he protocols, it must be stressed, only apply to members of the Hierarchy. But what of those not of the Hierarchy? This can lead to some interesting situations. The first advantage of not being a member of the Hierarchy is that one does not have to follow these rules at all. You are free to act outside them. The main disadvantage is that outside the Hierarchy you are also outside its protection and thus must face the consequences.
To be a Heretic is to believe. It is to believe in a state of being and existence beyond that of the bleak reality of existence in the Underworld, and after-afterlife, if you will. It is also to believe in a particular style of unlife, and to believe fervently in one particular method of Transcending to that higher state.
Heretics are intensely spiritual wraiths, most seeking the true path amid the swirling confusion of the Shadowlands. Their strong beliefs and commitment to their cause set them apart form the Hierarchy, the Renegades, and from each other. The many factions of Heretics are radically splintered, with each group following a different path in their pursuit of some higher purpose. They are similar only in the strength of their beliefs.
The dead are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to matters of faith. After all, all the religious pablum they were ever fed in no way prepared them for the Shadowlands. Heaven, hell, Nirvana, nothing: whatever they were led to believe lay just beyond life’s veil is most definitely not here. It seems they have been sold a false bill of goods. Most wraiths, when faced with this dilemma, pull away from religion and most things religious, abandoning what faith they may have had soon after they rip away their Caul. How then do the Heretics, and their religions, prosper in the face of the great-granddaddy of religious party-poopers? More importantly, how do Heretics manage to form (or re-form) strong, even all-pervasive, religious convictions when everything they ever learned to expect from death has proven to be false advertising?
Each group of Heretics, and indeed each individual Heretic, has come to terms with the intense religious and cognitive dissonance death causes. Unlike most other wraiths, they have all resolved their anguish through the auspices of faith. When faced with a death they never dreamed of, in a spirit-world which they perceive as naught but continuing the pain and confusion, most wraiths reject utterly their former faith. After all, they were told that when they died some truth would be revealed, or that they would move back through the circle of life, or perhaps that they would know nothing. The Shadowlands, and all they represent, apparently refute all of these Skinlander religious themes.
Those wraiths who become Heretics, however, have held to a strong faith. They find their spiritual center – the answer to the initial crushing disappointment of their current existence – in their steadfast beliefs. Making the decision to embrace, or re-embrace, faith in the Shadowlands is a particularly difficult task, requiring an enormous amount of will or imagination. Another key element is a willingness to commit totally to the care of another wraith who says there is a reason why the Shadowlands are here and the wraiths in them. In either case, each Heretic must hold on to her beliefs with a stranglehold never required by even the most foully abused and denigrated Skinlander martyr.
Heretics view their faith as their lifeline in a realm of death. It gives reason and purpose to the otherwise inexplicable realm in which they have been so rudely thrust. Thus, Heretics must invest themselves, indeed their identities, in their faith. To admit, for even a moment, that there is a chance that they have been tricked yet again is to admit to purposelessness, and to the triumph of Oblivion. This utterly terrifying prospect is anathema to almost all Heretics, and few are even willing to consider it for a moment. Of course, the rigidity of thought necessary to maintain their faith has its own dangers, and all too many Heretics fall prey to them. In attempting to cling to the ladder to Transcendence, the Heretics are in constant danger of forgetting that you must let go of one rung in order to climb to the next.
Unfortunately, the various Heretic Cults oppose each other almost as much as they battle the Hierarchy. They agree so little that there really is nothing that can be called the Heretic society, or a Heretic movement. Rather, there are countless tiny dissident movements, working secretly or openly towards a better (or at least different) tomorrow, each espousing a different path to that goal. The only trait essential to a Heretic is an unshakable belief system at the very center of the wraith’s existence.
Heretics and the Hierarchy
The Heretic factions universally believe that the Hierarchy, its leadership, and many of the fundamental tenets of its society are “dead” wrong. In particular, they believe that the path of the Hierarchy will not lead to Transcendence. In their view, the Hierarchy has smothered the spiritual progression of the souls in the Underworld with corruption and decay. Tremendous misery and suffering have been the direct result, as well as the trafficking in souls by which each Hierarch has betrayed their original calling. Luckily for all wraiths, many Heretics also believe that they have found they solution, the philosophy which provides the answer to the ills of the Shadowlands.
