This bit of work is different from most of the stories I’ll be producing for the No Books setting, in that it is more “world-building” than character driven. Specifically, this is an in-universe document written by James Dering, a character which will show up more frequently in No Books stories as it progresses. Specifically, he’s a retired adjunct professor at the Ys Academy in Antartica and a former student of Columbiana in the US. This is technically part 1 of a two part story, which will be followed up soon. This piece was “written in 1994” in universe and thus predates much of the current setting but does much to both provide history for the setting and (along with its follow-up) to also hint at what happened to James and the setting as a whole between then and the mid-2010s.
Note: I’m considering changing this from an essay to a symposium talk of sorts. Not sure if that’d help set up the “part 2” better… Just something I’m considering…
May 17, 1994
The Schism Wars: Its Origins and Its Implications for Today
Every Enlightened person in the world has heard of the Schism Wars, and every mage knows at least basic knowledge of what those words imply. Unfortunately, the history and how the events of this War echo into the modern word is often far beyond that “basic knowledge.” Many fail to grasp the intricacies of the War’s origins, the details of its Flashpoints, or how it continues to influence Enlightened politics and policies today. To truly understsnd the importance of the Schism Wars upon history, one must begin even earlier than its commonly accepted start date. While much of Enlightened history pre-Roman is uncertain, due largely to unreliable or conflicting accounts, the story of the Brothers and their role in the future Schism War is well known.
As most Enlightened know, stories the Brothers are equal parts legend and fact. They have been credited with many feats, both true and imagined, but the most crucial was founding the Roman Cult of Thoth in 23 BCE. The Cult, it is argued, was not truly founded in that year, but rather “refounded” from the remnants of an even older Cult of Egyptian origin. (Bani-Seshati, 423) Regardless of the previous state of the Cult, 23 BCE proved to be a pivotal year as the new Cult swiftly grew to be the first officially international organization of Enlightened Magi in history. The Brothers, Aquila and Lycurgus, lived long lives. While it is difficult to ascertain the exact points of their deaths due to later events attributed to them, the period of their demise can reliably be placed no earlier 85 CE and no later than 250 CE. (Germanicus, 132) The long lives of powerful magi and the reasonable reliability of sources seem to indicate their deaths were closer to the latter than the former. Regardless of timing, the events of their deaths are well documented.
Aquila, a great warrior and brilliant tactician was leading a force of combined Enlightened and mortal troops against invading Germanic Tribes and their own Enlightened mystics. Meanwhile, behind the Roman lines, Lycurgus was tending the wounded and returning them to combat readiness as quickly as possible. The battle seemed an easy victory for the Romans and their forces appeared unchallenged for much of the battle. The Germans had been lead into a large crevasse and Aquila was pushing the Romans ever further forward until the crumbling of stone behind them reveal the trap. Sealed by the German Enlightened, Aquila and the Romans had no escape as the mountains and trees themselves rose against the Latin invaders. They were pummeled by boulders and harried by trees, stung by swarms and mauled by beasts, even the flowers seemed eager to destroy the Romans. Over the course of a brutal hour, the Romans were exterminated. (Germanicus, 212) Legend tells that Aquila was the last to fall and killed over a dozen enemy soldiers along with countless elementals before the hero died. The Brothers bond was so great that when Aquila fell, Lycurgus followed only moments later despite being quite distant from the fighting. As the Brothers breathed their last, their sons in distant Rome fell to the ground clutching their heads. Screaming in agony and grief, they saw and heard the Brothers’ final moments and heard the words “Lead them” echo in their minds. (Germanicus, 215) Unbeknownst to ny at the time, from this final message between parent and child the seeds of the Schism were sown.
Generations passed and time moved inexorably further. Rome reached its peak before finally declining. Fortunately the Cult, now known as the High Order, had already expanded beyond that nation’s borders. Claiming members on all seven continents and boasting no less than 15 formal colleges, the Order waxed large. It was in this period of Ascendancy that the seeds planted by the Brothers would sprout. Each of the Brothers had raised their children to greatness and Enlightenment, but in method and message they differed. Aquila taught of Strength and Justice and Responsibility. Lycurgus instead taught his sons of Wisdom and Mercy and Freedom. (Mormont, 549) Though these messages were not distant or opposed, through seven generations and as much as seven centuries the lessons had grown diluted. Thus, strife between the descendents was as common as the tides. The Order was now ruled by a Council chosen by its leaders, and by tradition those leaders were a representative from each of the two families descended from the Brothers. In 948 CE, these leaders were Titus of House Aquila and Prisca of House Lycurgus and unknown to them these two would fight the first battle of the Schism.
