Warriors of Clay: The Amiliki
Most of Creation knows of the gunzosha of Lookshy. Heroic or insane men and women who willingly sacrifice their lives to stand beside the Chosen in battle, they have a legacy of service and sacrifice which knows few peers. Yet while the gunzosha of the modern era are well known, few study their history far enough to realize the origins of the gunzosha and how little the super-soldiers of Lookshy resemble their ancient counter-parts.
In the early years of the Usurpation, the first gunzosha appeared within Creation as thaumaturge-soldiers recruited and trained by the Terrestrials to supplement their armies. These early gunzosha were set forth to hunt down and stand against the Solar Anathema. Years before the first "gunzosha armor" would ever appear within Creation, these mortal soldiers had to rely on their own limited magic and the lesser artifacts supplied to them by the Terrestrials. They were slaughtered en-mass, yet served the purpose of weakening and slowing the Celestials enough to allow the Dragon-Blooded armies to overwhelm them. Only in the final days of the Usurpation did the first contemporary examples gunzoshas appear. These were not thaumaturge-soldiers, but regular mortal warriors augmented with powerful magical equipment and they quickly came to replace the simple war-alchemist within the ranks of the armies of the Usurpation.
The Solars fell and while the military Shogunate of the Dragon-Blooded receded many of the bans placed on the practice of mortal magic, so many masters of the Arts and Sciences had been used as fodder for the Terrestrials it made little difference. There were many willing to learn, but few left to teach, and the only place much of the lore remained was in the hidden hands of the Sidreal, who spent much of the era attempting to avoid contact with others. The idea of a thaumaturge trained for battle would remain, but with the full potential in thaumaturgy lost to the killing fields, it would never see exploitation equal to the level of the armies of the Usurpation until much later and under far different circumstances.
Fractionalization within the ranks of the Sidereal was not as strong during the Usurpation or the subsequent reign of the Shogunate as it would become, yet it still existed even in those days. Private or faction ventures set forth by the Gold Faction were often under-budgeted and under-staffed. This trend of favoritism was often subtle, but deliberate and would pave the way to split the Five-Score Fellowship when Creation needed them united the most.
With the disappearance of the Scarlet Empress and the resurgence of the Solars in Creation, the tensions among the Sidereal factions increased dramatically and the crack in the road which separated Bronze from Gold became a gapping chasm. Ancient ideologies resurfaced and the politics within the ranks of the Sidereal became anything but subtle. The Bronze Faction sat over the Terrestrials like a jealous mother, swatting away any attempt to touch the Realm or call upon it’s resources, while displaying no qualms about wielding the same power to crush the aspirations of the Gold. Deliberately under-cut on all sides, members of the Gold Faction would find it difficult to requisition resources within Creation or arrange for Dragon-Blooded forces to be moved into proper positions even for legitimate purposes. With political roadblocks hindering their efforts, many of the Gold Faction began to explore alternative options to working through the standard channels.
Who first proposed the revival of the original gunzosha, the specially trained thaumaturge-soldiers who had fought and died in the Usurpation, was never recorded, yet the idea of employing specially trained mortal magicians in place of Terrestrial forces was embraced through out the Gold Faction. Cost efficiency was one of the largest deciding factors. The resources in training and equipment to field a mortal organization were considerably less than many of the other proposed strategies, such as magical automata or bribery among the little gods. The issue of the potential returns on each investment was another greatly decided factor. It was considerably easier to empower a mortal beyond his peers than to do so with many other beings, but mortals would remain far easier to control.
