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Church of the Blessed Slumber

Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it.
--Mephistopheles, Faust, Marlowe


Agony slices through my leg. The demon is clawing at me, grasping to hold me here in the Lower Hells. But he cannot. I have escaped.
But to where? Memory is slow to return. I was...
I was in Hell. The...the upper reaches of Tartarus, Bernice called it. We came so close to salvation, missing it by a hairsbreadth. And for this we are damned.
My God, something is wrong...Bernice said there'd be no pain if I got away...but...but... it's still cutting me! What's happening? Why me? whymewhywhy?!
My feet come to rest on solid ground, and I collapse as much from that minimal, cruel relief as from the onslaught of this driving, howling sandstorm or whatever it is that slashes and burns my flesh, if it is flesh. I have not escaped. There is no escape.
I open my mouth to beg for mercy, but the foul sand fills my mouth. There is no mercy here.
And a strong hand clamps down on my wounded leg and begins to drag me, still trying to howl, into...
Calm?
I open my burning, stinging eyes. I have been pulled into some kind of structure, some makeshift shelter from this storm of God's fury. The flimsy walls are shaking, but for the moment they hold. I cannot believe they will hold long.
A face moves into view, my eyes still too stung to get a clear view. "Eddie?" It is her voice. Bernice has come for me. Unless it is a trick. I say nothing.
"Eddie, I'm sorry...so sorry. We had no idea. Things have...changed here."
His voice cuts her off. "The wrath is come upon this place to the uttermost. The Refuge of Lies has been swept away." Gone. Stygia is gone. Just like that. He goes on talking, raving one might call it, but he reveals in passing I have been gone for almost seven months. Seven months?!
"W...why are you still here? Still waiting for me?" The allotted period was a day. Not that I would have been refused, but I should have had to come and present myself.
"This...Maelstrom...it's been going on all this time," Bernice tells me. "We were here, waiting for you when it hit. Since then...well, we've stirred as little as possible. This is about as safe as it gets."
He is still going on, oblivious to the interruption.
The Wind howls outside, almost drowning them both out together, even in this refuge. And I wonder.
Am I truly out of the Lower Hells?
Have I ever been?


What if, when you died, you found yourself in a place totally unlike any afterlife you'd ever imagined? It didn't look like hell, and it certainly wasn't heaven. You weren't reincarnated, and you didn't just flicker out with your last neural ganglion. This grey place...it has no points of contact with anything you'd ever expected.

Well then, you'd be one of the lucky ones.

Not a Hope in Hell

Angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day.
--The Epistle of Jude, vs. 6

In the wake of the events known as the Second Great Awakening, a new religious phenomenon emerged. The Awakening had been a great upwelling of frontier Calvinism; its adherents believed that the elect, those whom God had chosen to save, would experience a foretaste of divine grace to uplift their lives. Some did, apparently, caught up in an ecstatic wave of emotion.

Others did not. These less passionate but no less devout souls were discarded, left to their own conclusions about why they had been ignored. Some decided that they simply were not of the elect, that they had been predestined to eternal damnation. Some concluded that their faith had been misguided and religion was a fraud. And then there were those who would not give up. Hardy individuals, they fell in behind what was coming to be known as the "Restoration Movement", a group of believers who were convinced that the Christianity of the last two millennia was, with few exceptions, a counterfeit. The so-called experiences of grace were nothing more than emotion let loose and running wild; that they had not been taken in was a testimony to their intellect, not their sins. Real salvation came from following a rationally laid-out plan that God had provided in the Scriptures.

Whether they were right...well, who can say? But the sad truth is that, at least for many, the rational approach proved inadequate. Without the benefit of emotional catharsis, a great many of the rapidly growing movement remained tied to their earthly lives, and awoke in the Shadowlands after death. Simultaneously, having weak passions by nature and most of those damped out by the teaching of the movement, their hold on wraithly existence was precarious. Worst of all, according to the Restorationists, the damned did not immediately travel to hell. Rather, the dead awaited the judgement in a misty pair of "Hadean" realms. The Shadowlands, with their bands of Hierarchy slavers, their great masses of thralls, their soulforged and moliated "objects", their constant threat of storm winds and Spectres, could by no means be Paradise. Under the circumstances, it was no surprise that many concluded they were damned, left to rot in "Tartarus" until Judgement Day came and God hurled them into hell proper, nor that virtually all such wraiths abandoned hope within a matter of days and, deprived of their Passions, plummetted into Oblivion.

