|The Reaver, Lord of Excess
|A clenched fist
|Ambition, domination, sadism, larceny, pleasure, excess
|thieves, opportunists, egotists, criminals
In the years following the War of Fire, humans and other overworlders began their exploration into the earth. As they drove deeper, they uncovered the vast underground cities of the shuddeni and their army of chaja slaves. Bringing with them the knowledge of Fire, Earth, and Water, these explorers had much to exchange for the diabolic magic of the shuddeni: Void. The temptation of power enticed every mortal involved, leading to a painful, if profitable, expansion of all. The shuddeni took quickly to the magics of Fire, in particular, and this gift bought for them an opportunity to challenge the established hegemony of their underground realm.
Through magic, violence, and general mayhem, the first shuddeni acolytes of flame forced the demon-callers of the temples to concede them a place within their black halls. Initially, some historians suggest that these marauders called themselves Arhakhla. As time wore on and the War of Night shrouded the world in darkness, Arhakhla was fully understood to be the name of their deity. However, the power of the Dragon and Its influence far overshadowed these meager few, ambitious though they were. A place in the temple was not the same as being its master, but what could challenge the Father of all shuddeni? This question was answered in the most unexpected of ways, with the emergence of the ch'taren and their heathen goddess, Rystaia Lightbringer.
As the Dragon took to Its timeless slumber, the power vacuum in Its wake offered further opportunity to those willing to claim it. Sensing the weakness of the temple, an even more vicious sect emerged than the Arhakhla of old. With an unprecedented level of bloodlust and destruction, these new acolytes devoured their forefathers and their legacy. It is said that first among this murderous lot was called Arkhural. Shuddeni in particular posit that He was powerful son of Yithoul, while period-scholars suggest that He was likely a lesser god in mortal flesh. Yet, it is evident that in short order, Arkhural had claimed the onyx throne of Arhakhla for Himself. This unquestionable assertion of dominance led to the rise of many modern expressions of shuddeni virtue. By His will alone were the remnants of the shuddeni war machine driven to the ch'taren Haven of Wind, obliterating it. While the Warband of Calaera would eventually rout these fiends, it did much to salve the wounded shuddeni ego, and affirm the ascension of the Darkheart as foremost among their post-War deities.
In modern times, Arkhural’s influence has come over far more than the shuddeni alone. As a patron deity of the Raiders of Twilight, His desire for greed, ambition, and murder are ever fueled by a wider array of subjects. In the midst of the Eyeblight War, it is said that the Darkheart was the driving force behind the shuddeni Scourge, His relentless lust for power bringing hundreds of years of bloodshed. It is unmistakable that His mark upon the mortal tapestry has been great, and with each moment He lives, does it stand to grow greater.
Goals and Methods
Arkhural dreams of destruction, mayhem, and ambition, and preferably all of them at the same time. Priests and historians agree that in the eyes of Arkhural, sanity can be a meaningless hurdle to be overcome, further feeding a destructive, or self-destructive, rise. Regardless of the cost, He appreciates in others a meteoric ascent rather than the slow plodding of ineffective schemers. After all, while others conceal and pretend, those with uncompromising drive can easily seize more and greater power in the now.
To encourage the ambition of His followers, Arkhural does little to recognize their actions. Those who pontificate about fear instead of instilling it through violence are among His most hated, as He considers them egocentric pretenders to His bloody legacy. At the same time, He demands that His followers partake in vicious displays of barbarism and unflinching examples of tenacity. Betrayal is a common tool of Arkhural, yet it is tempered by the requirement that such backstabbing must yield immediate gain. Should it not, such endeavors are more indicative of gods of inaction, rather than the bloodlust in which He revels. Trumping these would-be puppeteers is, in turn, one of Arkhural’s many dark delights.
Much as other evil deities, followers of Arkhural typically do not band together in any meaningful way. This is only exacerbated by the fact that what the Darkheart desires in them is a vicious progression upward, until only one master remains. Therefore, the following divisions of the Darkheart’s path are descriptive of the primary sorts who seek His favor, rather than hierarchical organizations. To Arkhural, the only hierarchy that matters is one that ends in murder.