Reopening records of the training methods employed by the Terrestrials with the original gunzosha, the Sidereal began to make great sweeping revisions and revisals to suit their needs. The original gunzosha were instructed only in the art of guerilla warfare and there was still need for such operatives, but the over all purpose of these new thaumaturgy-soldiers would change dramatically. The Cult of the Illuminated already stood as the public counter-point to the Bronze-controlled Immaculate Order, but with the Realm virtually under their thumb the Bronze had more to call upon than the warrior-monks of the Order. The spies and assassins of the All-Seeing Eye and the dreadful power of the Wyld-Hunt had ensured that any number of the newly born Solars were laid to rest before the Gold Faction could reach them. It was decided that in this new incarnation of the gunzosha, the need for an army of empowered mortals was less vital than a small highly-trained organization to aid in finding and protecting newly Exalted Celestials from the fist of the Bronze Faction. As the planned training regiment was adjusted, they became less soldier and more special operative, who could act as both a twisting intelligence agency to counter-act the All-Seeing Eye and fast-response commando-unit to slow the efforts of the Wyld-Hunt. As ‘gunzosha’ had come to represent something else entirely, the Sidereal instead adopted word Dragon-Kings had used to describde thaumaturges. They were thus known as the Amiliki.
Five hundred mortals would undergo the training to become Amiliki. Young idealistic apprentices and journey men from across the reaches of Creation were approached and quietly “convinced” to go with masked or otherwise faceless recruiters. Taken to a secret training ground near a rarely used Celestial Gate in the south, they were to be trained both within a specially selected area of Yu-Shan and down upon Creation itself. Their teachers would be Sidereal and spirits, experts on war and mysticism and the arts of espionage. Each of the five classes would go through a general course of study before being moved on to what would become their specialty training. The training and conditioning of the Amiliki was harsh and strenuous, equal to and even arguably exceeding the regiments imposed upon young Dragon-Blooded. One in every five Amiliki would eventually die from physical strain, accident, or deliberate example by their instructors. These losses had been expected from the first and the Sidereal saw them as a way of weeding out the weak and the incompetent.
The general classes were to toughen up the often bookwormish adepts and lay down the base framework for their thaumaturgy skills or expand greatly upon their preexisting skills and methods. Physical and mental conditioning were all important. They made death-marches through open desert, were drug across the face of the world to learn how to traverse steamy jungles and frigid winter terrain. Weapons training and use of First Age armaments commonly found among Wyld-Hunts occupied much of these classes as well. All the while, the Amiliki were subjected to an almost constant bombardment of loyalist propaganda and were manipulated into trusting the nameless, faceless masters they now served.
Thaumaturgy most of all was covered in length during these first lessons. Much thaumaturgy had been lost upon Creation during the Usurpation and under the blanket of ignorance imposed by the Shogunate, but the Sidereal still possessed a wealth of lore into the Arts and Sciences to instruct their agents in and Gold Faction members within the Forbidding Manse of Ivy unearthed leagues of information left buried and dormant. Pursuit knowledge for it’s own sake was dissuaded and the Amiliki were taught to find the most practical possible uses for their little-magics. Lengthy, more powerful rituals were passed on in favor of swifter methods or prepared effects. Alchemy was all important to the training of the Amilki, to allow them to produce the required potions, poisons, and other effects they would need to empower themselves. Enchantment was focused upon heavily too. Even with considerable resources available upon Creation, the Gold Faction simply lacked a readily available arsenal to supply every agent with artifact equipment as records claimed the Terrestrials had during the Usurption. While the other Arts and Sciences could potentially be useful, it was these two Sciences which received the greatest deal of attention in the general classes. It would be within the Colleges that their true education would begin.
Survivors of the general training would often be traded between each College as they displayed which talents they had a natural affinity to. The Chosen in charge of the Colleges each represented a separate field of expertise for the Amiliki to become proficient in, mirroring the nature of the Maidens to whom they served.
