When the great empire-states of the Imperial Age fell, there was a massive void - a power vacuum simply too big for any one nation to fill. It is almost unanimously agreed upon that Greatland was ripped from the dark ages by the founding of the Ark; a trans-regional, overarching, unifying institution to govern peacefully over the land, with the primary intent to 'Mediate and Adjucate' the strife and struggles of the local authority. The Ark's original purpose was enough to pull Greatland from the primitive, agrarian society to which it had devolved, and did indeed manage to help spark an intellectual movement that would lead Greatland into the Age of Kings. Ultimately, however, the goal of supreme 'Adjucation and Mediation' was never achieved. However the Ark has emerged as an incredibly powerful contender in vying for political supremacy over the inhabitants of Greatland.
-Jax the Chronicler
The Ark is a monolithic institution that casts a shadow over eighty percent of Greatland, though degree of involvement in political and social affairs differs from region to region. Essentially, the Ark was founded around the axiom of the esteemed Imperial Age philosopher Julen Bandt, of Rodan, who famously said 'Iunjes necapanisi reigna' or 'The people cannot rule themselves.' With that motto in mind, several prominent, humanitarians believing that they had Greatland's best interests at heart, set out to try and create something that would protect the entire continent from whatever threats lurked across the land, the sea, or even in the stars.
This was done by capturing the hearts and minds of the most precious resource that Greatland - the few remaining intellectuals; those who survived the genocide and pogroms of the Imperial Wars. They were few, and in the Age of Nights, hard to locate. To pry them from their hiding, they began talks of re-printing the Biv - a surefire way to convoke the hidden intelligentsia. It worked, and it worked wonders. Not only did the Biv come back into publishing (and in a standardized version no less,) but the massive brain power pooled together manifested the Autoscribe, a device capable of automated printing, at a rate of roughly five times as fast as a diligently working monk.
Utilizing this intellectual momentum, the burgeoning class of scholars, philosophers and theologians convened regularly in order to create a solid foundation to govern from. It was not long after that the first Civic Universities began to emerge, as those who could afford it, began to show interest in education. Greatly in need of learned, literate individuals, a strong grasp on the Biv and it's teachings became necessary for a position in these Universities, and the up-and-coming institution known as "The Ark of Knowledge" (from the Archeoc word 'Arxe' or 'Fortress') had an almost complete monopoly on the academic community.
This, of course, turned into a catch twenty-two for the Ark. While plans for a monolithic institution were in the works by the founding father of the Ark, the foundation of such an institution was shaky, at best. In reality, all the Ark had done was gotten the small, generally impotent middle class, interested in learning. The rich upper classes could easily afford now, to hire these students out as personal tutors. They exerted no control over the nobles, and had nothing that the large, agrarian community wanted.
Well that all changed very quickly. At the council of Constantia in TCE 4322, the Monastic Community invited several dignified Magnates from the Ark to oversee the Proceedings. Those magnates, through a number of miraculous, and dubious political negotiations, left the Council six months later with over seven thousand monks, wishing to be trained in University level Bivlical analysis. The education, courtesy of the Ark's ever expanding pool of scholars, was absolutely free - with one stipulation; the newly formed Priesthood would answer to the Ark, and the Ark alone - not secular, provincial or local leaders. Their allegiance was to their chosen Gods, first and foremost, and second the Ark. Any allegiance other than that, was to be expunged immediately.
Seven thousand trained monks emerged as seven thousand men and women of the cloth, and that was no small number. To this end, the Ark began to branch - those members who dealt in scholastic activity were deemed "The Authorities" while the new, priestly branch were deemed "The Sacrosanct." The Sacrosanct would go on to found Ecclesiastic Universities of their own, and acted mostly autonomously in organizing their ranks, and trading wealth and knowledge with eremite community.
Now, the Ark dealt in something that all the small folk across the land could understand - salvation, and the commune of the Gods. This, of course, attracted the attention of the nobility, who had, throughout the Age of Night, kept vigilant watch over their small, agrarian lands. This sudden power wedge did not sit well as the nobles saw giant churches and cathedrals being built, steeples topped with flags bearing the sigil of the Sacrosanct flying below the Quill-and-Castle sigil of the Ark. The Ark's eyes were mostly averted towards the growing urban centers, and establishing Civic Universities in places were nobles had little power. The Sacrosanct had bigger problems, competing with the nobility for the love, trust and taxes of the peasantry. Most of the time amicable deals could be struck, though in some cases violence broke out. When things got bad, and the violence between nobles and Ark personnel became too heated, the Ark convened and decided on a new course of action.
