For seven centuries, the Alkavian faith has been the most important pillar of the religious world. It takes its name and is based on the Messiah Abel, the Son of Alkavir who came to the world in an age of terror and darkness to save men from themselves and show them the way. Abel led humanity, teaching the word of Alkavir, whom everyone had forgotten long ago. Taking his precepts as divine law, a series of traditions and rites formed around his figure that constitutes the Alkavian faith today as a whole.
It is a strongly monotheistic religion, based on the concept that there is only one God, who watches over humanity and tries to guide us down the correct path. His premises are love, justice, and the protection of man, ensuring that even those who have nothing can find a place in heaven.
Throughout history, the Alkavian faith has absorbed traditions and principles of other religions, unifying them under a single Church. Many lesser gods have been converted into Alkavir’s “angels”, like the heroes of other cultures were often sanctified as ardent devotees. With such a wide diversity of sources and over fifty million devotees throughout Gaia, there are a variety of beliefs and religious principles that differ considerably from one place to another. Even so, they all stand on three basic foundations that form the backbone of The Church:
There is only one God, a supreme being, almighty and eternal who exists simultaneously as three different facets; The Great Dragon, the Grand Empyrean, and the All-Father. All three are a unit, but at the same time, different entities. He is the creator of the universe and of man, who was made in his own image and likeness.
Faith and Salvation
The sacrifice and salvation of the Messiah are a reflection of the love that Alkavir professes for humanity, to whom he has granted the greatest of gifts: free will. Man must love one another and find salvation and a place in heaven with his actions and faith. Mercy, kindness and forgiveness are the ways they should follow.
The Chosen Ones
Alkavir’s chosen is man, and his duty is to fight against those who threaten Him or his faith. He must fight against injustice and, if necessary, even purge himself of it.
The Alkavian religion is rich in symbolism, since each branch or aspect has a different distinguishing emblem. However, its universal symbol is undoubtedly the cross; a representation of the sacrifice that Abel made for man, guiding us towards salvation. Another essential element is the Bible, the sacred book written by some of the Apostles, which narrate the events of the Messiah and stories told by him.
The Alkavian Church
The Church of Abel or The Alkavian Church has been the only official religious organization in the entire Empire over the last seven centuries, so people refer to it simply as The Church. Its goal is to promote faith in the Messiah, as well as make sure that Alkavir’s word reaches all corners of the world. While this is its main function, it also addresses many other important tasks related to charity and benevolence. Usually, The Church is the one in charge of creating hospitals and orphanages, assisting the poor and needy.
The Messiah founded the Church, but it wasn’t until the birth of The Sacred Holy Empire that it would gain true strength and relevance in Gaia. Since then, its power and influences have grown to become not only the most important religious organization, but also one of the most important forces in the world. It has a great presence in most nations, and can even destabilize the power of any country. Its economy is mainly based on the tithes of devotees from all corners of Gaia, although it also has valuable properties and businesses, which provide it with enormous economic power.
The actual Supreme Archbishop, elected independently by the Council of Cardinals without the approval of the Empress, is an individual called Magnus. Publicly, he is a man who is devout and feels a true fanaticism for what he does. He is obsessed with the law of Alkavir and with justly punishing those who do not follow it. It seems that he is very pious but does not hesitate to hand out terrible lessons to those who dare to defy the divine will. Secretly, he wishes to return the Church to its ancient glory, giving it a role more predominant in all the political decisions regarding the Principalities. In general, he does not leave Albidion, where he is protected by a personal guard that he himself has chosen from among his followers.
The Church has a complex power structure developed over its seven centuries of absolute dominance. The most common titles within its midst are:
Sacred Summum Pontifex: This is the title received by the head of The Church globally, which always equates to The Sacred Holy Emperor. Until just over thirty years ago it has always been associated with the Hawke family, but now lies with the young Adelina Borges. A large sector of The Church still does not yet recognize her as such.
The Supreme Archbishop: The Supreme Archbishop is the delegate of the Emperor in church affairs and, in practice, the true lord of The Church. His word has the same weight as that of The Sacred Summum Pontifex himself in spiritual matters, considered the maximum interpreter of the word of Alkavir. His appointment was sponsored by The Council of Cardinals and ratified by The Emperor. At present, the title of Supreme Archbishop falls on a man named Magnus, but Adelina has not officially confirmed his appointment.