In 858, a landmass had been re-discovered within the distant oceans between Europa and the Land of the Northern Peoples (modern day Europe and North America). Though mortal scholars would never know of its appearance, their scholars had long ago documented its last descent and its name is still remembered: Atlantis. The land was little more than a curiosity for nearly a century before the Order began discussing its potential. Titus and Prisca were of two minds bout the newly risen landmass. Titus, seeing the vast reserves of mystic power and artifacts from bygone eras thought the land ripe for conquest. Prisca, fearing both its inevitable sinking and the arrogance of claiming such a place for such selfish purposes would only result in disaster for all. (Mormont, 623) Though both sides of the debate had merit and its supporters, neither had the numbers or influence to sway the other. Thus for decades the debates raged and often came to blows between the ruling cousins or their respective factions.
Finally, in 971, Titus had reached his limit. Defying the laws and half the members of the Order, he called his supporters to him and stormed the island. In the century since its rise, settlers had found the land and meted out a decent existence. Within hours of Titus’s landing they were dead and his followers cheered their victory. Claming the ruined buildings and using their Enlightened gifts they rebuilt the vast and powerful cities for themselves. Titus and his people declared themselves a new nation, independent from the Order and its Council though still part of both. (Mormont, 748)
For a few centuries, a tense peace existed within the two factions of the Order. Those who preferred the methods of Lycurgus, primarily the tenants of Mercy and Wisdom, continued to support the High Council and sought to bolster their ranks through diplomacy and compromise with independent magi around the world. Though the Council welcomed a representative from Atlantis every few years, some matter would lead to an early departure and growing frustration with their Atlantean cousins. (Mormont, 819)
By contrast, the followers of Titus and the Aquilan doctrine of Justice and Power, flocked to Atlantis and its shining golden cities. Those who didn’t come to Atlantis of their own free will were considered lesser beings and unnecessary to the wonder of the city. The Council was seen as weak and useless, and were often insultingly referred to as “little more than upstart mortals pretending at Enlightenment.” Whispers of outright defection rose slowly, but inexorably, throughout the centuries following the Atlantean colonization. (Mormont, 1136)
To say the Black Death was unexpected would be a gross understatement. The first recorded deaths available are in 1338 near Lake Issyk Kul in central Asia. It was well known that, at the time, there was large and powerful “lost city” (a modern term commonly applied by Enlightened Historians of the Victorian period to those hidden from mortal eyes) allied with Atlantis. Whether the Enlightened of that city was responsible for the Plague which followed is largely academic, as they quickly became its first victims. (Volkov, 54) Later analysis of both survivors and victims would reveal a mystic origin. Clearly designed to encourage rapid infection, have frightening adaptability, and instictive “choice” of the faster vector (which proved to be rodent populations), and especially its remarkable resistence to even Enlightened medicine all point to a direct and malicious intent as a bio-weapon. (Smith 512) Regardless of origin, its spread had many profound effects.
First among these effects was to widen the growing divide between the Atantean Order and the High Council. The former proved themselves to be uncaring and selfish in the face of the plague, as most of its allied cities (“lost” or not) shut their gates against the infected in hopes of preventing its spread to their cities. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it did not. In contrast, the High Council and its allies did all they could to provide succor to the infected, opening its doors to Enlightened and mortal alike. First among these was the fabled Shangri-La, rarely heard from even by its allies, it actively sought to aid the afflicted and even tried to save the few survivors of nearby Issyk Kul despite their political differences. (Volkov, 73)
Second was the closing of Atlantis. While politics had long divided the Order, the borders of Atlantis had always been open to those Enlightened who wished to visit. With the rapid global spread of the plague, this border was closed to all who were “unaffiliated with the Free State of Atlantis.” This included all independent magi and the vast majority of those within the Order not already upon the Atlantean mainland. This widened the divide between the two factions to their utter limits, especially as the body counts continued to rise among mortals and Enlightened alike.