Most Heretics believe that each individual soul must strive for Transcendence, usually by following the particular path which they espouse. These paths vary widely, for the beliefs of the Heretics are at least as diverse as those found in the Skinlands. However, the Heretic Cults are fighting and uphill battle against the Hierarchy, the Renegades and each other for survival and for converts to their respective causes.
A few more thoughtful Shadowlanders argue that by engaging in this very struggle the Heretics betray their ideals, sinking into the corrupt framework of the Hierarchy to pursue souls – the currency of raw power in the Underworld. However, most Heretics believe that it is necessary to do battle on these terms in order to survive. They know they must strike out against the Hierarchy in order to save the newly dead souls from miserable existences of slavery and stagnation.
While not all Heretic factions pursue violent tactics, all are fervent in their beliefs. Their complete faith in their own belief system, and absolute rejection of all other ideologies as flawed at best, lead many Heretics to conclude that they have a moral duty to at least attempt to show others the way. After all, some Heretics, through great strength of will and truly unshakable conviction, have maintained the faith they had in life even in the face of death. Still others have created, or fallen into, new belief structures to provide structure and purpose to their unlife. They naturally wish to aid the others, to calm the Restless Dead by providing purpose and hope.
Philosophical and religious tension among Heretic factions is very real. Many Heretic Cults loathe each other at least as much as they hate the Hierarchy. Yet while the Heretic factions spread competing messages of salvation, they have learned that they must sometimes bend to pragmatism and band together against the Hierarchy to survive. After all, the Deathlords will be satisfied with nothing short of total domination.
Unlike the Renegades, Heretics do not usually engage in random acts of violence or rebellion. Those Heretics who are violent always act with a concerted purpose. Nor do most factions and leaders seek personal gratification, or at least they claim that such base motives are irrelevant to them. While a few openly seek power in the Shadowlands, most are motivated by faith and their version of the search for knowledge and truth (or by the belief that they have found the truth. These Heretics work to promote their own version of the Transcendence of the soul and their own brand of faith. As with many religions in the Skinlands, they look beyond the suffering of this existence to the promise of something better in the next.
Heretics are the true believers, who see themselves as the spiritual and moral compass of the Shadowlands. Yet they are many compasses, all pointing in different directions! Many of the Heretics fight the battle for Transcendence, seeking to return wraith society to its original purpose – a mechanism for an ordered life here in this interim realm while souls prepare to ascend to a higher reality. Other merely seek power in the Skinlands, or comfort in the face of an unknown even greater than before and a present even less comforting. They are not free of the corruption, which permeates the Underworld today, yet Heretics in general do not seek personal power or dominion over their fellows. Nor are most caught up yet in a cycle of violence which engenders only more misery for the wraiths. Rather, motivated by a variety of faiths, they seek the truth. They strive to drastically reform the Hierarchy and fix the broken system, each offering a different solution, and indeed a slightly different analysis of the problem. The Heretics look around them and believe that they are the last, best hope for the Shadowlands. Perhaps they are.
To be a renegade is to oppose the Hierarchy. Beyond that, very little can be said that applies to Renegades as a whole. It is probably safe to say that whenever a government or institution rises to prominence, there will always be individuals and groups who oppose it for one reason or another. Those whom the Hierarchy calls Renegades seem to have found all those reasons for opposition. And therein lies their problem.
Every turning point in Stygia’s long history has produced its dissenters, from the wraiths who first disagreed with the choice of Charon as leader to those who objected to his formation of the Stygian Republic. Charon’s assumption of the title of Emperor and his creation of the seven Deathlords, his policies regarding the treatment of thralls, his adoption of the feudal model for Stygia’s government, his banishing of the Shining Ones from Stygia, his orders to disband the guilds – all these and subsequent decisions spawned the formation of groups of rebels.
These early Renegades were, for the most part, dealt with by Charon’s armies or else fell prey to the Spectres that seemed to feed on the negative Passions inherent in the nature of dissension. A few of these hardy veterans, however, have survived to the present day. Their hiding places and continued plots against Stygia are the stuff of Renegade myth and folklore.