Given that the movement had quickly begun to attract thousands, even tens of thousands, this sort of wholesale gorging of Oblivion could not be allowed to continue long. Within a few years, most major Necropoli had standing orders to soulforge any Enfant who espoused Restorationist ideas; many could be identified at least as dubious cases by a "shellshocked" look that persisted among wraiths of a handful of religious backgrounds and strong beliefs. Cruel as the policy might sound, at the least a soulforged sword or brick could not contribute to visiting disaster on the Deadlands. Only a very few of the strongest-willed Restorationists managed to avoid one fate or the other, and these quickly learned to keep their mouths shut about their perspective on the afterlife.

Most of them.

A Drop of Water on the Tongue

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

--"Invictus"

In 1880, a man named Moses Lard arrived in the Deadlands. A blunt, hard-headed preacher for the more conservative faction within Restorationism, Lard possessed a considerable Tithe; though hardly loved by all, certainly no one had forgotten him. Lard had had a reputation for his highly legalistic world-view; despite that view, or perhaps because of it, in his last years he had begun to speculate on what happened to the dead who, through some failure of ritual practice or one minor bad habit too many, were among the barely damned. Would a just and merciful God really send them to hell for eternity? In his last days, Lard had concluded that such borderline cases might possibly suffer only for a time and then be annihilated. (For all his concern, Lard was too hidebound by his beliefs to consider any better fate possible.)

Perhaps Lard had subconsciously expected his fate, or perhaps he was simply too stubborn to pass on. Though disconcerted following his Reaping, he recovered quickly enough to escape the Artificers' forges. His new existence was grim, but not all hope was lost. For the first time, a Restorationist listened to rumors of Transcendance and found them believable--but in his own fashion. To Lard, Transcendance was not an escape to heaven, or a reincarnation in the Skinlands--it was an escape to nothingness, which Lard came to call the "Blessed" or "Blissful Slumber". Oblivion, by contrast, was "merely" a banishment to the Lowest Hell, where the rebellious angels (in his interpretation, the Malfeans) suffered much greater torments than anything found in Stygia. Did not, after all, those who fell to it often reappear as malevolent Spectres? Hardly a vanishing from existence!

Restorationist souls continued to appear in the Shadowlands, of course, as did some other "lost souls" who were convinced that their fate was some form of damnation, and there were also that handful of previously-arrived Restorationists who had managed to survive on what fragments of hope they could find. Ever so cautiously, Lard sought them out. Heaven was lost to them, true, but there might yet be some fate better than the wretched torment they were suffering. If they severed their ties to the Quick--if they focused their energies on what good they could do for the tortured souls in Tartarus--if they struck at the demons who possessed human forms and otherwise meddled in affairs that were no longer their own--then it might yet be that God would take pity on them and grant them release. Thus, from one man who would not give up even in hell itself was born the Church of the Blessed Slumber.

Bearer of the Sword

Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.
--The First Epistle of Peter 2:13-15

The Church of the Blessed Slumber could not be entirely hidden from the Stygian authorities. Its members tended to come from among the newest and most inexperienced of Enfants and moreover from a a group of people who were inexperienced at hiding from the law. At the same time, however, it seemed to be among the most benign of Heretic Cults. Enfants who would have fallen straight to Oblivion or been soulforged were instead becoming useful citizens. They upheld the Dictum Mortuum, so far as could be seen, though their punishment for meddling with the Quick could be considered rather harsh. Their claims to holding a path to Transcendence were surprisingly understated. They did battle with Spectres, and if occasionally they claimed a Puppeteer or a Haunter as a "demon", well, that was no great loss. They provided Castigation services at least as effectively as most Pardoners, if you could stomach being harangued. All in all, they were judged to be a low-priority target by the Hierarchy, who looked the other way unless the Slumberites came right out into the open, and occasionally requested under-the-table aid in hunting down troublemakers and Spectres. The automatic soulforging orders for Restorationists were rescinded, and for a time the group enjoyed a relatively privileged status--for Heretics, anyway. No one bothered to ask why their meetings still occurred in the deepest of secrecy; that was their own business, and if they were a bit paranoid, they had a right to be.