Finally, as the plague reached its end in 1354, the High Council did what none would have ever expected: They declared Atlantis as “anathema,” or accursed. The reasons for this were myriad. Panicked populations around the world proved to be tinderboxes of political turmoil and may skirmishes between “Atlantean sympathizers” and Council allies broke out. Additionally, there was tremendous resentment of Atlantis by the rest of the Order as more and more of their own died from the Black Death while Atlantis continued to thrive. Finally, and likely most damning, was Titus himself. Still surviving through powerful spells charged with the powerful Aetheric energies of Atlantis, Titus had declared the “diluted blood” of Prisca’s descendents was too weak to continue rulership and only he was fit to lead the Order. He declared the High Council to be “a collection of fools and nearly-mortals” and thus no longer worthy of their title. Instead, he declared himself “Exalted King of Atlantis and Lord of the Enlightened” and appointed his own “Royal Council” loyal only to him. (Smith, 650-802)
While none of this alone was enough to cause the Schism, together they proved sparks atop a mountain of kindling. Within days of the High Council’s counter claim against the “Exalted King and his Order,” the newly appointed monarch of Atlantis declared war on the “Rebel Council.” Their numbers still decimated by the plague, the High Council lost ground quickly. Driven from Europe and Asia, where the plague’s loss of life, the Council retreated before the shocking power of the Atlanteans. Later Historians would question why the Atlanteans, even as they entered cities where the Plague had only been absent for days, never seemed to grow ill. Whether this is a sign of foul play by the Exalted Order or simple luck is a matter of intense debate, regardless they proved the quick victors. Nearly half a dozen schools and twice that many communities affiliated with the High Council were burned across Eurasia in the following years. Indeed, in Europe only Avalon and Olympus held out against the tide, though it would be centuries before these isolated loyalists could rejoin their allies. The survivors within the Council itself, including Prisca’s descendent and current Scion Lycurgus, retreated to first Africa and later to the “Land of the Southern Peoples” (i.e. South America) where they would lead their allies as “Council-in-Exile” for the next century. The First Schism War ended in the High Council’s defeat. (Smith, 880-950)
The one hundred fifty years would set the tone for the rest of the Schism Wars, a number of small skirmishes followed by minor retaliations which lead to more skirmishes. No major battles were fought, and if one brought more power to bear the other would back off to minimize losses. All the while, recruitment efforts for both sides escalated in their respective territories. Thus the Second Schism War officially began until 1532.
The early fifteenth century was a time of great change for all of humanity. The Renaissance and Reformation rose throughout Europe, the Ottomans were expanding their empire across the Middle East, the Mughals were spreading across Asia, and the colonialism was reaching out to every corner of the globe. The “New World” in particular was experiencing a great shift. The people of the Northern and Southern Lands had long warred with each other, as is the tendency of people the world over, but after Columbus “discovered” these continents there were new foes in the fray. Some claim the Exalted Order used the Spanish as pawns to seek out and destroy the nascent High Council, others claim the Spanish were pawns but only in the sense their leaders were broadly under Exalted influence, still others it was a matter of simple human greed. It may never be clear what exactly led to the conquistadors sweeping into the newly christened “Americas,” but its effects are clear enough to see. As the Spanish and other Europeans swept through the Peoples’ lands, the High Council and its allies saw increasing presence of Exalted magi among them. Their safe harbor had been found and the enemies were at the gate, there was no other choice but to defend themselves. (Highmountian, 103)
Calling up their allies, both among the People and from those still scattered across Africa and Oceania, the Council prepared for war. For the first time, the Council’s Academies focused on martial techniques above all others. Bands of soldiers and War parties mobilized across the globe and bolstered their defenses. The Council knew that another loss as devastating as the Black Death and the First Schism War (then simply “the Schism”) would effectively eradicate them and leave the Exalted Order and their “King” as the sole power in the Enlightened world. They would not let that happen. When the conquistadors and their Exalted allies marched on the Incas, the Council struck first. (Cortez, 223-230) Legendry states that an Eagle and a Wolf fought in the thundering clouds over the first battle. While this is difficut to confirm, it is quite possible with the powers brought to bear early on. The first battle ended with a mortal defeat, but a victory for the Council. Indeed, much of the first stage of the war would follow a similar trend. The mortal nations the Council’s allies called home would consistently lose ground for centuries to come, but the power and influence the Exalted held over their pawns would loosen while gaining no ground into the sacred and “lost” spaces which were the Council’s strongholds. (Highmountain 157-178)