The College of Battles
The College of Battle would come to produce Amiliki whose role was most similar to the first gunzosha. Amiliki who entered it’s arduous training program would immerge prepared to function as an elite commando unit. It was to fall upon the College of Battles to ready their charges to face and hopefully slow the efforts of the Wyld-Hunt, then escape to tell about it. Above and beyond the other trainees, martial skills would be important to the Amiliki who trained here, as they were the most likely to be employed as strike-teams against both the Wyld-Hunt and other supernatural threats which the Sidereal would need aid against. Their thaumaturgy training would continue to delve into alchemy – focusing mostly upon the creation and usage of firedust grenades, flash bombs, smoke grenades, and other combat-ready formulas. Geomancy received some focus, to aid the Amiliki in selecting the most favorable spot for an ambush. They would also come to receive heavy instruction in the use of wards in ambushes and summoning as both a lure to their targets and a method of maintaining contact with one another.
The College of Secrets
The College of Secrets were to form the base level bureaucracy that would be required to maintain the organization and to serve as spymasters in the Amiliki’s intelligence gathering duties. Those initiated within the College of Secrets would alone know the true face of their hidden masters, or at least which face the Sidereal wanted them to see. It would be up to the College of Journeys to act as messengers and go betweens for the Amiliki and the Gold Faction, but the graduates of the College of Secrets knew who to send to and what to ask for. Juggling duties between ensuring all operations had the required resources to be carried through and that the Amiliki had a proper network or safehouses and meeting places set up for their spies to report to, the College of Secrets were the busiest and most strained of the Amiliki. Unlike many of the other Colleges, rituals became all important to the Amiliki of Secrets. As they rarely saw hands-on duties, they had less to worry about the slow effects of rituals and could instead focus on using the more powerful of mortal magic’s to aid in their work.. Alchemy took a back seat, beyond it’s use for such things as invisible ink, and enchantment too was less important than ritual study.
The College of Endings
The College of Endings held as frightening a reputation as the Chosen of Endings themselves. Those of the College of Endings are assassins of the finest quality and dark, dangerous men and women. While the College of Battles prepared it’s students for open combat, the College of Endings saw to it that the Amiliki who served it would know the need for stealth and subterfuge, to act alone whenever necessary to swiftly put down a target and vanish into the night. Martial arts were focused upon greatly within the training programs, ensuring that each individual assassin was as much of a weapon alone as with a group. Most, if not all, of the Amiliki of Endings were taught to employ a Terrestrial style of martial art, making them the most individually powerful of the Amiliki. While martial arts took far too much focus to allow for the extensive study of thaumaturgy, mortal magic was at least touched upon. Alchemy was deemed useful for crafting poisons and other toxins which could ensure even a scrap could prove deadly. Rituals saw some use among the College of Endings, methods of improving stealth or hunting down difficult to locate targets.
The College of Serenity
The College of Serenity would form the backbone of the Amiliki spynetworks. Larceny was to primary focus of their classes, the act of pretending to be something that you were not – a skill none have mastered better than the Sidereal. Their training was the most unusual and many claimed the least difficult, as it often branched into such areas as music, acting, poetry, and the arts of the courtesan. More pressure was placed upon the Amiliki of Serenity than any other College, as they alone would often be public figures and the easiest targets for someone seeking to break the organization. Their covers had to be flawless and their lifestyles often changed dramatically to suit them. A mere fisherman from the West might suddenly find himself serving the in bedchamber of a powerful Eastern queen or a southern aristocrat lowered to station of a servant. No matter where they went in life, they had to be made prepared to play their parts perfectly and know how to seed out information from those around them. Enchantment was considered important to the College of Serenity, as they would often need to appear as inconspicuous as possible and it was simpler to enchant a pair of earrings than to attempt to explain why you always carried a potion bag at your side. Alchemy still held some focus however, as there were formulas for crafting make-up and dying ones hair that would prove useful for their tasks.
