I. Pacifist Groups
Attentive readers will note that Archon society is generally atheistic. This is a natural state for kaffir; they relate to nature closely and rarely feel a need to personify or deify anything. Proselytizing is illegal within the Archon Empire, although religion is not outlawed. Several peaceful spiritual groups exist, mostly among humans and haki. These groups are not substantially influential on any level during Sol’s time period (see section III).
The exception among the peaceful groups is the Independent State of Mantzaar on Archos. To the east of Ryzaa’s extensive wilderness lies a rugged coastal region inhabited by a mix of kaffir and haki who believe sexuality and death are sacred and joy is the primary motivation of life. They are conscientious objectors, and maintain their peace and independence (and, in fact, free existence) through trade of valuable compounds (dye pigments, spices, liquor, and most importantly, pharmaceuticals; two primary ingredients to Star Assault’s combat cocktails originate in the Mantzaar state). The head of the faith is referred to only as the Living God, and he/they reside in a temple they never leave. Members of the Harnsvaar are known to ritually visit, although it is unknown what they do inside the temple.
Mantzaari youth rarely rebel and join Archon society (and therefore, the military, abandoning their faith) and are considered a sexual delicacy by other Archons.
II. Military Societies
Training in traditional kaffir combative art forms (ma’at shi, etc) is controlled by three major groups who keep their secrets guarded but their profiles semi-conspicuous.
a. Order of Leviathan
The various ethnic groups of the North Shandrian region of Archos gave a name to the storms and geothermal forces that effected their day to day living. The arts of the Trenches were initially developed to help protect fishermen and explorers. Experimentation and eventual necessity led to outwardly hostile implementations of these same arts.
Leviathan’s primary temple sits north of the Shandrian city of Vyeshaal, built partially underwater, directly into natural stone formations. While parts of it are available for tour by regular citizens, the sacred shrine and training hall are accessible only to those with the capability to breathe underwater, swimming against strong currents. Visitors who arrive wearing clothes or masks (traditionally one carries one’s belongings in a pack and is otherwise naked from the waist up if not completely nude) are never heard from again.
The priesthood of Leviathan, planet side, has long been dominated by Clan Tauveri. The Tauveri control the production and sale of the stimulant atquel and are influential in the political spectrum. The matriarch of said family is purported not to be a current member of the priesthood, but rumors abound that she sent her youngest son for induction at 15. (We have already met him in the storyline; he is one of the Fangs!) The high priest of Leviathan is referred to as “Kia”, and is currently an ex-tanker known only as “Rzhyr”. (You’ll meet him in book two, and get to find out how Jaahyden was expelled from the order).
Off world, the Trenches are headed by war-priests called “Tetrarchs”. The Kia has little power over them while they are in space, and often has to live with their independent decisions. Fortunately for Kia Rzhyr, or maybe quite intentionally, most current Tetrarchs and their Trench guardians are impressively intelligent people who use speech economically and consider their actions wisely.
Notes of curiosity: Of the kaffir war-cults, Leviathan has the most female members. They do not engage in ritual prostitution. As one of the wealthiest and best organized groups, they sponsor a large number of martial arts tournaments and are the chief financial backers of the Harbor Festival (Shandrian winter holiday; boats and homes are decorated, gifts are exchanged; detractors of the festival refer to it as “Shandrian Pride Week”)
b. Order of the Sun
Ancient legends of the Aurian people feature an elven prince named Maalek, his brother, and the lover over whom both fought. On the surface these tales come across as hyperbolic fables with the usual messages of brotherhood, teamwork, and the power of love, but encoded within them are the secrets for using pulse to kill.
Maalek is by no coincidence what the kaffir of Archos call the star around which Archos orbits. The Order of the Sun considers Maalek the personification of nuclear energy, radiation, and pulse. The Order is split into smaller groups, all anatomically named (Hands, Hearts, Tongues) and these groups are notoriously unstable. Members of the Order are often hot-tempered and not always trustworthy (Leviathan adherents say “Never turn your back on a priest of the Sun”). The Maalek priesthood tend to live lavish and perverse lifestyles, funded by the prostitution of their monks and/or by piracy and “the spoils of war”.
Maalek’s influence can be found throughout the exo armor groups, firefighters, and of course in Star Assault. The current head of the Tongues threatened mutiny in the senate and lives in exile; the Tongues are undergoing a schism as a result. The head of the Hearts is a woman reputed to have murdered (or led to the death) several younger monks of Leviathan. The head of the Hands is a mystery even to most members of the Order.
