The Immortals are a prominent (somewhat infamous) lay brotherhood of the Mitraic Cult of One-Eyed War. This Cult (the religion of the Mitraic Temples contains many such Cults, in accordance with the Prophet Mitra’s teachings of the multiplicity of God and His many forms as the many gods worshipped by the ancient Herasorn) venerates One-Eyed War, the deity of war, strength, bravery, and combat. The Immortals are lay zealots, fanatics in the celebration of One-Eyed War, who, while not ordained as Cultic priests or priests of the Mitraic church, cannot be questioned in their devotion to the Cult of One-Eyed War or to the God of Gods.
History of the Immortals
The Cult of One-Eyed War has been consistently the most popular of the Cults among the caste-nobility. Menial and trade castes have typically favored deities such as Tlonor, the tranquil Mother Goddess, Hutana, The Dark Walker, a pastoralist and hunter, or the ecstatic god Serapis, the Serpent of Resurrection; these gods are among the so-called Compensatory Gods, who reward faithfulness and service in life with a reward or paradise in the afterlife. One-Eyed War does not reward his followers with eternal resurrection, nor do his followers look forward to dwelling in a spiritual transcendence near to the God of Gods. This mighty god of bravery and warfare is one of the Materialist Gods, who compels his worshipers through exaltation in this single life- while any faithful Mitran, Cultist or not, may be a saved soul, the faithful to One-Eyed War distinguishes himself through action in emulation of the ideals of the Great Red Hawk himself: bravery in combat, excellence in competition, strength of the body and the will, hatred of cowardice, and demonstration of supremacy. Thus, it makes sense that the warrior castes (the nobility) hold the God of Battle in such high esteem; his ideals mesh quite neatly with the ideals of their caste.
However, it is not only among the highborn that ideals of bravery and strength are respected. There are many among the caste-menial population (or, more rarely, among the caste-merchants and -artisans) who worship One-Eyed War, participating in the temple fights and sacred wrestling matches, who put their shoulder to the Whelming-Stone next to caste-nobles (for, as the common saying goes, "Under farmer’s cloth and under King’s robe, there is a man"), and who tattoo the Hawk-Prayers on their arms. The lay brotherhood which calls itself The Brotherhood Of The Red Immortals Of The Hawk God, but which is colloquially known simply as the Immortals, is drawn, almost to a man, from this brawling body of common worshipers.
Though small groups of caste-menial zealots were common before the founding of the Red Immortals Of The Hawk God, and often arose spontaneously, it was not until the founding of the brotherhood by Csalci of Baleyon that these groups of fanatics had official sanction by the Cult of One-Eyed War (and thus, tacitly, the sanction of the Temples of Mitra).
Csalci (a nickname, meaning something like "Big Red"; his real name was most likely either Barveyis or Barvayos, though this no longer well-remembered) was a caste-merchant in the southern metropolis of Baleyon during the reign of King Arcosaytas III. A tradesman most likely involved in loans (a particularly hated subcaste), it is traditionally held by the Immortals that he was cheated unto poverty by another merchant and swore eternal revenge by "the missing eye of the Great Red Hawk" (a particularly strong and binding oath), taking an oath to give up his life and his flesh to One-Eyed War if his enemy was delivered to him. Sure enough, going to temple the next year, his enemy’s horse was lamed and the cheating merchant was cast into the street, breaking his neck and dying at the very feet of Csalci himself as the now-penniless man walked to temple in the mud.
That very day, after having offered his prayers to the God of Gods at temple, Csalci went to the Temple Of One-Eyed War and went before the Great Icon. Immortals tradition holds that he then beat himself bloody with his own fist and spat his own blood into the offering bowl before the Icon.
Historical records from later in this period note that Csalci of Baleyon led a band of very poor worshipers of the Red God, and taught a unique brand of unorthodox (though not heretical) worship.
After Csalci of Baleyon’s death (in the 2nd year of the reign of Savasedos VI), the new leaders of the rapidly-swelling brotherhood petitioned the High Cultists for admission to the Cult as a lay brotherhood. After the brotherhood was purged of possible heretical elements, the Brotherhood Of The Red Immortals Of The Hawk God was officially inaugurated.
The Brotherhood has chapters in most major Cult centres of One-Eyed War. It is a mostly urban phenomenon, and is composed almost completely of caste-menials and the more impoverished parts of the caste-artisans; this, as well as the perception that its practices are brutish, uncouth, and highly indecorous, makes it unpopular with the nobility, though the Immortals do, indeed, have a few caste-nobles among their ranks here and there. It is vastly more popular in the south (especially in Baleyon) than in the north, though a pronounced increase in the size of the Immortals contingent in the capital at Armenor was noted after the Indenture Riots in the Sixth Year of King Sanavi II (the current era). The opening days of the war in east has likewise produced growth in the Immortals’ ranks, no doubt connected to the widespread pro-war fervor and the kingdom’s propagandist attempts to show Herasor’s national strength to their Prakht enemies.
Practices of the Immortals
Like any other group of Mitran faithful, members of the Immortals go to temple with their peers on designated temple days to worship with all others the God, God of Gods, in High Mitraic mass. Like any other Mitraic Cultist, members of the Immortals also attend the temple days of their cult god and participate in the rituals of their deity; in the case of One-Eyed War’s cult, this may be a simple blooding at the altar and group participation in reciting the Hawk-Prayers and the Cultic Chaunt, or, at special times, it could mean ritual fights, or the pushing of the enormous Whelming Stone, or even perhaps other esoteric rites of the War God (such as the bloodshed of the rumored "Huranic Combat").
However, for these zealots, even more so than for other members of One-Eyed War’s faithful (who are known to be more than usually dedicated to demonstrating their faith and emulation of their god), worship does not end at the temple steps.
The Brotherhood’s tenets hold that, as Csalci did, each Immortal must give himself over in all ways to One-Eyed War. The first aspect of giving one’s self over is holding to a more extreme code of ideals than the regular worshipper, one emphasizing absolute fearlessness, never backing down, commitment to writing all personal wrongs ("wound back him who has wounded thee"), and steadfastness in the face of all pain.
This steadfastness, and an unshakable belief in the might imparted them by their god, leads to the second and more theatrical aspect of the Immortals’ tenets- self-harm.
For example, most citizens of the Herasorn kingdom are familiar with Immortals through their Red Convocations- processions in which members of the local Immortals chapter file through the streets, flagellating themselves brutally, and gather to recite the Cultic Chaunt. The gruesome spectacle of the Immortals, grimacing and snarling in pious rage and defiance of pain, with their blood-welling flesh hanging in strips down their back, is a common nuisance in the choked, muddy streets of Herasorn cities.
Another common ritual of the Immortals is known as the Path of Embers. In this elaborate firewalking ritual, a group of Immortals will often block off minor side-streets or clear spaces alongside roads so that passersby will witness the fury of their worship. A long bed is dug and filled with flaming coals. After the recitation of the Cultic Chaunt, readings from the Book of the Latter Prophet (typically exalting the God of Gods when he is exhibiting might and rewarding valor rather than in his more merciful aspects), as well as ritual bloodings, members of the chapter of Immortals will walk the bed of coals to show their invincibility. This ritual is typically reserved for more senior members; more junior members of a chapter are advised to instead start a roaring bonfire and leap through the flames to the other side.