The College of Journeys
The College of Journeys played counterpoint to the College of Serenity. While the Amiliki of Serenity were spies set towards a specific goal, the Amiliki who came from the College of Journeys were wanderers and rumor-hunters. They were set free to see what might be lurking beyond ear-shot and trained in the art investigation to dig up what truth their may be to every bar-room boast and back alley whisper. In addition to this, they were expected to act as the messengers and go-betweens for the Amiliki and the Gold Faction. Solely possessing the right of passage between Creation and Yu-Shan, they had to be knowledgeable about the laws of the divine city and how to avoid entanglements with the censors or Bronze Faction functionaries seeking to bar their progress. The simple act of being a messenger was often more arduous than most realize. The mortal body was not meant to make long expeditions on little rest and so the Amiliki of Journeys were trained to be nearly as physically resilient as their peers in the College of Battles. Alone among the Amiliki, the Science of weather working was focused on a great deal within the College of Journeys. Clear skies and good weather could often spell the difference between a messenger making it to his appointed rendezvous in time or not. Rituals which focused on communication or endurance also saw some focus and it was seen as all the better if the messenger could deliver his information without even having to leave his safehouse. Astrology and geomancy too were seen as important skills, so all the better to know the best paths to take and the proper times to take them.
Once their training was complete, the Gold Faction had the Amiliki carefully seeded into civilizations stretching from the frozen north to the outermost rims of the south. Manipulating Fate to ensure that no one questioned the presence of their agents, the Amiliki would walk with barbarian tribes and dine with eastern daimyos. At the word of the Sidereal, several could be assembled into a ready group at any moment and disperse just as swiftly. While they would gather in groups, cells of two to ten agents known as Cadres, the Amiliki would never come together in large numbers or establish themselves beyond the roles they were told to play. Their omnipresent masters dealt with their resource needs, as well as establishing the cover of their identities, but after the initial batch of Amiliki were placed into Creation, the Gold Faction largely took a step away from their agents and allowed them to recruit and train among themselves, keeping the same allusion of distance with them as they had with the Cult of the Illuminated. It was not a flawless system, but for the needs of the Gold Faction, it was an effective one.
The Amiliki are arranged into directional Conventions in a similar manner as the Sidereal themselves. However, while there are usually no more two Circles of Sidereal operating in any one Convention, there are often ten or more separate Cadres of Amiliki in any single Convention and countless independent operatives working alone or passing between each Cadre. The sheer number of Amiliki compared to the Sidereal masters has allowed the Gold Faction to liberally blanket most of Creation with operatives and their recent recruiting and training within their own ranks has bolstered their numbers even further. While each Cadre will often have a single goal solely to itself, their place in Creation and the Convention in which they operate will greatly influence the duties and tasks assigned to the Amiliki. Each Convention has it’s own separate needs and the Sidereal who monitor those Conventions a different idea on how to best employ their mortal agents.
The Capital Convention
The heart of the enemy and stronghold to the Bronze Faction, there are no more than twenty individual Amiliki operatives within the Realm and no real Cadres to speak of. This is the most dangerous possible area in Creation for an Amiliki to be assigned. More operatives have been uncovered and liquidated by agents of the All-Seeing Eye within the Realm than any other place in Creation. The Amiliki organization has been declared to be an enemy of the Realm, servants of the Anathema, and any who bare allegiance to it subject to immediate death upon capture. The Amiliki who operate within the Realm are a paranoid lot who spend every day under the shadow of knowing that nearly anyone around them could be an agent of the All-Seeing Eye and fearing the day their guard is down long enough for someone to plant a knife in them. The Capital Convention is not a place where brave Amiliki operatives engage in a shadow-war with their counter-parts in the All-Seeing Eye. It is a place where frightened, desperate men and women flit from shadow to shadow and pray and give thanks for each second which passes and sees them still alive.
There is no Gold Faction commander directly in charge of the Amiliki within the Realm, so duties within the Capital Convention are almost entirely intelligence and scouting operations. Outright spying is rare, but the planted operatives must keep an eye pealed towards social, military, and economical movement within the Realm and report their findings back to someone outside of their Convention. As most Amiliki in the Capital Convention are hesitant to move openly, reports are often of a very general nature and sketchy at best, but at least serve to alert other Conventions of any major changes occurring within the Realm.