The 13th Cardinal: Also called The Cardinal in the Shadows, his power is equal to the other twelve, except for the fact that he controls The Inquisition and resolves internal conflicts within The Church itself. His identity usually remains anonymous to ensure his proper performance.
The 12 Cardinals: The Cardinals are the most important bishops, on whom falls the task of controlling the territories that once belonged to The Eleven Holy Kingdoms and The New Continent. They report only to The Supreme Archbishop and meet to form The Council of Cardinals. Their number is limited to twelve, representing the Apostles of Abel.
The Bishops: The church leaders of the principalities. There is one for each nation of Gaia though and, since the dissolution of The Empire, their number has been reduced to twenty-three. Women cannot accede to this title.
The Inquisitors: A body of special Church agents ordered to hunt down and destroy demons and witches. The Inquisitors only report to The 13th Cardinal, but they are below Bishops in the power structure of The Church. Unlike other priests, they are not bound by vows of chastity, but are forbidden from starting families. Some of them hold the titles of High Inquisitors because of their great abilities, and have dominance over the others.
Prelates: Episcopal delegates whose role is to ensure that the nobility doesn’t act against the interests of The Church. They only exist in some countries.
Deacons: They are in charge of the various dioceses in the principalities. Their numbers usually fluctuate between ten and thirty depending on the size and importance of each nation. Nuns can accede to the title of deacon, adopting the title of Sacred Mother.
Warrior Monks: This organization exists as a sort of Church military, consisting of priests and nuns who are given combat training rather than seminary training so that they can protect the Church and its flock. Often they are seen working as guards in Dominion though they can be dispatched when the Inquisitors are in need of additional soldiers. Warrior Monks share the same status as a Deacon or Sacred Mother.
Priests: Those responsible for holding mass and directly overseeing the faith in each community. Each has a church under his care (although larger churches can have up to two or three simultaneously). Gaia has around ten thousand priests ordained by The Church. Women cannot accede to this title.
Friars / Nuns: These are the consecrated members of The Church that have not received the sacrament of holding masses. They are in charge of taking care of monasteries and other important tasks. There are around fifteen thousand friars and nuns in Gaia.
Seminarians: Aspiring monks or priests, seminarians are students who have not yet completed their vows, but are now part of Church structure.
No other society within the Church deserves to be commented on individually like the Inquisition does. It is a branch of priests created to find and purge heretics. Its mission is that of exterminating warlocks and demons, but for them, any supernatural being represents it demonic entity that deserves death.
The Inquisition has an organization completely independent from the Church. It is in the hands of a thirteenth Cardinal, who reports only to the Archbishop himself. This man, who also holds the title of Supreme Inquisitor, has carte blanche to commit any action without the permission of anyone. The inquisitors are under his charge, even though in general all of them act in a very independent way.
The Inquisitors are in no way normal people. They are "special" orphaned children, picked up by members of the Church and sent to the Holy city of Albidion. There, completely separated from the outside world, hundreds of little ones are trained day and night without rest until they become true killing machines. Many are not capable of withstanding this superhuman training and die before they reach their adolescent years. Others do not have sufficient aptitudes to become inquisitors, and they are relegated to become guardian monks of the temple, prohibited from leaving there so as not to reveal any secrets. Finally, only twenty percent of the children are able to complete their training and gain the title of Inquisitor. By the time they leave, they have been converted into fanatics who would give their lives to their ideals.
An Inquisitor can be either sex. To destroy demons, the Alkavian Church does not find a difference among the genders. Each one can act separately or be accompanied by a small number of ecclesiastic guards, chosen by them. When they come face to face with a true warlock or an authentic supernatural being, they try to destroy it without leaving any witnesses who can talk about it. If this happens in a big population, they use the clergymen of the area to create a convincing alibi, but if it happens in small towns, they are capable of burning them along with the inhabitants so as to avoid the chance that forbidden knowledge "contaminates" other innocents. The legends of acts committed by the Inquisition provoke true terror amongst the people.
