The witches of Lythrefang Coven are an insidious secret society of dark magi users which have bedeviled the continent of Anvaris for many cycles, having arisen prior to the Lightwar by an unknown length of time.
Lythrefang, a name referring to a philosophy as opposed to a location, was founded based upon the ravings of the Mad Witch Lithis, a mysterious figure who lived somewhere within the Lesser Kingdoms prior to the Lightwar. Common record cites Lithis as being a sickly and destitute peasant woman who constantly traveled, alternating between spans of "uncanny wisdom" and "howling dementia." It is believed that Lithis had lost her sanity over a lifetime of practicing dark magi in some unknown witching circle, an unfortunate and somewhat common occurrence in her day and age, when such circles could exist more openly. Whatever the reason, Lithis claimed to have a close, prophetic connection with Martazul, a hither-to unheard-of deity whom has come to be known as the Lesser God of Lust and Corruption.
In her periods of mental clarity, Lithis is said to have possessed an irresistible intellect and quiet charisma that lent itself well to the creation of a cult following. In her explosive outbursts, she would reveal bits and pieces of Martazul's Lythrefang, a so-called "divine word" and promise of enlightenment beyond ordinary mortal reach. Followers of Lythrefang were instructed that males cannot be granted power, to study the arcane arts with no moral hesitations, to return to nature, to reject the norms of family and country, and to recognize no greater deity than the follower's very own being. Followers, therefore, were expected to treat Martazul not as an idol to worship, but rather as an enlightened equal, and benevolent teacher, to a coven of mortal gods.
Despite preaching what was widely regarded as a revolting blasphemy, Lithis never faced inquiry for her behavior and evaded all reasonable authorities for the remainder of her life, a fact often cited by her followers as proof that no force could prevent the spread of Lythrefang. A small circle, first consisting only of the Mad Witch's most devout followers, soon grew into a network of alarming size, and quickly gained notoriety for evil and depraved acts, the likes of which would not be outdone until the Lightwar. Official responses were attempted, but the coven's intricacy and decentralized nature proved nearly impossible for the various kingdoms to snuff out on their own. It was not until the Witch Hunters, in the wake of Kodan's uprising, launched a mass campaign known as the Great Hunt that the witches were finally dislodged throughout Anvaris.
Since the Great Hunt Edit
For a period of about ten years, the Lythrefang threat was ethereal. Circles which had once brazenly terrorized entire communities had either disbanded or had relocated to the deep wilderness to rebuild. Some royal historians prematurely declared the coven's demise, but these optimistic projections were quickly and devastatingly retracted when an entirely new generation of witches came of age. The first sign of trouble came during the Winter of the Ravens, a spate of revenge killings against those who fought in the hunt and their families. After the initial wave of murders, other veterans renewed their vigilance in expectation of further violence, but the killings stopped once the element of surprise had been exhausted. Two years later, in 24th C, 67th Y, the most powerful of the young sorceresses and those who survived the Hunt a decade earlier assembled at Pale Creek Hollow in southeastern Varos and created a new order. The experience of defeat had resulted in a transformation, changing the coven from a movement into a sustainable institution, complete with an codified hierarchy and long-term goals.
The new coven was far more subtle and self-aware than its predecessor, spending more time exploring the dark arts and striking at far more opportune moments. The Witch Hunters quickly found themselves not eradicating vermin, as they had looked upon Lythrefang before, but instead were facing an eerily sophisticated rival. The two organizations, unable to do away with one another, were forced into a sort of perpetual war. By 90th Y, the coven's elite had convened once more and had selected Nixima, a so-called "terrorchild," to serve as their spiritual and strategic leader, called the Queensister.
Beliefs and Motives Edit
The core tenants of Lythrefang, as communicated to Lithis, disguise a greater end goal: Martazul, a god bitter over the primacy of order and moral righteousness, created the alluring but ultimately toxic ideology in order to undermine the dominance of other gods, and substitute their influence with her own. This is perhaps why she ordained that the followers of Lythrefang must be female, as they are Martazul's symbolic representatives in the mortal world. As a result, any Lythrefang witch who gives birth will only accept a female child. Males are terminated without hesitation.
"Moral concern" is treated as an intolerable limit on the practice of magi; Lythrefang followers are encouraged to delve into dark and twisted rituals which corrupt their minds and souls, making them more powerful and yet more loyal messengers for the doctrine. The defense of such willing self-ruination is seen by coven members as a sworn duty, and so they will viciously attack any force which attempts to halt their activities. Since the power to defend the dark arts naturally arises out of studying them, the thought follows that the more twisted and depraved the act, the more the coven stands to benefit. Witches are therefore in a constant race to discover new and ever more terrible techniques, and will tend to promote those with the least evident moral sense to leadership roles. Thus, over time, the coven only becomes more evil.
The followers are expected to "return to nature," although this is interpreted to mean a return to the state of nature, or savagery. Inductees are often pitted against each other in fatal combat, or are forced to kill-or-die in a test of mental readiness. No sympathy is permitted for the slain, so the coven often forces new witches to murder their own close kin, and afterward, to eat the flesh. All hesitation experienced throughout such cruel challenges is said to merely be the strings of jealous gods pulling against the inductee's ascension, and that the true form of a witch is a creature without remorse. Conquering one's reluctance to kill represents the development of true agency. This provides the coven with a mechanism for self-discipline, as any who show weakness may be turned upon by other members of the coven.
