His eyes bright with bloodthirsty anticipation, the sinister prophet looked over the crowd of kneeling villagers that his slovenly partisans had dragged into the village’s small forum. The followers had reverently placed his personal altar in the exact center of the natural amphitheatre, a stained and ominous block, graven with primordial glyphs of power and subjugation. An old man, undoubtedly one of the village elders, had already been gagged and lashed to the blood-encrusted altar, so the dark-robed zealot began his oration.
“I am Corvius! You people have been brought here by my will! You are here so that I can show you how your old gods have failed you, how your vaunted Empire has abandoned you!” Striding back and forth before the circle of captives, the madman grew even more strident. “You are here so that I can show you the true might of an ancient and powerful god, Vespess, the Lord of Freedom! You are here so that you can join me as we sweep aside the corrupt traces of a dying Empire and institute a New Order! An Order where all may do as they please! One without the outdated constraints of a tattered morality, without the weaknesses of doddering priests lost in their dogma! Feel the glorious power of the Lord of Freedom!” the heretic shouted, wicked triumph in his echoing voice.
Uttering the throat-burning syllables of a primordial incantation, he summoned the power of his reptilian god, Vespess. As his knife began the complex cuts and tortures that the ritual demanded, he could feel the life force ebbing from the bound man before him, drawn into the dark priest’s body like smoke into a chimney. Some drained away, drawn to feed the terrible hunger of his ravenous god, but enough remained to fill him with eldritch potency. Some among the watching villagers were filled with doubt and wonder; into these hearts, he poured a tithe of his stolen power, letting them feel his god’s empowering touch. From the majority of the villagers, though, he sensed only horror and impotent fury; little did these people suspect that Vespess desired to taste these emotions most of all.
As long as men dwell in the lands that once made up the Empire, tales will be told of the murderous rebellion of Corvius the Death Haunted, Corvius the Heretic, the Death Prophet of Vespess, Demon Lord of Lies. For centuries before, the soothsayers had predicted the coming of one who would bring death to all he touched, whose wrath would bring ruin to entire provinces, but as is so often the case, the warnings failed to save the people when their doom fell upon them.
Child of the Accursed Lands
There are many tales of Corvius’ childhood, but precious few contain more than bare crumbs of truth in them. It is certain that Corvius was a child of fractious Baellus Province, near the core of the Empire. Already ravaged by revolts against the Empire and hostility between rival villages, the province was a pit of disease, poverty, and blood feuds. Characteristically, the Baellic people responded to these troubles by turning on each other; some villages blamed the Empire for their troubles, while others claimed that their impious neighbors had brought the curse of the gods upon them. In this time of rebellion and misery, young Corvius was born, a child raised in a land contaminated with hatred and stalked by death.
The Mocker’s Teachings
One tale of the dark prophet’s childhood, still whispered on dark nights, is that of his mysterious teacher, the man known to history only as “the Mocker”. It is said that this sinister figure took the boy in after the people of his village were decimated by an outbreak of Burnsun Fever. Other tales claim that this was a lie spread by Corvius after his ill-fated rise to power; these tales claim that the boy was driven from his village after committing unspeakable atrocities upon his younger brothers and sisters. In any case, “the Mocker” took the boy under his wing; from a twig that had started life twisted, he helped shape a mighty branch of true horror.
The Testament of the Mocker
This apocryphal scroll purports to be a description of the early years of Corvius Haereticus, describing numerous acts of depravity, rapine, and murder carried out by the youth at the incitement of his revolting mentor. Several details are anachronistic, leading the authorities of the Hegemonic Inquisition to declare it a forgery. It has been banned within the Empire (and later, the Hegemony) since versions of the disquieting text first appeared, a century after Corvius’ death. Even today, possession of this wicked document is grounds for trial as a heretic within the Hegemonic lands.
Although it may be a forgery, the text appears to include authentic descriptions of secret rituals of the Vespess Cult. Over the centuries, heretics and rebels have sought the text out to enact the vile rites within.