Depending on the way that each wishes to act, Inquisitors can reveal their identity openly or use subterfuge to investigate their cases. Those who are not incognito wear black clothes with markings of the Blood Cross of the Inquisition. For fighting, they are granted Lawgivers. Weapons marked with their cross that are capable of destroying supernatural creatures and even stopping spells.
There are a thousand active inquisitors in existence across all of Gaia.
The High Inquisitors
The fact that many inquisitors are gifted with supernatural skills which they themselves fight against seems curious. During the training, their masters try to strengthen them so as to increase their combat capacity as much as possible. Therefore, many Inquisitors possess psychic powers or even magic. Those who attain a superior level are given the title of High Inquisitors, and they become the acting hand of the Cardinal for more complex missions that require a great ability. For them, their powers are not something demonic; rather they see them as divine gifts which are granted them so as to more effectively fight evil.
Their number to date is slightly over a hundred
These are the jails that the Inquisitors use to incarcerate their prisoners. It is an incorrect denomination, given that no one is judged there - all who find themselves within its walls are always considered guilty. There are huge torture chambers in each Tribunal, as on some occasions an Inquisitor may capture a supernatural being so as to torment it and obtain beneficial information. All of them are magically shielded so as to avoid escapes or rescue attempts.
The Religious Branches
For three centuries there have been some discrepancies in the interpretation of the Alkavian doctrines, creating divisions within the faith. All of them are still part of The Church, which support various aspects of Alkavir’s word. Besides the orthodox conception, which is practiced more by Alkavians, there are three major religious branches.
The Liberus (popularly known as liberals) think that while Alkavia is the only true religion, The Church has no right to impose their beliefs on people, since it inhibits the free will that Alkavir gave us. Instead, everyone is free to profess whatever he or she prefers; it is the Church’s job to make them see the correct path, not to impose it. Of course, those in favor of this are delighted with imperial edict on religious freedom, and support Adelina as an illuminated reformist.
Next is the faction called The Savior, which is based on the conception that the return of Abel is near and man must make great changes for his arrival. As long as there is even a single infidel or anybody that doesn’t completely satisfy the word of The Lord, The Messiah will not return to us. Consistent with these requirements, it is the most radical branch of The Church, and the main driving force for going to war with separatist states like Kushistan.
Finally, there are The Animists, who believe that pure faith is the only path towards salvation. While a person has true faith, no matter what they do, provided it doesn’t oppose the fundamental principles of Alkavir, their faith will lead them to salvation. It is a very common concept in The Coast of Commerce, where the bourgeois find it liberating.
There is a supposed fourth branch of the Church, one that lives in secret and preaches that truth is the only way to salvation, claiming that the Church has pulled wool over our eyes and are deceiving us, depriving us of the true word of Abel. They call themselves the Sons of Orlianis, though no one dares speak that name for fear of quick retribution.
After the fall of the Empire, The Church is facing the greatest crisis of its history as its own ranks have been divided into two sectors. While both are still considered part of the same organization, it’s undeniable that there is an obvious separation. As parts of The Church have not openly accepted the appointment of Adelina Borges as the lady of the Empire, others do not think that The Council of Cardinals has sufficient power to choose a Supreme Archbishop by themselves. Thus, The Church has two headings at the present time: The Empress and those who favor her on one hand, and The Supreme Archbishop Magnus on the other.
Most of the priests simply avoid the subject, preferring to ignore it while waiting to see which sector finds a peaceful solution first. Unfortunately, there haven’t been any favorable developments towards the unification so far, which is becoming increasingly troublesome.
The basis of Alkavian ceremonies is mass. All believers are required to attend the nearest church weekly or whenever possible, to hear the word of Alkavir and to atone for any sins that they may have committed. However, there are also many other traditions and festivities, which vary considerably from place to place. The most famous celebrations are The Night of Blessing, the days in which Abel appeared to the world for the first time, and Sanctus, which recalls how he died on the cross to save man.