In fact, the Slumberites were a "purification cult" of the harshest kind. According to their doctrine, any wraith who made use of Arcanoi enabling him to interact with the Quick was a demon, as per the early Restorationist doctrine that demons were the spirits of the damned. While the initial worship service was actually rather tame, it was inevitably followed by the pronouncing of anathemas on specific "demons", who were then hunted down and hurled into Oblivion. On rare occasions, such individuals were actually brought into the services and struck down into a Harrowing as many times as it took to eliminate them. More often, "demons" were taken down by a campaign of harassment aimed at their Passions; later, as Lard and then others studied Lifeweb, it became a regular practice to methodically sever a "demon's" Fetters one by one. Still other Slumberites began learning Usury, eventually enabling them to drain away a "demon's" Pathos or Corpus. Though Lard and his followers pursued the lost art of Intimation, they were never (so far as is known) actually able to locate a Solicitor who would teach them. Spectres were the preferred victims of the Slumberites, but in practice ordinary wraiths proved much easier to destroy; to this day, no one knows how many were hunted down and destroyed during this period. Lard's followers believed that by this drastic course of action they both served God by doing away with His enemies and purged their own desires to meddle with the Skinlands and mingle with the Quick, thus preparing them to pass on--or more accurately, pass away.

In the late 1930's, the Slumberites were finally exposed. A Hierarchy agent who was cleared to use Puppetry to hunt down Renegades was captured by the cult but managed to escape into the Tempest. Retribution was immediate, but many of the Slumberites in turn escaped into the Tempest and, scattered, simply proceeded to set up their own congregations in various Necropoli. Moses Lard was denounced publicly as a servant of Oblivion, and the Church of the Blessed Slumber went, in the space of one night, from being winked at by the authorities to being one of the most feared and hated factions in the entire Dark Kingdom of Iron. For his own part, the unshaken Lard proclaimed Stygia the "Refuge of Lies", a shelter of the damned from the righteous wrath of God, and anathematized Charon himself as a demon. Outsiders anticipated that the Slumberites would be hunted down to the last man, but it was not to be. Before the hunt had proceeded very far, the Fifth Maelstrom began, and all lesser concerns were blown away by the storm winds. The dispersed Slumberites were forgotten in the ensuing chaos, and when the storm cleared they were presumed to have been consumed by Oblivion.

In fact, the Church of the Blessed Slumber survived the Maelstrom winds. Following the storm, they allowed their memory to fade into the background before they began to reappear under new names, hiding their true beliefs under the folds of misdirection. Every so often, a cell of Slumberites would be rooted out, but as no congregation had direct links to any other, the Legions found the task to be very much akin to punching a feather pillow--the feathers were merely rearranged. Nonetheless, membership remained essentially stagnant and the Slumberites were unable to gain anything like the influence they had once possessed. And thus matters have remained.

The Overwhelming Scourge

Because you have said, "We have made a covenant with death, and with the realm of death a pact, the overwhelming scourge will not reach us when it passes by, for we have made falsehood our refuge and concealed ourselves with deception," therefore the Lord GOD says..."I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level; then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies and the waters overflow the secret place. Your covenant with death will be cancelled and your pact with the realm of death will not hold up; when the overwhelming scourge passes through it will trample you. As often as it passes through it will seize you, and it will pass through time and time again, any hour of day or night, and it will be sheer terror to understand what it means."
--The Prophesy of Isaiah 28:15-19

The Sixth Maelstrom brought great hardship to the Slumberites, but the fall of Stygia was nonetheless greeted with rejoicing. Among their circles, news of Charon's Transcendance became rumors that he had fallen to the Abyss. The government that had served him and abetted lesser demons was gone.