A Dangerous Young Man
All sources agree that, even as a young man, Corvius possessed a dark charisma. A saturnine man with predatory, hawk-like eyes, he was a gifted manipulator, impressing everyone he met as a well-spoken and courteous scholar of mystic lore. His charm opened doors for him as he combed the libraries of the Empire for eldritch lore that would grant him dominion over spirits and men. It was at this time that he met and married his wife, Saetella. The unfortunate Saetella was swept away by his charm and grace at first, but grew to understand him as no one else ever had. It was Saetella who first warned others that Corvius was not what he seemed, and it was she who was the first victim when he defied the Empire.
Corvius had not yet found his heretical “calling”, but he was a dangerous man, nonetheless. He had a hidden dark side, an urge to kill that periodically drove him to strike down those around him. This secret curse was well hidden, with even his wife suspecting nothing at the time. His studies gave him a reason to travel widely, and as he traveled, he would give in to the murderous cravings that called to him. Because he was careful never to yield to these urges while in his homeland, no one connected the mysterious deaths and disappearances with the young scholar. Years later, when his true nature became apparent, those who knew him realized the truth.
The Tale of the Baellus Chronicle
In his researches, Corvius eventually found the dark occult lore that he desired so badly. The circumstances of this fateful discovery are recorded only in the heart-wrenching
, allegedly written by the heretic’s unfortunate wife and taken by a fleeing household slave soon after her murder. According to the chronicle, Corvius’ search for mystical lore led him to the tombs of the “Serpent People”, an all-but-forgotten culture known for the snake motifs upon its few surviving monuments. Within one of the buried tombs, the scholar found stone slabs graven with eldritch sigils, symbols that he could not decipher. Inscribed upon the slabs, a frightening reptilian god was depicted looming above a mass of terrified worshippers, the thing’s priest standing above them like a god himself.
Fraught with ominous portent, the sigils dominated the young scholar’s imagination for months. In endless, tedious study, Corvius strove to decipher the mysterious script, which defeated his best efforts at translation over and over again. One evening, after falling asleep among the stone slabs, Corvius dreamed of an unknown god, a creature of icy scales and inhuman hungers. In his dream, the alien god enabled him to understand the writings that had defeated him for so long.
When he awoke, he returned to the time-consuming process of translating his find, this time finding success. It was a religious text, describing the rites used in worship of Vespess, a reptilian being of awesome power and unceasing hunger. Corvius recognized the creature instantly; it was the ravenous god of his dream. Reading the bloodthirsty rites of the Serpent People’s god, he discovered their similarity to his deadly secret cravings. The god’s rites promised him power, but more than that, they justified his murderous yearnings. The twisted man found a bloodthirsty vocation described on the ancient stone; more than that, he learned magical rituals that would channel the power of human sacrifices into himself and into his new god, the dark reptile god of the Serpent People.
Overcome with enthusiasm, he tried to recruit his wife Saetella to his crusade. A meek woman, it was inconceivable to him that she would refuse to join his new cult of Vespess worshippers. Terrified by the prospect of opposing her husband’s will, but horrified by the grim details that he had shared with her, the devoted woman ordered a household slave to flee the province with their infant daughter and with her journal, its details justifying her actions. She remained behind, determined to save her husband from his mad worship. When he discovered her betrayal, the dark prophet was saddened rather than enraged; giving in to the deadly cravings that haunted him, his wife became the first of Corvius’ sacrifices to the ravenous god.
Rise of the Death Prophet
“You have been told that submission to the Empire would bring you peace and prosperity, yet all you have found is want and misery!” the young prophet urged the miserable refugees. They huddled in makeshift hovels, their rebellious home village razed by the Legions the previous year. “While you suffer here, the traitors in Balaustium live in luxury, eating the food that should be yours! Why is this? They have taken the accursed coin of the Empire, that’s why! Worse than that, they have betrayed the gods of their own homeland in exchange for foreign gods! I am here to tell you that the ancient gods of OUR land are angry! They demand blood and souls! They demand justice! And I am here to claim it for them! Now which of you has the courage to aid me?” the Death Prophet thundered.
