of someone who had actually been killed by a black monk, but several people could tell vivid tales of good beatings they had recieved or witnessed and how lively colored the bruises had been afterwards.
Those who had fought in battles themselves could tell the monks were hardy veterans who must have gotten baptized by the fire of many a battle. People began to wonder what the black monks were after.
It didn't take too outstanding cognitive faculties to associate them with the Church of Agrik, albeit there were some who had the notion they might be fugitives from the Morgathian Temple in Golotha. Agrik however was prevalent among the educated guesses. The manner of speaking the monks employed, the design of their tattoos, the use of clubs even shoved the mind in that direction. On the other hand, they didn't seem too eager to take over vacant positions of power, in fact they didn't even try once, not even in a backcountry village which had lost it's lord and all it's able men. They remained oddly abstinent from power.
Some say the men in the black robes first appeared after the battle on the Lilyfield where the combined forces of the Agrikan fighting orders clashed with the Chequered shield. The Apalankh was missing since that battle. No one had seen his body so the rumor congealed he was still alive. Some made the connection and gave voice to the notion that the black monks were actually the body- or honourguard of the Apalankh who was hiding among their numbers to gain strength again and find a new powerbase.
Others told tales they had been seen frequently near the caves at Gerdel, where the rumor had it that some of the cursed Cohorts of Gashangs' warriors still held out. Although they had become quite popular in Tharda, the Cohorts had suffered badly from the fighting. Their tireless stubborn prowess hadn't served them well.
Usually the monks were uncommunicative, withdrawn. Only when they met an outstandingly gifted fighter they would begin to loosen up a little. It wouldn't happen frequently. Only five or ten credible stories are out in folklore about such a thing.
To most people it would have looked as if they were just bullying the man, but in fact they were testing him. If they had chosen their prey they would return infrequently and begin picking fights with him. They were deriding him in front of his folks until he lost temper. They were known to ambush men they were picking on. People would even get assaulted at night when they'd take a leak outside. There were tales of the monks harassing a whole village until their prey got cast out. Some men left on their own to protect their beloved. Some where reported to have been seen later wearing black robes carrying a sturdy walking stick. When approached by former acquaintances they remained curt, even unfriendly until they got left alone again.
Some lads tried to get recruited by the black monks, attracted by their attitude of superiority. None are known to have succeeded. It seems they only wanted the unwilling.
There were a few reports of a black monk challenging a laranian Warrior to a fight and winning it. There was even the strange tale that they had accepted a laranian convert among their ranks.
It was a known fact that they travelled even through Menekod which was still held by the Chequered Shield after all.
Slowly the chaos congealed around a few stable nuclei of safety and authority. The great families of the Republic had survived after all, though deprived of some of their most able leaders. Coranan, though badly affected by several skirmishes within the city walls and two brief sieges that caused a whole quarter to burn down to the foundations, still stood with walls intact. A few cohorts had managed to hold their strongpoints, their leaders now becoming minor powers that gave the land stability and predictability like a baron might.
Kronas seemend to be still alive, despite numerous reports of his demise. He was reportedly slain in a minor clash of his army with the kandian forces, but it seemed he had survived that fatal blow with a warhammer, though he would remain a cripple for the rest of his life with a crushed hip. His troops had fallen back on the area around Geshtei, Fobin and Ewen and were dug in snugly there. Though of advanced age he was still a force to be reckoned with. Rumor had it he had become an ardent follower of the Agrikan ways the Eight Demons teach.
The King in the North hadn't much of a realm to mind. His reach extended as far as Shostim and many kuboran tribes still viewed him as a useful ally, but farther south his influence was debatable at best. He maintained a small garrison in the half ruined Caer Chaftar, a duty that was viewed as a punishment by his soldiers.
His sister at least was married to one of the younger chieftains of Clan Cyeen from Orbaal, which secured him a valuable ally. The ivinian influence in Tormau was getting stronger year by year, since they did almost all the foreign trade for the region.
The Crimson Dancers had recieved Bedenes for their invaluable services during the war and had since become a source of chagrin unbound for the young king. Since they valued kuboran lives even less than the lives of their jarin subjects in Orbaal, they caused nothing but trouble for the Lynnaeus. Because of their ravings, the standing the Lynnaeus enjoyed among the Kubora was waning.
Golotha still was largely in ruins. Many folk had deserted the city. The odd morgathian lay preacherman wandered among those that were left. Apart from these people and the Garrison in Caer Chaftar there was little in the line of gouvernement or even so much as law enforcement. Trade was poor, but a recent mission from the Coranan and Telen mercantylers' guilds was trying to reopen the eastern haven. What was left of the river trade was usually managed by the port facilities of Caer Chakta and they didn't see much business nowadays. At least there was a baron in that keep that was able to ensure fair dealings and relative security.
Word had come from the south that the Lady of Paladins had disembarked a force of almost 100 knights in Aleath. The city, though untouched by the ravings of war, welcomed them warmly...
Their number slightly increasing, people start to worry what the monks are after. Very little is actually known. The following is what is commonly believed to be the creed of the black monks. It is said to have been overheard by an inkeeper somewhere near Techen, who gave a couple of these guys shelter for a night:
The Creed of the Black Monks
'We are the true flame. We are pure. Only we burn bright and erect and without sooting. We have been strained and strained again to purge out every trace of the unclean, every trace of selfishness and vanity. We are pure fighters, devoid of emotions. We live to fight, death is nothing to us anymore.'