Since Charon’s disappearance, the number of wraiths who identify with the Renegade movement (which is, apparently, the only criterion for membership in this faction) has grown enormously. Some of these Renegades have formed well-organized, highly disciplined groups or Circles, which differ little from their Hierarchy counterparts. The majority, however, form a chaotic mass of ragtag rebels, outlaws, bandits, and anarchists who associate with each other only because they need the strength of numbers to survive assaults from Hierarchy patrols, bounty hunters, and Spectres.
Status among the Renegades is more a product of a notoriety than of rank, for no general categories exist which apply to the group as a whole. Tales of audacious actions against the Hierarchy, reports of uprisings within various Necropoli, rumors of hijackings of thrall-transports or goods caravans en route to Stygia, and individual acts of defiance (or foolhardiness) – all contribute to an individual Renegade’s standing within the Renegade “community.”
Despite the best efforts of the Hierarchy to quell news about the Renegades, tales of their escapades form the building blocks of status among those who oppose the establishment. Folk heroes have risen from the ranks of the Renegades, and the stories of their deeds serve as inspiration for other wraiths, driving them to bolder and bolder actions against the Hierarchy.
Over the course of Stygia’s history, many Renegades have struggled to devise some means of bringing together as many of their number as possible under a single guiding authority. Numerous attempts to form a Council of Renegades have seemed to succeed, only to fall apart from internal dissension or outside assault. On rare occasions, powerful Renegade groups have actually managed to gather their leaders together long enough to plan an armed uprising against one of the Shadowlands’ Necropoli, only to have their fragile alliance disrupted by the last minute defection of one or another of the allied groups. Despite all this, rumors continue to exist of a Renegade Council which keeps track of and directs the movements of the various Circles of wraiths opposed to the Hierarchy. Even darker tales are told of an elite group of Renegades, referred to as the Council of Cerberus, whose sole purpose is to purge the Renegade movement of anyone who might harbor sympathy for the Hierarchy. Even Renegades whose opposition to the Hierarchy stems from reasons unrelated to politics or issues walk carefully whenever they suspect that one of these inquisitors is in their city.
The truth of the matter is both more and less than it seems. Many individual Necropoli actually do have a functioning Renegade Council composed of at least one member from each Renegade faction within that Necropolis. The nature of these Necropolitan councils differs from city to city and depends largely on the types of Renegades present. In some Necropoli, the councils form little more than information or social networks, while in others they occupy more significant and potentially sinister (at least to the Hierarchy) roles. In a few cities far from Stygia’s reach, the Renegade Council has gone so far as to set up its own “mirror” government rivaling the control exercised by the local Hierarchy troops. In other places, Renegades representing different interests gather in secret haunts and hatch plots against the resident Legions.
As the Hierarchy’s control of its outlying Necropoli continues to erode, many Renegades – particularly those whose anti-authoritarianism stems from dissatisfaction with the current government of Stygia – feel that the time is right to begin organizing for a general uprising. Organizers purporting to represent the “Renegade War Council” have made overtures to known groups of Renegades within several cities. These wraiths, many of whom are superb public speakers and agitators, claim that there will soon be a gathering of Renegade leaders from all over the Shadowlands at a secret Haunt that exists within the Tempest. Rumors abound of the reappearance of many veteran Renegades, individuals thought destroyed by the Hierarchy centuries a go.
Skeptics among the Renegades suspect that this attempt to bring all the Renegade groups together under one organized Council is really a Hierarchy plot to identify and root out as many insurgents as possible. Still, many who dream of a life free of Stygian oppression are feeling the glimmer of hope that revolution may be just around the corner.
Renegades are the catalyst that keeps the Shadowlands from lapsing into stagnation. Although they are branded as rabble-rousers, troublemakers, and agents of destruction, their rebellions have sparked many necessary changes in the world of the Restless Dead. While many Renegades rebel for the sake of rebellion, others function as the social and political conscience in a society that is too prone to inertia and self-satisfaction. While many wraiths choose the Renegade “life,” some find themselves thrust unwillingly into the role of outcasts. Renegades view themselves as martyrs, tragic heroes, and spiritual pioneers pushing the boundaries of the Shroud to its limits. Many of them believe that they are the true inheritors of Charon’s legacy, and that through their efforts, his trailblazing example still illuminates the darkness of the Shadowlands.