Corvius first recruited for his cult among the young and impoverished refugees of the province. Camps of the displaced and desperate could be found in many areas, left without homes in the aftermath of the land’s turmoil. Among the angry and dispossessed, he found fertile ground for his message of hatred and revenge. He built an army of rabble, armed with makeshift weapons and armor, but filled with the desire to see their enemies humbled. Choosing carefully from within their ranks, he soon built a core of bloodthirsty followers with no qualms about the dark sacrifices demanded by their sinister god. As the intoxicating life energy of their fallen enemies flowed into them, they soon became devoted adherents of the new cult. Within a few weeks, he was able to storm tiny Ferricus Village, claiming its people as sacrifices or forcibly recruiting them to serve his army of vengeful rabble.
Soon, Corvius began to send his most trusted acolytes out to infiltrate nearby villages, recruiting others to his murderous cult. Some joined from fear, others sought revenge, but groups of worshippers spread throughout the province. Soon nearby provinces began to know fear of this mysterious rebellion and their unknown serpent god. His spies reported who spoke against him, and bands of rebels moved through the night to silence those that opposed the cult’s spreading evil. His troops began to acquire better arms, and rebels from throughout the region flocked to join the ranks of his murderous sect.
In the tales of the common folk, Corvius the Death Prophet was a larger-than-life terror. It was known that he would boldly lead his men on midnight raids, sacrificing their captured foes in agonizing rituals. He appeared to have superhuman strength and energy, an unstoppable necromantic terror that took unholy delight in his foes’ deaths. Clad in robes of midnight black, an ancient helm styled with entwined serpents upon his brow, the murderous cultist was the stuff of nightmares.
The Coming of the Legions
After the cultists seized control of much of the province, the forces of the provincial governor found themselves outnumbered by vengeful rebels eager to seize the provincial capitol. A desperate call for aid was sent and elements of the Draco Legion, the V Legion, and the XXIII Legion responded. The phalanges of the legions tore through the rebellious lands like a hot blade through butter. The skies over the entire province were filled with columns of smoke as villages were burned to ash; hundreds of rebels and sympathizers were captured and impaled along the provinces’ roads and rivers.
Driven from their strongholds by the concentrated military might of the enraged Empire, the leaders of the rebellion scattered, fleeing the province. Corvius, hunted relentlessly by Imperial troops, fled to an isolated village in the neighboring province of Caractium, where his men promptly took over and established the same grip of terror that had served him well in the past. Trusting that the village’s isolated location would allow him ample time to escape should the Empire discover his bolt-hole, he planned to wait out the Empire’s hunt and then return to resume his evil reign.
A company of the Empire’s worst soldiers, the “Scutters” of Draco Legion, proved his undoing. Hearing rumor of the cultist’s isolated lair, they refused to notify their superiors, knowing full well that more trusted units would be sent to handle the task, leaving little glory for the miserable Scutters. Marching hard through terrible storms, they reached the village with no warning reaching it at all. The cult’s leaders were trapped within five minutes of the first soldiers setting foot in the town. The commander of the Scutters, a scarred centurion named Folroi, was terrified at the rumored magical power of his cornered foe. He didn’t even try to capture the man, instead sending every available soldier charging in to the cultist’s villa. The evil man was dead within seconds, transfixed by the long spears of the frantic soldiers.
Legend differs about what happened next. Some tell of the fire that rapidly swept through the village, driving the soldiers back. Others speak of an ominous serpent, as large as an oak tree, crushing the Imperial troops in its huge coils. In the end, they were decimated and forced to fall back without the body of their depraved foe. The poor soldiers of the Scutters missed out on the glory again.
Serpents in the Shadows
Hidden on the shadows, isolated cults and rebels still sometimes carry the Banner of Vespress forward. They tell tales of their immortal leader Corvius and how he was rescued by his god from certain death and was carried off to become a god. They remember the ancient rituals, sacrificing the innocent in exchange for the stolen power of their life force, and dream of the day when they will stride the world like gods, bringing the New Order their murderous leader dreamed of.