As part of the revamp, I’m creating a more detailed backstory to among other things, the various factions. This is a snippet from the introduction to the most villainous faction in the book, the Kurion. Some of this is edited from the already published book, much of it is new. (Everything remains copyrighted to the author.)
Faction: Kurion Empire
If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
There is no shortage of fascism and tyranny in human history. Usually, they are characterized by propaganda, misinformation, scapegoating, and intimidation, with the threat of violence being much more effective than actual violence. In order to maintain control over a population, a significant percentage needs to be loyal; the government can not survive if the entire population upon which it relies rebels. This requires preferential treatment, for example declaring an ethnicity a superior breed of humans, providing reliable food and income to members of the political party, or religious fanaticism promising a pleasant afterlife for martyrs.
Under normal circumstances, there are limits to the atrocities a government can get away with before its people start to revolt, but what if circumstances were abnormal? However fickle the human mind may be, it is not invincible. The basis of the Kurion Empire in its current form is that free will is actively suppressed. A significant percentage (usually a minimum of 10%) of the populace is made ‘loyal’ through implanted control chips. These do not directly control a person’s movements as such, but force loyalty by triggering terrible pain at the slightest sign of disobedience. While they are hardly perfect – they can for example be hacked – the implants are cheap, simple, and can be quickly produced in huge numbers and implanted in dedicated facilities. Pain conditioning is used on more recalcitrant slaves, those who absolutely refuse to budge are killed. Propaganda and intimidation are used in addition to this, to pacify the masses and give some a lie to believe, but overall the system can not exist without the cyborg slaves. With Kurion history being what it is, there is simply no conceiveable way a departure from tyranny can be achieved, even if the Kurion were willing and able, which the vast majority are not.
Kurion Sieu Nhan, also called Kurion or Kurions, translating roughly to ‘superhuman lords’ or ‘the nobility’, are considered by those who know them the most tyrannical government in the history of the human species. At the core of this system is a relatively small number of ‘nobles’ and their unwavering belief in their entitlement to ownership of everyone and everything else. Like so many before them, the modern day Kurion consider themselves a superior breed, the ultimate stage of human evolution. Generations of utter ruthlessness and no small amount of inbreeding has resulted in most Kurion being natural-born sociopaths. They are not merely conditioned to be without mercy; most lack the neurological wiring for empathy altogether. Because of these genetic neurological defects many Kurion are also mentally retarded, but the ruthless nature of Kurion culture ensures that only the cunning are able to maintain positions of power. The average time a nobleman lasts in a certain position increases the further one goes up the ladder. Planetary leaders typically last for decades, while emperors can last hundreds of years.
This faction is intended as an absolute evil. Kurion culture has had hundreds of years to entrench their beliefs and there is no question as to their intentions or their modus operandi. Although there is in principle the possibility of peaceful interaction by necessity, the nobility will never view anyone else as more than potential resources. For player characters, this faction could represent an enemy horde they must hold off, or an evil empire to infiltrate. Perhaps the goal is merely to escape or survive the empire, or lead a rebellion against it. One important aspect of this faction is that is not stable; being the insane and evil nightmare that it is, it is always in flux.
The seeds of the Kurion Empire were sown on the planet Tenebre, when the monarchs of two neighbouring kingdoms married. King Matthew Eustathios Antonius Onesiphoros the Second, of the kingdom of Zoremos, wed Queen Cassandra Quan Neirin Theodosios of the kingdom Quirelia. Their kingdoms were ‘merged’ into the Zoremos Empire, with Onipolis, previously the capitol of Zoremos, becoming the capitol of the new Empire. Matthew Onesiphoros was crowned Emperor, his wife Cassandra took his name and became Empress. The emperor’s only son and heir to the throne, Niketas Matthew Onesiphoros (from a previous marriage) was granted rulership of Halviken, the former capitol of Quirelia, now the second city of the Empire. The Emperor loved his son, but felt Niketas did not show enough compassion for those under his rule. Matthew gave his son a city to govern both to let him learn how to govern effectively, and hopefully gain a degree of empathy for the citizenry. Other members of the family retained their previous positions, governing over local areas in the Emperor’s name. Some were resentful, believing themselves to be better material for the throne, but the cooler heads of the majority prevailed, and peace reigned.
The new Emperor sought to improve the empire, making it ‘the perfect garden’ for his wife. Massive infrastructure projects such as new roads, bridges, and renovations were started, but the cost quickly outpaced the economy. Despite this, Matthew Onesiphoros made every effort to make the projects succeed, even going so far as to personally (and symbolically) perform construction work. However, after a few years of massive effort, storms and draught brought the already weakened Imperial economy to its knees. Angry and impoverished citizens rioted and marched on the capitol, the mob growing with each village and city they passed. Nobles had been attacked, and hamfisted responses from local authorities had only fueled the fires of revolt.
In the capital, the Imperial family was becoming nervous. Protesters’ demands were becoming louder and more extreme; some were even calling for the heads of the entire bloodline. The Emperor’s personal guards remained loyal, well-equipped, and well-paid, but they would never be able to stand against the might of the imperial army should it side with the protesters.
