How The Hell Did We End Up Here?

The world of Sojourners in Shadow is a chaotic one to say the least. It has order in places, and many seek to impose their order on all, but so far none has come close. Factions, armies, sects, secret organisations, cults, nations, gangs, crews and elite squads are everywhere. Some formed by necessity, some by the charismatic will of a leader, and also some exist due to deep running ideologies. People are following the paths begun by their ancestors, laid out in blood and sweat. The way things are now is because of what went on before. The choices individuals and groups made over the centuries are scars of the face of the world. Plenty of people alive now have little knowledge of the past, and yet so many of them are living the way they are because of it.

What the world was like when the Shadow World came. What those in power did when it did. How the masses reacted when magic and monsters appeared among them. How they responded to the actions of their leaders. How nations interacted. How people were swayed one way, then another. How technology developed. How civilisation fell apart so that new ideas and new groups could take over. How those ideas and groups took shape. How and why some ideas and groups vanished and others remain to this day.

All of this is highly important when it comes to understanding the world of the present in Sojourners in Shadow. The people, the vast majority of them, cannot hope to know all this. As readers, I think it will help to get to know the basics.

The core divide in how a terrible event provokes reactions is that of how two sides respond. The two sides are those in power and those without power. Understanding this is key in going forward.

When the Shadow World was brought to ours by Dylan Winter, there were two main responses:

Governments = Holy shit, there’s monsters and weird magic everywhere! We have to do something!

People = Holy shit, there’s monsters and weird magic everywhere! Someone has to do something!

This was followed by:

Governments = We need strong measures. We need to be shown to be in charge and in control.

People = We need help now. We need for those in power to listen to us and if not, then to follow someone who will.

Obviously, this created a tug of war situation. The more people demanded change, the more governments felt the need to suppress that feeling. The more governments made moves to control their people, the more people sought something new. The more both sides pushed for the things they wanted, the more each side responded with stronger demands.

To be clear, this was happening before the Shadow World integrated with our own. With advances in technology and the world developing as it was, many nations were experiencing authorities who spied on their every move while at the same time the public continually found ways to express themselves. Foreign influences were sited as threats to national security. Uneven wealth distribution incited more and more anger. Trade deals between regimes were applauded by those who benefited and denounced by those who did not.

Figures emerged to exploit the growing tension, becoming political leaders or social champions. Revolutionary movements became more commonplace, even in democracies. Tyranny became a widely used accusation. Law and order were hailed, even when they took away rights. Free speech was the motto of numerous organisations, typically used to suit only their own agenda.

To so many, the struggle was a simple one, that between good and evil, right and wrong. Those people on the other side were all bad, hurting everyone else, and they deserved everything they got. We on this side are all good, living correctly, and we will win.

Yet in truth this was the ancient struggle the human race had always experienced, that of order versus chaos, control versus freedom, community versus individuality. Both sides believed they represented the majority and were doing what was best for them. Populist movements had the backing of most, it had to be said, and yet many were led by charismatic charlatans or ambitious megalomaniacs. The elitists countered with every facet of their authority, using media, law, even terror if they had to, clinging to power with all their might. They preached that they were the guardians of decency and equality, that they ran things so that everyone benefited, and breaking the system – whichever system that was being used – would only lead to anarchy and collapse. They convinced many to support them, bribed and coerced others to do so as well, and so across the globe the clash of elitism and populism became the foremost struggle.

Eventually this went beyond mere loose collective thinking. Organisations and groups formed, with clear identities and goals. Here are a few from each side:

Populist movements:

The Saints of Bushido

The Glorious Hedonists

The Movement for Renewal

The Peasants’ Revolt vs the People’s Rebellion vs the Socialist Renaissance

The Humanist League vs the Salvation of All Souls

 

Elitist movements/forces:

The Varangians

The People’s Judiciary

The Gendarmes

The Terracotta Army

A quick explanation about some of these groups. The Saints were people who believed in living a martial yet peaceful existence, based in the USA. By contrast, the Movement for Renewal was essentially a cult, calling upon the doom of humanity so that it could be reborn. The three revolutionary groups were left wing uprisings that ended up clashing with each other across Europe, Asia and Africa. As for the Humanists versus the All Souls, this was a conflict begun in verbal exchanges that led to violence. A meeting was held where humanists and atheists confronted religious leaders about the hysteria of their followers following the Shadow World’s arrival, and especially the persecutions it resulted in. Yet the religious entourage was attacked and killed. Naturally the non-believers were blamed and this unleashed a wave of fanatical fury around the world. It was dubbed the Harvest of the Heretics. After that, humanists had little choice but to become militant themselves.