Meanwhile, a different sort of battle was going on back in Europe. While Avalon and Olympus had remained steadfast against the Exalted, it was clear to all that their enemies were the unquestioned masters of Europe as they exploited Feualism and Christianity to their fullest extent. The Xiaolin and Chanopasak also remained steadfast, but could gain no ground against the Exalted manipulated Ming Dynasty and Mughal Empires. However, these bastions of Council loyalists found a new method of striking back: reform. While the political efforts of the Reformationists and other reform movements across Eurasia were of often dubious success, their efforts weakened the hold of the Exalted on their mortal pawns and allowed the Council to work their way into positions of influence. (ibn-Akbar, 893-712) Slowly, the Council reclaimed its strongholds in Europe and its influence rose to nearly its relative strength from before the Black Death. Though the Second Schism war officially ends in 1565 with the Jerusalem Accord, realistically the war ends much earlier with the Battle of the Sao Paolo in 1554. The intervening decade was one of posturing and preparing for continued Enlightened conflict, but the rising mortal conflicts and unrest drew sufficient attention away from Enlightened issues that the war simply petered out over time. (Rogers, 212) Thus, the Second Schism War closed in an effective stalemate and no clear winner, and though the Council regained much ground they would not hold the upper hand either.
An uneasy peace reigned for seventy-five years, with no significant skirmishes and only minor diplomatic conflicts between the Order and the Council. Instead of conflict between the two factions, the focus of many historians examining the 17th century focus on the mortal world’s General Crisis. A century of mortal unrest did raise tensions among the Enightened and the Third Schism War only added to the global conflicts.
The most generous scholars declare the Third Schism war to encompass nearly the entire century, specifically from the 1618 through the Treaty of Urrasan in 1674. (Park, 23) While this interpretation is not necessarily inaccurate, it lacks precision. Though many Enlightened took part in a large majority of the conflicts spreading across the mortal nations, it was not truly an Enlightened conflict until 1637 at the Battle of North Island, in which Enlightened attempts at influencing the colonies in Oceania came to a bloody head. Nearly 90% of those who fought in that battle died, including every mortal involved, and the island itself was almost obliterated with only 23% of its landmass remaining above the waves. (Fa’atsi, 156) From there started what is likely the bloodiest of the Schism Wars.
The Third Schism War was truly the final of the true “wars” to take place amongst the Enlightened. Later conflicts would involve true combat, make no mistake, but these battles became the exception rather than the rule. The Third was a traditional war however, and both side marshalled an army and met on the battlefield. Often these forces were bolstered by mortal troops unaware of the true scale of conflict. Rumours of dragons taking part in the Thirty Years War, living flames dancing in the Turkish Wars, summoned storms beleaguring the many colonial battles, and even the direct intervention of the Kingdom of Heaven in the Dynastic Wars are all indications of the faded memories of those mortals duped into Enlightened conflicts. Many more battles were fought than space allows, but a special mention goes to the Battle of Nasby.
The Battle of Nasby had nothing particularly special to indicate its mark on history, but rather seemed another minor territorial battle between petty Enlightened using their mortals as pawns. The names of these Enlightened are missing from the histories, only truly identifiable by the mad mutterings of survivors and the void in history surrounding them. They met in the fields outside of Nasby in the British Isles and sent wave after wave of pawns (both mortal and conjured) against one another. This is the first place that Nasby proved different from other battles of the period. As wave after wave fell, the conflict escalated. Mortals were risen from death to continue the fight, great beasts were summoned to join the fray, raw Aether erupted from the air itself to strike targets. As the power brought to bear rose, so did the fevered pitch of battle. Until it all stopped.