As a joint effort between several Midalian princes, who had favorable relations with the Ark, and the Ark itself, a third and last Branch was devised - "The Scutarae" from the Archeoc word 'Scutapos' for 'shield.' The Scutarae started out as a ragtag group of veteran Midalian men-at-arms, who were willing to train and equip a small fighting force, mobile enough to deploy across Midaly, and into Caspernia, which was at the time the farthest reach of the Ark's influence. The Scutarae, mostly ineffective as a fighting force at this time would play a much larger role as the Age of Kings progressed. For now, they would serve as a force of bodyguards for the more problematic areas, in which Sacrosanct or Authorities faced immediate peril. While this proved to be effective, and the attacks on Clergy and Scholars drew to a halt, it outlined a very glaring issue with the mission statement of the Ark - without a substantial force, the Ark would be unable to assert total political control, making their goal of being a trans-national superpower ever more distant. The Ark would have to cede leadership to the nobility.
With a fighting force, that was used primarily as a deterrent, the smaller, uppity nobility began to ease off. Ark personnel from all branches began to travel in clumps - scholars, priests and soldiers traveled together, for comfort and safety. The influence of the Ark continued to expand, but there continued to be a problem - no one really knew what the Ark was. Sure, it was an institution in the loosest sense of the word. And there were founders. But there were no 'heads' or 'executives.' Things were done mostly by council, which was democratic and fair, but not conducive to making quick, important decisions. Most of the leadership came from the appointed heads of the Branches, which in some cases came in the form of an individual, some cases in the form of a council, and in some cases, complete anarchy. As it stood, the Ark continued to expand, without centralized leadership. And that is how it stayed. The Ark continued to spread - the Teutonians resisted, but lacked the central authority to pull together an actual force to push it out. Martyrs were made, but eventually, the influence of the Ark planted itself there. Caspernia, under the reign of Michaud II, a pious man who eagerly accepted the idea of an educated, professional clergy, even welcomed the Ark in with open arms. It drifted slowly across Ostaly and about half-way into Acary before coming to a halt. An attempt was made to cross the spine into Valykia, but was largely unsuccessful. Missionaries were sent to Ienpokos and reported that they had established a weak, but manageable foothold, though the Ienpokans had little interest in participation. By 4789, Caern and Sigurdia were the only regions untouched by the Ark - and that was remedied when King Semper of Caspernia invaded Caern, and brought Sacrosanct clergy with him.
The Ark Today
By now, the entirety of Greatland had been impacted in some fashion by the Ark. While the Ark's initial message of 'Mediate and Adjucate' had been quashed by the nobility, they still exerted powerful influences. In some areas, where local and regional control waned, Clergy or Scholastics stepped up in place of the regular authority. It is in these areas that the Ark's message can be seen most visibly. In other places, the Ark personnel simply serve as advisors and holy men, simply existing to serve the populace and the lords, effectively as tax exempt servants. In some places, Ark and political authority have struck a equilibrium, though always at a slightly uneasy tension, no matter how placid it may appear outwardly.
The Authority Branch continues to be the leader in scholastic and academic activity, though now that most urban centers have Civic Universities, they have ceased to expand. All students are temporary personnel of the Ark, and upon graduation, they become full and sworn members, with their only instruction being 'Interriuspro rocedakaiasi discera, ar discerap' or 'Go forth into the world to teach, and to be taught.' They of course, continue to be at the forefront of all scientific discoveries on Greatland, all research into lost and alien technology and tend to be the most likely to convene to study Bivlical analysis and plan amendments. The Authorities have also established the Greatland College of Arms, which is essentially a massive database of familial history and, strangely enough, a proto-credit union, complete with the ability to check one's personal credibility based on bloodline, liquid assets, and the abstract (and interestingly enough, quantifiable) concept of 'personal honor.'
They have began to also encourage the Arcane community into sharing their insight, hoping to start including Etherology in the curriculum. Unsurprisingly, with this extension, there have been talks of the Authorities absorbing the already tangentially connected "Circle of Masters" (the Greatland Wizard's Guild) fully into the Ark. While there have been multiple attempts to do so, the notion is still somewhat scorned upon by the mages who are, perhaps rightfully, disturbed by the idea of the loss of their complete autonomy. The push for this 'merger' is mostly the fault of enterprising guildsmen with their fingers deep in the Ark's pie - the Authorities owe much of their funding to the Society of Makers, who would like nothing more than to reign in the power of the Circle of Masters.
The Sacrosanct Branch grows every day. No longer does it need the Civic Universities that the Authorities have set up, the Sacrosanct have plenty of their own Ecclesiastical Schools at which clergymen/women are trained every day. There are dozens of Gods in the New Terran Pantheon, and each has his or her own followers, and the Sacrosanct has plenty of Sects to ensure that each God has his own worshippers, who are worshipping appropriately. The Sacrosanct have also established a "Temple Guard" which is essentially a small, personal defense force. The Scutarae, understandably feel somewhat slighted by this rather new addition, considering they have served as the guardians and protectors of both the Authorities and Sacrosancts since the founding of the branch. The Temple Guard and the Scutarae coexist by necessity, simply because Scutarae garrisons tend to be largest in urban centers, where Sacrosanct activity is highest.