Sun Shrines can be found throughout the coastal region and through Vasa. They are always located on difficult cliffs or pinnacles. One in particular is said to be “The Divine Center” and “The Masked One” can be found there. Members will not speak of what this means aside from that.
c. Order of Aur
The Kez Mountains separate Ryzaa from Eshandir, and for a good chunk of Archon history kept those nations safe from one another. The elves who live within these treacherous peaks are said to be the original genetic stock of Eshandir and Ryzaa and possibly of all kaffa kind. Although their lifestyles seem primitive in light of most of the Archon Empire’s technology and commotion, the nocturnal Kez-fae (Moon Folk) have complex folklore and literature and guard a subterranean library of notable importance. This library, Taun Drau* (“Rock Water”, “water” being the same character as “wisdom” in their script, and “rock” being the same character as “spirit”), is heavily secured, and requires special training as well as permits to enter. It is the only true permanent structure of the Kez-fae (they are nomadic, with groups moving between caves and small stone huts, shared and cared for by all).
Among these great literary works is the Book of Aur, which explains in romantic poetry the existence of consciousness and the importance of being merciful to conscious things. Star Assault’s unit numbers reference specific passages in this book; other units of the Archon military are numbered by a more mundane and practical system.
Members of the Aur faith are secretive, but practice in the open. Their primary temple is a sprawling complex of gardens, spas, care centers, baths, and a sexual health facility, in the hills north of Ryzaa city. The civilian face of Aur is kind, community oriented, and tranquil. They offer death options for the elderly and terminally ill as well as therapy for the injured. They do not pray in front of outsiders, only smiling as they work. Their sex working staff are usually handsome young monks skilled in one or more fine art, offering multi-level entertainment for the lonely or grieving. Temple prostitutes are not allowed to leave the grounds during their stint as such, except to join the military or to film pornography. Aur monks are not allowed to engage intimately unless paid to perform so; the only physical contact they have a modicum of freedom over is in combative sports.
The military side of Aur is darker; “showing mercy” translates to “training and being highly specialized assassins”. Even if civilians figure this out, it is never discussed in polite company. Save for necessities, Aur monks income (whether from service, sex, or prize money) all returns to the Temple of Aur. Higher level military cult members can purchase the “guaranty” of an Aur monk, freeing him from his service to the Temple. (The “guaranty” is a certificate all Archon citizens are issued at birth or when nationalized; this is held in trust by their parents or by Universal Credit until the person does their mandatory service – either community or military – and upon the completion of manserve, the guaranty is given to the citizen, making them a complete independent citizen of the empire. The guaranties of Star Assault members are held by the head of the SA Unit’s UC account *unless* that person is a member of an order, in which case the order head keeps the guaranty; as this implies, there are temple members who have never met or seen the person holding their guaranty; only the Order of Aur engages in the practice of selling their monks outright. If you pay close attention to the end of “Honor & Sacrifice”, a Tetrarch of Leviathan bought the guaranty of an Aur monk he willfully injured, and that monk is technically a free citizen staying at Colonel Kiertus’ side for reasons not yet revealed.)
The bulk of medics in Star Assault are adherents of this faith. There are adherents of Aur in nearly every imperially funded hospital. They will usually not reveal this fact unless asked (or if one has the kind of eyes that can see their ultraviolet tattoos), but they can be specially requested.
The other two major orders have a grudging respect for the Temple of Aur; Aur adherents are sometimes smug or arrogant, looking down at Leviathan a little and the Sun a lot. Still, cross training opportunities happen; respect is owed anyone who has trained with all three.
III. Historical Notes
a. The Aurmalki People
Thousands of years before the foundation of the empire, there were still pure humans on Archos. They primarily dwelt on a continent west of Eshandir. They were extremely primitive when discovered by Shandrian explorers. While the Shandrians largely considered them to be strange animals, too physically fragile and emotionally inflexible to be any fun, Ryzaans were fascinated by these short-lived creatures and took to raiding their shores for slaves and food. Some Shandrian philosophers visited and lived among them, and introduced them to kaffir folklore. This turned out a poor idea, as the humans fused the mixed ideas of Aur and Maalek into a belief system which at first was peaceful but slowly morphed into an idea that humans were the next stage of evolution, superior beings to the kaffir. Their relative isolation and paranoia ramped up over the centuries, and when they noticed a civilian space port being built on the islands between their nation and Eshandir, they refused to believe it was there with any positive intentions, and nuked the port into oblivion. Fallout from this ultimately wiped out most of the kaffir in the region of Aurius. Furious, the queen of Eshandir turned her pulse cannons on the nation, then sent her haarkijietj to clean up the rest. While her troops and finances were occupied in relief in Aurius and genocide in Aurmaalek, the Ryzaans invaded and finally conquered Eshandir, which remained occupied until the foundation of the Archon Empire.
b. The Migration
It is believed Ryzaan slaves brought by Ravasich Chemical Technology held on to one or more versions of the Aurmalki faith, which eventually transmuted into the foundation of the Kourhonoi Theocracy. They consider their belief system “the one true faith” and call it nothing else, in spite of being mocked by Archon scholars. It will become apparent in book two that there are secret enclaves of a pacifist sect within the KT who believe all conscious folk are one race, deserving of equal respect and love, and these enclaves consider themselves “Aurmalki”. They are few and far between due to obvious persecution and purges, and seem to end up in despair … or terrorist organizations.
*Draumietj is the familial name given to the guardians of the library as well as guardians of water sources.