The only survivors of what came next are a few dozen mortals, and every single one lost all concept of sanity from what they witnessed. What little could be gleaned from their mad ramblings was that the battle had stopped at its peak. This is not to say that a truce was called, or even simple loss of Aetheric energy to fuel the tremendous forces in play. Instead, it seems that the battle literally paused. Flying beasts froze in midair, bullets and energy blast halted in place, and no soul could move so much as the tip of a finger. Into this impossible cessation of confict, an old man supposedly walked through the fray as if he were visiting a quiet museum. He nodded and harumphed and smiled in appreciation at various things until he arrived at the center of the battle where the Enlightened leaders, those who had initiated the battle, were frozen mid-combat. The old man was hear to “tisk” and began to admonish their “childishness” and “reckless endangerment of those they are meant to protect.” Though the crazed accounts of survivors conflict on just how it was accomplished, but they all agree that minutes later it was as if nothing had ever happened on that field outside Nasby. Not a scorch mark, not a hoofprint, not a single soul was anywhere. Only a slight breeze drifted over the grass of the field and those few survivors. It seems that other than those few left behind on the field, no trace in history remains to mark those who fought there that day. There is a hole in history instead, as if these men and beasts were simply erased. The only other thing the scribes were able to extract from the men was an eerily coherent message supposedly from the old man himself: “You have had free reign too long. You have risked too many lives of those who you were meant to protect. Take care to not abuse your gifts, lest the Scourge of God come for you once more…” This is typically considered the first recorded instance of the effect most Enlightened call the Scourge, or rather the little understood force which seems to protect mortals from Enlightened abuse of Aether. (Jones, 312-456)
The Scourge would appear infrequently throughout the later stages of the Third War, and with increasing frequency as one moves closer to the present, but it was not the Scourge which ended the War. Instead, the entrance of Hyperborea into the conflict decided the conflict once and for all.
Hyperborea was a little known nation east of the Ural mountains in Russia. As a “lost” nation, it is one that had always remained apart and unknown by mortal nations. Indeed, even though the Order and the Council were well aware of Hyperborea, the location of the nation and how to find it remained a mystery. Until 1673, Hyperborea even maintained a delegate in the Council and Order alike, retaining a diplomatic presence within both while remaining apart from the increasingly global conflict. In that year however, Hyperborea finally announced it could no longer abide the arrogance and brutality of the War and, to a lesser extent, the increasing agression of the Order. Declaring itself the ally of the Council, Hyperborea entered the War and the Order quickly began losing ground. With the thousands of fresh allies, and powerfuly trained ones besides, the Council swiftly drove the Exalted Order into retreat. Within six months, the Order had lost most of its strongholds throughout the world though their influence was barely diminished. Thus, the Council reversed its defeat of three centuries previous and won the Third War. (Jones 489-512)
With the Order only truly controlling the Atlantean landmass and the Order spread throughout the world, it seemed only a matter of time before the Schism would heal and the wars would stop. Instead of admitting true defeat however, the Order would change the game. The concept of secret societies are as old as humanity. This is especially true of the Enlightened, as many of todays magi are members of such groups and most major political groups can trace their lineages back to ancient secret societies. There were none like the Illuminati before 1653.
Ruthlessly regimented, powerfully symbolic rituals, and deeply influential members defined the Illuminati upon its founding. Surprisingly, as the Exalted Order was growing increasingly insular and isolationist while seeking to surpress the very knowledge of magic from mortal knowledge, they did no such thing with their mortal pawns among the Illuminati. Instead, they used misinformation and deception to convince the mortals of their unquestionable power and used it to control these pawns. (Hastings, 31) The Illuminati changed the playing and would eventually come to spark what later historians would name the Fourth Schism War.
The Fourth Schism War was the first of the sorts of modern conflicts most woud now compare to the Schism conflict. There were battles fought, and indeed many died, but this was the first war where the battles mattered less than the war itself. Indeed, it is at this point these conflicts become harder to define in the temporal realm, as there is a far greater degree of subterfuge and influence in play. That said, the Fourth Schism is typically accepted to stretch from 1747, when the Council sought to emulate the success the order found in previous decades with their Iluminati, to the period near the end of the French Revolution.