The Sacrosanct also deals with "Cults." A cult is defined by it's small size, usually less than two hundred members, devoted to a God or Goddess or in some cases, a Saint, that has yet to be approved by the Sacrosanct council. Cults are not allowed to collect taxes as a temple may, and by extension they are not allowed to own land or establish convents or monasteries using Sacrosanct money, though they can privately fund these ventures. As a cult, they do have certain immunities and advantages -because of slightly obscure and archaic wording in the Sacrosanct charter, Cults are, under most cases, free from the threat of Inquisitorial investigation. Naturally, this has the potential to cause some serious issues. Though most of these cults are just practitioners of local, folk religions that have yet to be absorbed into the Sacrosanct theology, there are some that use the 'Cult' title as a security blanket. Many of these "Cults" are actually assassin orders, that the Ark knowingly protects, most notoriously the 'Black Circus of Mortuel, the Laughing One." Others are Warrior Cults, that aren't technically supposed to exist under the Sacrosanct charter, such as the 'Scarletta Corsairs' or 'The Men of Mihr.'
The Scutarae are the most dynamic of all the branches. Since their humble beginnings, the Scutarae have found a niche in the Ark, establishing an Inquisition to root out corruption from within. The Inquisition of course, has to work within the boundaries of the Ark, and have no authority in circles outside the Ark. They have also welcomed Wizards and Sorcerers into their ranks (who were always welcomed as fellow scholars in the Authorities) as soldiers and auxiliary help. They have established a paranormal investigation and response unit, comprised of specially trained soldiers who deal with Ethereal Phenomenon, known as the Arbiters. The Scutarae have also continued to fill their rolls as primarily a bodyguard force, though they maintain small garrisons in Civic and Ecclesiastical Schools across Greatland, as well as large fortifications in areas where Ark influence is heavy.
The Scutarae Tokari, the rank-and-file 'Shieldbearers' of the Scutarae are exceptional soldiers, often times recruited or exiled veterans of conflicts from outside the Ark. While their numbers are few, they exemplify what it is to be good soldiery. The Ark has a handful of Daliti, the 'Swords', who are actually knights sworn into the warrior branch of the Ark. The Ark is granted conscription and levy privileges in some areas, from which it can draft peasant or citizen soldiery, should the situation turn absolutely dire.
The Ark nominally is viewed as a check-and-balance to the power of local and regional authority, with the "interest" of the people at heart. However, that the "interest" is debatable. They Ark has numerous benefactors, who contribute hefty sums of money to their activities and infrastructure. This is mostly the banks and the Society of Makers, but also sympathetic nobility and temple donors. The Ark, in this sense, is corporate, in and of the fact that it's benefactors do have a say in how things are run. The unfortunate consequence of this, is of course, outsiders using the organization for political or social gains.
Almost the entirity of Greatland knows the potency of the Ark. While it lacks for physical assets, and holds only token pieces of land, and owns a host of soldiery just large enough to keep it from being an 'easy' target, the Ark represents something more; something impossibly large and old, from an age long past. The Ark's goal "Mediate and Adjucate" still proves to be a threatening axiom to the Kings and Emperors and Princes of Greatland, who see their sovereignty and unchecked autonomy threatened. The Ark emphasizes that no power should remain unchecked, and seeks to undermine such threats wherever they germinate. While it proves to be a less-than-fruitful endeavor in many cases, the Ark has never failed so badly that it has vanished. Instead, it grows, and with it, it's message.
There is a passage in the Biv, that the Ark takes to heart, and that is in fact the official 'words' of the Scutarae - an Old Terran motto, dating so far back into prehistory, that the original history surrounding the quote has been long lost to reHumanity. It is, close enough to Archeoc, strangely enough, to translate roughly. It has always been accompanied by a picture, a bare-breasted woman with a spear, triumphantly standing atop a downed king, who bleeds from his side.
Sic semper tyrannis
Thus, always with tyrants.
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CodexThe Biv ( Systems ) Societal/ Cultural - Defining
A scholar and his student sat in the garden, drinking wine, breaking bread and pondering.
And so the student asked the scholar "O' great and wise Master please answer to me this; what word should describe the practice every man and every woman should do at all times?"
With no hesitance, the scholar replied "O' learned disciple, 'Reciprocity' is the word ye seek."
- The Biv, Tome of Life, The Ethical Collections (6), Parable 32