The Church and the Supernatural
For the Alkavian religion, supernatural powers are the roots of evil, dark powers that the devil gives to man to pervert his heart and drag him to hell. According to The Church, it is a noticeably malevolent force that penetrates the soul and depraves it, turning mortals into demons. By definition, any individual with supernatural powers is a diabolic monstrosity that has fallen into temptation having lost his soul in exchange for power. The wizards and summoners are especially evil, since magic is an art that requires intensive study; it implies a stronger desire for power.
The origins of these powers come from demons that try to plunge man into darkness and seize his soul. Since Alkavir has granted us free will, it is up to us whether we succumb to them or not. It was Lucifer who granted us the gift of witchcraft, first to Lilith, who would become his wife, and later to Eva. Hence the use of supernatural abilities is often called “The Original Sin”.
The real deception of these forces is that a person does not necessarily want them to commit evil, but will inevitably end up doing it. No matter what objective he tries to achieve with this power, it will gradually corrupt his soul. Sooner or later he will use the supernatural to harm someone, subjugating those without such special gifts or unleashing destruction. Certainly, most scholars of the occult arts disagree on this, but history speaks against them. Without supernatural powers, an individual will not cause massive destruction, rob the souls of innocents or raise armies of undead to destroy the world. After so many bad experiences and frightening events, it’s not surprising that common people agree with this fundamental principle of religion. Therefore, Alkavians fear and reject supernatural powers, so The Inquisition, a special branch of The Church imbued with similar abilities, is used to hunt these evil forces down, fighting fire with fire.
The only kind of supernatural power allowed by the church are the gifts that Alkavir, on very rare occasions, grants to man. They’re called “miracles” and those who can perform them are the chosen ones of The Lord. Conceptually, the only difference between the powers of the devil and divine gifts is that, while with former will inevitably lead to complete darkness, the gifts granted by Alkavir allow followers to stay pure, without falling into corruption. Naturally, it is absolutely impossible to tell the difference beyond what the high priests or The Inquisition dictate. Therefore, whenever somebody comes along performing “miracles”, The Church makes a careful and thorough investigation on The Chosen. There is the rare occasion where they are given official recognition, and must always initially be individual supervised by The Church. These people all have the title of “Saints”, allowing them to use their special abilities. These divine gifts are the justification for powers that have The High Inquisitors and many of agents of The Empire possess.
For The Church, the principle of evil is a dark and malicious entity responding to many names. Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub or simply The Devil are only some of the titles granted to The Prince of Lies. Lucifer is the enemy, The Lord of Hell who tries to be the Shadow of Alkavir. Originally the most beautiful angel in Creation, in his pride and arrogance he wished to surpass his Creator, being thrown from the heavens as punishment. Full of wrath, he proclaimed himself lord of shadow, gathering the angels who accompanied him in his rebellion and other evil spirits to his side. Since he cannot steal Alkavir’s souls, he tries to use the free will that Alkavir granted mankind to cause its own fall. Therefore he tempts us, whispering sweet words into our ears and granting us dark powers with which to plunge us into the shadows.
Generally, all wizards, psychics and people gifted with supernatural abilities are automatically deemed Satanists or demons by The Church because their powers come from The Fallen Angel. However, the number of true devil worshippers is considerably low.
The Church has associated many pagan deities with The Devil, considering them as little more than aspects of Lucifer or his greater demons. Gaira, Zemial, Jedah, Fenrisulf or Skule are most common (though a radical sector of The Church insists on putting Jihamath on this list). Their worship, more than paganism, is always considered Satanic. The Inquisition has permission to hunt devil worshippers and to punish them publicly, as they would with any wizard. Typically, this means burning them at the stake.
The False Idols
The Alkavian Church does not acknowledge any divinity other than Alkavir himself. However, this doesn’t necessarily include all the other gods and beliefs as “The Demons” described in the previous section. Generally, the cults and religions in Gaia are commonly referred to as False Idols; man’s imaginary creations developed in times of ignorance and darkness. The Church forbids their worship, but contrary what happens with the “demonic” deities, the Inquisition has no power over its followers and can never punish them. Simply, it’s a pagan act of faithless people that deserve little more than warnings and reprimands.
During the period of Alkavian expansionism, most of the religious customs of other faiths that did not conflict with the traditions of The Church were absorbed. Thus, many ancient gods and heroes were transformed into angels and saints.