Lythrefang teaches its followers to reject the norms of the family, a concept which Martazul finds revolting. As families require the tempering of "impure" lust, any expression of love by members of the coven must be entirely carnal in nature. Rape, incest, and all other forms of taboo are not only allowed, but encouraged. Constant sexual predation of members against other members is yet another vector for social ordination, with those who abuse the most rising to the top of the social ladder. The rejection of all norms of country is equally insidious, as all notions of nationality, culture, race, or background are erased in favor of the coven and the metrics through which it promotes its leaders. Lythrefang witches, therefore, are utterly lawless and value nothing outside of their private society and their devotion to pure evil.
The final, and most destructive teaching of all, is that all mortals are, in fact, living gods who are merely "cursed" with mortality by the ruling pantheon of jealous gods, seeking to control and destroy any challenge to their tyranny. Lythrefang witches believe that, beyond war with the world around them, they are at war with the gods themselves, and must seek immortality and omnipotence to fully realize their godly potential. The unwavering belief in this inevitable overthrow of the pantheon means that nothing short of a direct, immaculate intervention can dissuade a Lythrefang witch from her works.
The coven is unwelcome throughout Anvaris and has no permanent meeting places or territory. Instead, its members meet irregularly and in secret, and otherwise pass messages which can prove impossible to intercept. For example, a servant may be used, on which a hex is placed to prevent the servant from recalling the message he or she was meant to deliver. The message is only recited once the hex is broken. Several types of animal familiars may also be used. Finally, the coven is known for its extensive catalog of symbolism, which may be used to share messages in public, and in plain sight.
Lythrefang is constantly pursued by organizations such as the Witch Hunters and is expertly versed in counterespionage and diversionary tactics. Knowing that a large-scale uprising is impossible, the witches have instead committed to a strategy of attrition, to gradually wear down society's moral structure and weaken the commoners' connection with holy deities. Despite their largely-theological motivations, the coven recognizes that those who have given up traditional religious beliefs are the most vulnerable to conversion. While most witches will study and train their craft full time as permanent travelers, others will live double lives in order to embed themselves within civil society, if only on a temporary basis. Witches typically adopt a name derived from Crypimum, a customary code language, while also using a pseudonym more natural to their background.
The coven has, and continues to face, significant competition for new blood. Lythrefang's arbitrary female requirement places it at a theoretical disadvantage, but the striking effect on the organization's outward image makes it more appealing to female prospects than other similar organizations. Perhaps the greatest threat has come from the Shadowhands, devotees of Ixuz. Since the Lightwar, many young and promising dark magi users have been swayed by the compelling strength of the Shadowhands, and the possibility of a second uprising. This includes converts from Lythrefang whom are generally condemned for transgressing against the teachings of Martazul and Lithis. As a result, the Lythrefang Coven is notorious for kidnappings, to the point that any time a young Anvaran girl goes missing, abduction by the coven is somewhat suspected.
Another rivalry exists with the Morvudd Coven. As beings who wield dark magi, the corrupted souls of Lythrefang witches are highly palatable to the beast of the cursed forest. In turn, the accursed wood of Morvudd's trees produces powerful conduits of dark magi. The presence of evil is so palpable in some areas that travelers refuse to tread there, but these forbidden glades are a constant battlefield between the two covens.
Unlike their behavior in the woods, the witches avoid "capturing" small towns and villages, although they are quite capable of doing so. Such a move would undoubtedly attract an organized attack from authorities and the Witch Hunters which would be too costly to defend against. The coven instead merely tries to create safe havens for its travel and conduct, and counts its victories by the number of churches and temples razed, holy men and women assassinated, leaders and generals converted or made subject, and mystical relics surrendered to coven hands.
The coven is divided into hundreds of circles, collections of witches local to particular areas scattered throughout the continent. The size of these circles vary, from less than a dozen keeping watch over isolated villages and monasteries, to leagues of hundreds embedded within capital cities. Within the circle, witches convene as "sisters" to make group decisions with little oversight necessary. New inductees are taken as apprentices to the sisters, and must be accepted by majority vote to officially join the circle. In cases where higher guidance is wanted or enforced, each circle has an "elder sister" whom is tasked with speaking for the group, although the position is bestowed upon the most powerful, and not simply the oldest witch in the circle. In this case, the term elder merely signifies a closer bond with Martazul, the "eldest sister." The larger the circle, the more preeminent the word of its leader. At any time, these leaders may call for an assembly.
Assemblies consist of any meeting between any two or more elder sisters, and can even involve the entire coven at once if sufficiently planned, such as the one at Pale Creek Hollow. Preeminent sisters speak first and most freely; lesser sisters must sometimes use a display of force to be recognized. It is not uncommon for the leader of one circle to be killed, and replaced by, the leader of a lesser circle as a means of promotion for the successor. The highest elder sisters form a leadership class, but as of late, the coven has elected to position its most talented witch of all into an even higher, overarching role, as if the elder sisters belonged to a second circle over all Anvaris. This leader, Nixima, while not the highest elder sister, was previously the leader of the Unity Point circle, considered the most dangerous position in the entire organization and requiring a witch of extreme skill.
The coven places special emphasis on youth, as it is believed that the younger one embraces the tools and techniques of witchcraft, the greater her eventual power will be. In any case where a circle must choose from multiple equally-powerful witches a new elder sister, the youngest will invariably be selected. Nixima was one such case, and in many ways she embodies the ideal Lythrefang witch. Along with a perfect streak of unbroken ruthlessness and amorality, she had been so dangerous in her early years that the nickname "terrorchild" was bestowed upon her by her own mother, Kimberyl, the previous elder sister of Unity Point. Nixima faced no challenge while usurping her mother's position as a teenager, and afterward, revealed that she had been hearing the voice of Martazul herself. Nixima, roughly equal in power to the elder sisters of the other capital cities, was soon crowned as Queensister at the age of 22.