As the Fourth War was the first of the “subtle wars” it documentation is somewhat lacking. What is known is that the war was primarily fought between proxies of varying sorts and relatively little fighting took place between the Enlightened directly. The first of these proxy conflicts is generally seen as the Seven Years war and particularly the French and Indian War in North America. Accounts contradict each other, so determining the “true” sides and who fought for whom is quite difficult. Most commonly, the French side of the conflict is seen as that associated with the Council and the English with the Order. However, this interpretation is still hotly debated and thus it is difficult to say who was “winning” this portion of the war. (Falling-Timbers, 55-124)
What is somewhat clearer is the sides taken during the American Revolutionary War. While the debate still rages on whether the inception of the war was influenced by either side or a purely mortal impetus, what is clear is that the Council influenced the revolutionaries through the Freemasons and the Exalted Illuminati held much sway over the Engish in the confict. Though lines grew muddy many times, ultimately the American victory and independence as seen as a tremendous victory for the Council. (Brooks, 411)
The final theatre of the Fourth War proved an alarming defeat for the Council. Knowing the Council and its Freemason allies were distracted by the establishment of a mortal nation which would be sympathetic to the Council and its goals, the Order sought to do the same. Emulating the successes of the American Revolution, the French Revolution was an uncontested grab for power by the Exalted Order and the Illuminati. Initially it worked and the new republic quickly began to see Exalted influence. Though late to do so, the Council moved against the new nation and, though not the intended goal, accidentally set in motion the Reign of Terror and the absolutist rule of Napoleon. (Jacques, 313-331) Thus the Fourth War ended as quietly as it began and both sides found they had lost almost as much as they had gained.
The Fifth War is even harder to define than the Fourth, as it was marked by master manipulators and subtle spy networks more than any before or since. Most historians place its scope between 1823 with the theoretically Illuminati influence Monroe Doctrine and the end of the First World War in 1919. As much as can be ascertained, it would appear that the Council proved the eventual victor based solely upon the number of collapsing empires and revolutions. In many cases, the governments that arose in the wake of these conflicts were sympathetic to the Council, again indicating a victory for that faction, but almost as often this lead to the conditions which would give rise to many totalitarian governments and the Sixth Schism War. Thus, the “Fifth Schism War” is less a term of a distinct war and more of description of a century of mortal unrest heavily influenced by the self-centered machinations of the Enlightened. (Khole, 323-569)
The Sixth Schism War is the most clearly defined and obvious even to the newest Enlightened student, and it is also the shortest. Typically accepted as beginning in the 1930s with the rise of the likes of Adolf Hitler and other fascists, the conflict stretches to approximately 1950 during the early Cold War.
Early in the War, both WWII and the Sixth Schism, the sides were distinct and clear. The Fascist style of government shows distinct connections to the Exalted doctrine and those opposed to these governments quickly found allies in the Freemasons and the High Council. For the first half of the war, it seemed that the Enlightened elements of the conflict would continue to emulate that of the mortal one.
This all changed in 1941 when the Exalted Order approached the High Council with a startling proposal. They had discovered the influence of corruption and fanaticism within their own ranks and had banished an entire subsect from their Order. The Exalted even implied the work of diabolists and worshippers of the “Ancient Ones” were the ones behind the manipulation of their leaders. Conveniently, this subsect had been the portion of the Order most supportive of the Axis and their mortal Allies. It was at this time that the agreements between the Exalted allies within the Soviet Union and the Council allies of the Alliance united against the “rogue faction” and the Axis. The battles fought by the Enlighted were some of the most impressive of the modern period, but largely emulate those fought by mortals and thus bear little repeating. (Khole 645-567)
After WWII, the Schism conflict renewed itself in the form of a Cold War much the same as the mortal conflict of the same name. While there were frequent skirmishes, both corresponding to mortal conflicts and not, the War is typically considered to have officially ended in 1950 with the conflict settling to a lower pitch.
This loose peace marked with infrequent minor conflicts has typified the last half century and seems likely to continue into the forseeable future. While the mortal Cold War has ended the Cold Schism seems to be clinging more stubbornly than ever in recent years. While the conflict has lasted for nearly a millenium and shows little sign of lessening, the slow crawl towards peace seems to be progressing. The last major conflict between the factions was in the early 1980s when the Order requested the Council’s retreat from Australia and Antartica, based on records uncovered claiming Atlantean ruins may be found in both locations. This led to a minor skirmish which was inevitably resolved with only a single casualty. As the years between conflicts grow longer the promise of pece seems to grow. Only a matter of time will bring the conflict to its inevitable end.