As for the elitist groups, some were truly mass movements as well, often with a fascist viewpoint or existing to counter another ideology. Others were funded and commanded by establishments, sometimes encouraged to fight the populists, more typically paid to do so. The Terracotta Army was a genuine mobilisation of people, when government loyalists in China took to the streets, going so far as to claim they were the first emperor’s guards reborn. On the other end of the spectrum, the Varangians and the Gendarmes were paid enforcers. The latter were quite famous in their day, serving the Oligarchs of Central Europe. They were named after police and yet their sole purpose was to do the tasks the ordinary officers wouldn’t do. It was they who made the Fascista the most marketable gun in the world for a time. The M-33 Carbine was made in the USA yet it was once the Oligarchs equipped their enforcers with it and it performed so well that it was sought after by all oppressive regimes. Light, easy to use and aim, with a solid stock that did a fine job as a club, this weapon became the symbol for oppression everywhere. It earned the name the Fascista and that’s what people call it even now, despite the history behind it being forgotten by most.

I will go into more detail about how the world was doing and how it changed once the Shadow World was summoned another time. This is a general overview. Enough, I hope, to make the point clear. Seismic events were occurring. People were crying out for justice, while those who sat in judgement feared being overthrown. Some preached about the end of the world and many listened. Some demanded that advancements in technology became available to all and only a few agreed. Protests led to riots and those led to organised resistance. Countries were at each others’ throats and stabbing each other in the back, all in the name of progress. Some nations were led by tyrants, others by those who wished they were, and others yet by committees or congresses, which tried to appease all the angry voices. None succeeded.

The world was going mad and no one knew how to mend the ills. Perhaps it was too late. It could be claimed that the time to save humanity had long past, so there was only the struggle to see who would stand victorious among the ashes. Perhaps. No one will ever know. Dylan Winter, like so many, saw the world as needing a tumultuous change. Unlike them, he found the way to bring it about. When he did, when the sky darkened and magic began to take effect, when monsters came into being among humans, the world was a powder keg waiting to go off. He wasn’t the one to light the match. He lit his own bomb and dropped it. Every friction, every conflict, every fear and doubt and glare of hatred was swept up in this new maelstrom. People who wanted change found new power to make it happen. Those who attempted to restrain change were forced to adapt themselves or being destroyed. There was no going back. Normal was a thing of the past, and yet the desires and needs of people never went away. They found new form. People who believed the world had been about to end or called for a return to more primitive ways became aquatics. Others like them who though in terms of advancement were drawn to becoming cyborgs. Martial thinking found life in new armies, whether cyborg, mutant or human. Order collapsed, and yet pockets of it remained and was therefore easier to maintain. Change was happening, but rarely did it occur the way those who had sought it so passionately had wanted it to.

What is occurring in the world as I am developing it is far removed from the events I speak of here. I have no intention of writing stories about back then. But it is important to know, and to think through, the past of any world in order to understand what you are handling in the present. The world I possess is developing even as I write it, and yet the foundations for it were set in its past. People – whether human, monster, mutant or machine – are still fighting for survival, progress, ambition, their future. Most of what once had been is ruined or lost, but some parts linger, either in the persons of the Grand Master, Jamshid or Prime, who lived back then, or in automated death-machines programmed when brutal answers were needed. Secrets wait to be found. History might yet be told. What lies in the future for the people of the present could well be explained in their past.

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The Order of Mechanised Tyranny

When you have faith in specific institutions, and that faith is ripped apart by cataclysmic events, how do you continue? Do you admit you were wrong and try a new path? Perhaps some would. That was not the course of the Grand Master, leader of the Order of Mechanised Tyranny. He is one of the oldest beings alive, having lived before the arrival of the Shadow World. He was a general in the army of the United States of America, and he had total faith in his country, its armed forces, and also in God. He knew his homeland was safe because of the deity he worshipped and the soldiers he commanded. When he witnessed the downfall of humanity, he saw his faith prove worthless. The armed forces could not overcome the magic and monsters that appeared. Soon they were outclassed by the creation of super-soldiers, cyborgs and other machines. As for God, there were no answers to the general’s prayers.

The general did win victories, however. When his forces were supplemented with super-soldiers and cyborgs, he was able to defeat a machine army. Power won the day, not faith, and certainly not humans. He saw the future in the cyborg race. More and more people were getting improvements – either soldiers for defence or the rich for better lives – and he demanded his forces become the main focus. He never took to mutants; perhaps there was still some lingering of his old faith in seeing them as abominations. Maybe. Few know the mind of this individual as he once was. What is known is mostly who he is and the sect he leads, the latter reflecting the first. The Grand Master forged the sect in his singular vision. He has never faltered since.

To return to his past, the general had lost faith in God and saw the only chance of survival for the human race was biomechanically improved soldiers. More than that, he saw humanity reborn, not just mechanised but forged within as well, moulded into a dedicated and dutiful force. No civilians, no politicians, no weaknesses. Cyborgs of all kinds were being made, and this was not something the general approved of. Control of the country had been sliding away for some time, the general had more recently been serving a new and localised government, so saw no issue in choosing to take command himself. Others had failed them all. He would not.