“All of your schemes… where have they taken you?” The Arkhilhra are among the oldest of Arkhural’s followers, their origins rooted in the ancient sect which preceded His rise. They seek to destroy established power of any kind, and force such structures into crumbling under their own weakness. This can come in the form of disrupting their carefully planned designs, shattering their laws, and humiliating them by exposing their fragility through force of arms. In general, the Arkhilhra have no concern whatsoever for the success or failure of their endeavors, as success to a proper member of the Arkhilhra is a foregone conclusion. It should be noted, however, that this sect is equally as likely to oppose another evil order as they are one of other alignments; the only good tyrant is a dead one. Shuddeni rogues and fire casters are the most common Arkhilhra, as no true shuddeni believes in any mortal master, save himself.
The Sect of Shijardu
“Fear not the gods. Fear me. I follow through.” Possibly the most murderous of an already bloody lot, the Sect of Shijardu dates back to the rise of the Darkheart to the onyx throne of Arhakhla. Despite their greed, the Sect knows no honor among thieves; any who it might be advantageous to exploit are targets. The Sect fuels its power through fear, and therefore all who are put to its sword should increase the slayer’s reputation as a force to be reckoned with. They have a particular disdain for Serachel’s Thrall of Desire (and they are all Thrall, as far as the Shijardu are concerned), as these sycophantic fops have no conception of true power. To the Sect, the murder of a particularly loud-mouthed schemer is a potent affirmation of Arkhural’s (and by extension, their own) creed. Assassins and thieves trend toward the Shijardu, as their natural inclination for sudden killings well-suits the fear it wishes to instill.
The Onyx Hand
“I like your sword. I think I’ll take it.” Covetous and cruel, the Onyx Hand represents a far more modern brand of the Darkheart’s religion. Greed is first and foremost to the Hand, leading to a monumental level of acquisition. The usual methods of fear, pain, and bloodlust all assist them in this, but all of these are secondary to the thrill of depriving another. Those who seek to be a part of the Onyx Hand must excel at thievery, both through simple stealth or the more traditional murderous psychopathy. To them, the only true pain in the world is to do without, and this lesson should be shared with any and all who arm themselves with expensive arms and armor. Unlike many, the Onyx Hand is unconcerned with actually keeping what they acquire; the riches could as easily be dumped into the river. After all, if they possess all wealth, how could they continue to savor the act of stealing it? Unsurprisingly, rogues trend toward the Onyx Hand, as their keen wits make them experts in the art of acquisition.
Followers of Arkhural tend to be ravenously ambitious, seeking personal power and acclaim above everything else in life or death. However, they are quick to realize that such power will not be conceded easily, and belong to the strong and direct. As such, they rarely respect other travelers or seek long-lasting relationships that don’t involve others giving them everything they want, and immediately. Many followers seek to be as Arkhural, hoping to eventually claim His throne for themselves. This kind of delusional thinking is only affirmed by their many mortal successes, which in turn stoke their rabid ambition ever brighter. Although there is power in numbers, a true disciple of Arkhural believes that in time, his own power will be so tremendous that allies will be exactly as his foes: lives yet to be snuffed out. Perhaps ironically, immense power makes them ripe targets for other ambitious disciples of Arkhural.
Arkhural’s worship exists primarily among the shuddeni, who have erected numerous altars and monuments to the virtues of the Darkheart. The temple in Yithoul houses many of these relics, as well as acolytes of His creed. This rare example of centricity makes the temple itself infamous throughout cultured Avendar. In civilized society, heavy leanings toward both law and common good all but shun the truths of the Darkheart for those of more compatible deities. Yet, for Arkhural, the seed of His path exists wherever ambition stirs the hearts of mortalkind.
Those who find favor with the Darkheart are marked with the Sigil of the Clawed Fist.
Arkhural is considered a usurper by much of the pantheon, but particularly those of darkness. His late rise and spectacular power grab amidst some of Avendar’s most evil define His relationship with many of His deific peers. He considers Bayyal too short-sighted for true power, and Serachel too busy scheming to act. He patently ignores the gods of law, who in turn think of Him as a glorified thug. Similarly, He despises all gods of the light, particularly Calaera. Perhaps ironically, He has a small measure of appreciation for Rystaia Lightbringer, if only for the fact that She inadvertently facilitated His initial and sudden ascent. In general, Arkhural’s only true respect for the Overgods, and only because Their power trumps His own.
Arkhural’s deepest hatred is reserved for Rveyelhi, who He regards as a pompous impostor. To Him, the Tyrant of the Black Staff is no better than those He disposed of during His rise. Worse yet, Rveyelhi is subordinate to the creator, Iandir, and thus, even more deserving of contempt. Conversely, Rveyelhi has no use for Arkhural, as He represents the most formidable obstacle to claiming the shuddeni race, and then others, as His own.