An old man wearing the apparel of a jester appeared in the Emperor’s quarters one night, and made him an offer. The Emperor and his family would gain all the power they needed to control the peasantry, in exchange for a number of human sacrifices each month.
At first, the Emperor was cynical, but the intruder showed him magic, levitating, burning, and freezing objects, in order to convince the Emperor that he was not dreaming. Reluctantly, the Emperor agreed to the terms. He knew that the number of sacrifices would still be far fewer than those who would die in a rebellion, and he and his family would certainly be among the dead in that case.
That night, the first ritual was performed; thirteen prisoners – who were destined to spend the remainder of their days as slaves – were sacrificed. As the victims were crushed from the inside out by the forcibly inserted and slowly expanding iron mechanisms of blades and gears, Emperor Onesiphoros resented what he had resorted to, praying to his Gods that he had made the right decision.
From that day forward, the emperor and each individual in his family could gain supernatural abilities, provided that person made the necessary human sacrifices each month; more sacrifices were needed if they wanted more power. Immediately the next morning, Emperor Onesiphoros the Second personally confronted a riot, daring the peasants to strike him down. The few who tried were turned to ash by magical fire, the rest were forced to kneel. Real magic was something unheard of in the Empire at that time. Some believed the Emperor was truly divine, some believed he was merely powerful or even diabolical, but all agreed that further rebellion was pointless. The rebellion rapidly lost momentum and those who refused to stand down moved their operations underground, biding their time. Following this, the Imperial economy became more tightly controlled and recovered in the following year, when the storms abated and harvests were plentiful again. Prisoners were sacrificed each month, in secret, but only the specified amount, and only those prisoners deemed truly irredeemable.
The situation did not remain stable for very long. After only fourteen months of peace, the rebel underground learned about the sacrifices and them being the source of the Emperor’s powers. When the rebellion took this information to the Emperor’s son, Niketas Onesiphoros, they sought to convince him to use this information to organise and lead a rebellion against his father. Instead Niketas used the information to perform the ritual himself, using the would-be rebels to fuel his magical powers. Once his powers manifested, Niketas traveled to Onipolis, confronted his father and fought him in a duel that laid waste to the palace. Matthew Onesiphoros proved more powerful than his son, but the Emperor could not strike down his son. Evading capture, Niketas fled.
The now-disowned son fled into the capitol city’s underbelly and hid there for a week, hiding from the searching soldiers. He repeated the ritual, and found that the more victims he sacrificed, the more powerful his abilities became. He began performing these rituals in public, and defeated a large number of soldiers sent to stop him. Then he gave his father an ultimatum – give the throne to him, or die. Knowing his son’s rule would be despotic, the Emperor saw no choice but to increase his own powers by making more sacrifices. Very soon the public became aware of the sacrifice-fueled arms race, but there was nothing they could do to stop it. Instead, cults sprang up, and many were sacrificed as common citizens attempted to gain powers for themselves – in vain, as the contract was only valid for those of the Imperial bloodline.
Other members of the family began to stir. No longer content with small roles in the Empire, the more ruthless individuals of the family started performing their own sacrifices, and claimed areas of land for themselves, with terrified peasants and soldiers swearing loyalty out of fear of being sacrificed. In the space of a month, the empire fell apart into a half-dozen small, warring kingdoms. A brutal war followed, in which the most ruthless individuals climbed in power, over the corpses of those less willing to resort to human sacrifices.
Less than half a year later, the empire lay in ruins, with several factions laying siege to the capital. Determined to stand his ground, the Emperor led his remaining soldiers in a desperate bid to hold off the attackers in a four-way battle. Soon after the battle started, Emperor Onesiphoros realised that his soldiers at that point followed him not out of loyalty, but fear, he temporarily withdrew. Once back in the palace, he found that stricken with grief at what her husband had become, the Empress committed suicide. There may have been many things to fight against, but at that point, the Emperor had little left to fight for. Bereft of the will to win, the Emperor told his troops to return to their families and try to flee what remained of the Empire. He took a moment to pray to his Gods one last time, and cursed himself, swearing to never stop fighting, never to rest, until the unholy ritual was eradicated from the world, by killing all those who perform it, and erasing all knowledge required to perform it. He discarded his crown, left the palace, and fought the attacking armies, killing countless, including many of his hated family members, until death came at the blade of his son.
In the aftermath, the former Emperor lay dead, his son sat on the throne, and a dozen contenders vied for second place and more, always looking for a sign of weakness to exploit. The Empire was in ruins, and the new and utterly despotic rulers made little effort to restore the quality of life for regular citizens. Gaining more power required exponentially more sacrifices, and each nobleman was assigned a maximum they were allotted each month, lest their thirst for power undermine the populace upon which they relied. In order to regain prosperity, and expand their personal power, the new rulers went to war against neighbouring countries. Always thirsty for more ‘citizens’, land, coin, and power, the Empire began a war of conquest. Sometimes nations were allowed to join on more favorable terms for the previous rulers; they were granted a place in the hierarchy, and allowed to continue governing their nation – now a province – in the name of the Emperor. Commonly, the new nobles were not recognized by the old, leading to no end of rivalry.Because new nobles were not related to the Imperial bloodline, they would not have access to the unholy contract.
The backstory currently goes further, spanning two more time periods, but this seems enough text for one day.