Nonetheless, the Church of the Blessed Slumber has not emerged into the open. Some of its former adherents have deserted, fearful that they have been supporting the wrong side. And Moses Lard himself is also missing. Has he achieved the Slumber at last, fallen into the Abyss himself, or simply hidden from the fury of the Scourge? Could he be among those who have not yet returned from his Harrowing? As yet, no one knows the answers. Still, the Slumberites are not given to waiting on human authorities. Whatever remains from them will emerge from the rubble before long and resume the good fight--perhaps more openly than ever.

We Are of All Men Most Miserable

Besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.
--The Gospel of Luke 16:26

The Church of the Blessed Slumber is derived from early "Restorationist" churches of the sort that appeared in the United States in the early 19th century, and their teachings closely adhere to their counterparts among the Quick (the modern Churches of Christ and Christian Churches). Initiation is by baptism (immersion), which is believed to appropriate the forgiveness of sins. However, as physical water is in short supply in the Shadowlands, the Slumberites instead have come to practice "Tempest baptism", also known as the "baptism of sorrows". New members are dropped into the Tempest, most often through a Nihil. If they return, they are accepted; if they are caught by spectres or otherwise enter a Harrowing and do not return, they are assumed to have been found unworthy and cast into the Lower Hells (the Labyrinth/Oblivion). Naturally, the Church's membership has remained fairly small. Slumberites, however, consider the experience a necessary purification and refuse to omit it.

According to early Restorationist teaching, demons were not the same as the fallen angels. Instead, many taught that they were the souls of the damned, temporarily released or escaped from their realm of imprisonment. The Church of the Blessed Slumber also believes this, and stigmatizes as "demons" any wraiths who make use of Arcanoi that allow them to interact with the Skinlands. This includes virtually all uses of Puppetry, Embody, Outrage, and Pandemonium, as well as certain arts of several other Arcanoi. A Slumberite who makes use of such arts will be cast into Oblivion as soon as possible, though such things are rare. For that reason, the Slumberites have sometimes been able to cooperate with Stygian authorities by hiding their methods of punishing wraiths who make use of such powers, and are at present almost universally reviled by survivors of the Sixth Maelstrom as both spectres-in-the-making and collaborators with the Hierarchy at its worst. Most of their new recruits now come from Enfants whom they themselves Reap.

It is not impossible, though rare, for a wraith who has already learned some forbidden Arcanos such as Puppetry to be converted to the Slumberites. These are usually Enfants who have a natural proficiency for such arts and developed it before encountering the Church; however, occasionally some longer-term wraith will "repent". The baptizers of such a wraith make certain that the convert enters a Harrowing (not so difficult nowadays) rather than simply escaping immediately, sometimes nowadays by holding her under with their own hands (usually at the cost of being injured by the Storm Winds themselves). Depending on the practices of local congregations, the initiate may or may not be told what is going to happen, but most enter knowingly and are told to report to a specific meeting place should they return after the allotted time, usually a day.

Just as certain Arcanoi are forbidden, others are encouraged. Most Slumberites learn some degree of Castigate, Lifeweb, and Usury; many also learn Argos for travel and sometimes for Tempest baptisms, and Moliate with which to hide. The Slumberites have long pursued the hidden arts of Solicitation and Mnemosynis, but so far neither of those Guilds has been foolish enough to give up their secrets to such unpleasant individuals. Still, with the Solicitors even more on the outs than ever, the first mistake may happen any day now.

Like most cell-based organizations and its parent in the Skinlands, the Church of the Blessed Slumber is organized in a strictly congregational manner. Although all Slumberites look up to Moses Lard as a great man, no formal hierarchy exists over the churches (nor are their numbers great enough to form much of one). Typically each congregation has its own preacher (who usually knows a fair amount about Castigate); where possible, the congregation will have a group of elders (who hold the actual authority) and/or deacons (who carry out special tasks). Congregations rarely manage to communicate with each other; what little word does travel is usually passed on by Argos.