The general managed to get his soldiers altered, himself too, and they began their march to a new, stronger way of life. Others were made to join them. More and more became cyborgs, but more than this, they became soldiers who followed his orders and pledged themselves to his way of life. Obey, serve, fight, kill, die. Cyborgs began in one place and could have been a united race, yet factions emerged and then they splintered. The Grand Master and his aggressive, militarised sect were a major driving force in that disruption.

Yet the sect was more than military cyborgs. The Grand Master was not the only follower of faith to lose his way. Others in organised religion saw the Shadow World and the chaotic consequences as either end times, punishment or evidence that no higher power was protecting them. Many who once believed fervently became fervent enemies to faith. Those who saw the Grand Master’s sect recognised the anger he possessed and joined him, proclaiming their loyalty, pledging their enmity. More than this, a number of those who had commanded in religions now saw their power waning, and spotted opportunity in this sect. Preachers of faith turned into preachers of anti-faith. Militant believers were now militant disbelievers. The Grand Master was soon commanding much more than a mere army. He led a passionate, fanatical legion of soldiers.

It has been suggested that perhaps the Grand Master allowed these once-believers into his ranks to laugh at religion. An insult to God even. None know. Maybe he saw kindred spirits or merely useful tools. Whatever his reasoning, the Grand Master made a choice and his sect changed, and he saw the benefits. He had lost his faith in God, as well as his faith in humanity, his country, in the military as he had known it. All of it was gone. But he had pushed and remade his military might to become something stronger, and now he could remake the religion as well.

The Order of Mechanised Tyranny is a sect of conformity, with all the trappings of the military and religion. They march in step by ranks, crushing all opposition, converting those they choose to. They are religious yet without any god to waste their time on. Everyone is uniformed, to the extent that all are regarded as male. They all wear the same, including masks, and their swords are attached to their right arms regardless of favoured sides. Everything and everyone must act as one, as the Grand Master wishes it. His will is done, his vision is fought for. When he had been a God-fearing general, he had fancied he had a special destiny, or at least a favoured standing from which he could act for the good of all. His faith in God had been ripped away, but his faith in himself had faltered, then regrouped, and now was stronger than ever.

His followers believe in him equally, and also in his new way of life. Their religion is about their sect, their laws, their truths. For instance, they have Six Sins, which are disobedience, disloyalty, cowardice, dishonesty, slothfulness and mercy. Anything that could harm the sect is bad, essentially. They must all be dedicated and focused, working tirelessly, never doubting. Their Nine Virtues are courage, dedication, intelligence, purity, resolution, integrity, excellence, diligence and sacrifice. These may sound worthy virtues, and they are, and yet for the Order of Mechanised Tyranny, many of these words have a slight twist in meaning. For them, being resolute is about being ruthless. Integrity insists that when you proclaim your loyalty, you mean it, that your actions follow the same course. Sacrifice can mean soldiers giving up their lives for the sect, but also the ‘sacrifice’ of non-members as they are defeated. These lists are drilled into the minds of recruits, often during Recitals. There are three a day, every day, in any base or outpost around the world. Attendance is mandatory unless your services are necessitated elsewhere, such as guard duty. They do not pray, but they recite their laws and other mantras. Their faith in the sect must be absolute.

A quick mention should be made of their understanding of eternal life. This is something few outside the sect know of. Basically, all personal information goes into the sect’s database. All that individuality which is surrendered on joining, this is stored, and so is kept for all time. Members of the sect long dead are in there. They are remembered at Recitals as well. Past victories, and sometime defeats if useful for instruction, are recalled. The sense that the sect lives, and thus do all who live in it, is the new truth to them. Those born in the sect are given an identity as children, then taken away and stored, so they can believe equally. After that, they are just more ranked members, moving parts of the greater whole, fighting on. To the Order of Mechanised Tyranny, the saying is true – life is struggle, struggle is war, war is life. We are always at war. We live for ever.

Mentioning all of this, I must return to those previously mentioned fanatics who made the sect what it is, at the Grand Master’s behest. To outsiders, all members look the same and are the same really, and that is how he likes it. The truth is that there are some differences. Most are soldiers, with officers leading them. Yet some belong to other groups. One is the clergy. This is the result of those ex-religious, anti-faith recruits. The Grand Master utilised them and created a branch of his sect to fuel the rest with speeches and incitement. Soldiers who show enthusiasm along with eloquence are nominated to enter this group and, if successful, become as powerful as officers. Cardinals, for instance, act like roving high commanders, showing up to ensure unquestioning loyalty is ever present. In that regard, the clergy are part cheerleaders, part secret police.

Obey our law. Judge others according to it. Anything else is wrong. The meek are accursed, the strong will take the world. We are the strongest and the world is ours to claim. This is the Order of Mechanised Tyranny, a sect built and honed by the Grand Master himself, driven by his will, and it pleases him greatly. There is much more to be learned, about both the man himself and his followers, but for now, all anyone needs to know, is that when the red and black clad legions appear, make ready to fight for your life. They will not stop until they have it, one way or the other.