The Convention of Air
Based deep in the frozen north, the Convention of Air was one of the least active fronts of the Amiliki until recently and largely seen as a place to send troublemakers as punishment or a safe haven out of the way of any major activity to conduct training exercises with raw recruits. While the Realm has a number of allies along the coast of the Inner Sea, beyond that degraded largely into barbarian tribes and petty kingdoms, then those in turn into bitter empty wastelands. The Amiliki here and the local agents of the All-Seeing Eye practically toyed with one another, engaging in playful motions of rival factions yet largely content to leave the other to go about their own business. Most of their duties were largely geared towards aiding local Sidereal against demons, fair folk, and other supernatural threats from beyond Creation. Occasionally, they would be called upon to aid a recently Exalted Celestial, yet even this was an infrequent occurrence as the Cult of the Illuminated had only a small presence in the north. All of this changed dramatically with the coming of the Bull of the North and decimation of the Tepet Legions. The once sleepy, quiet Convention exploded into flurry of activity as demands came in from all sides for intelligence on the Bull and his plans, the liquidation of agents of the Eye, and commando operations against retreating Tepet forces or the Bull himself.
Last Road, a Chosen of Secrets and the young Sidereal in charge of the Amiliki stationed within the Convention of Air, has attempted to direct his operatives as swiftly and precisely as possible to carry out every order handed to him. Orders can often prove be contradictory and adjusting for every change in operational parameters is a never ending task and he stands on the verge of collapse under the sudden weight of duty. The Amiliki themselves are just as strained and struggling as their leader. Most of these were the second-class operatives and half-trained recruits who were of little use elsewhere, but now find themselves forced to engage in work that even the top operatives in the east would approach with caution.
The Convention of Fire
In no other area of Creation does the shadow-war between the All-Seeing Eye and the Amiliki become more engaged than in the Convention of Fire. In stark contrast to the casual attitude towards their Imperial rivals held in the north, the Amiliki of the south possess a drive to eliminate the All-Seeing Eye which boarders on a religious hatred. The Realm holds more loyal triturates among the petty kingdoms of the South than any other area in Creation. Alternatively, the south was the original training ground for the vast majority of the Amiliki and they hold strong alliances to nomads and raiders of the desert. The Convention of Fire thus represents the strong concentration of either organization outside of their respective strongholds. A deadly dance of intelligence and counter-intelligence exists here, as each group seeks to lure the other into the open where they can be exposed and eliminated. In some areas, the so-called shadow-war is very open and bloody affair, fought on the streets and in the back-allys of southern kingdoms.
The Sidereal commander here is Moonlight Silhouette, a Chosen of Endings who is dangerously loyal to the Gold Faction cause and believes that the threads of the Bronze Faction have grown worn and thin and need to trimmed. Most of her operations are wet-works and raids, though these are supported by an extensive intelligence and logistics network. It is a disturbing trend for other Sidereal within the Convention of Fire that Amiliki support for other, equally important duties such as demon-hunting or aid for recently Exalted Solars is given a far lower priority towards Moonlight Silhouette’s war upon the All-Seeing Eye. Many feel that the Chosen of Saturn may have gone too far already and is need of a replacement, yet none are truly willing to broche this subject with the mad-eyed Sidereal.
The Convention of Water
Poor, beleaguered, and often ignored by the Sidereal and the Bureau of Fate a whole, the Convention of Water is the only place in Creation that the Amiliki have a public presence and have been known to work together both with agents of the All-Seeing Eye and under members of the Bronze Faction. The view of the Amiliki in the west is one of prorities and there are far too many problems facing them to worry about engaging in games of espionage with the relatively limited Eye operations. More often than not, they have found a unity in purpose with their rivals and pooled resources and information on numerous occasions to put down pirates, fair folk raiders, and burn out demon cults. The people of the west know about the Amiliki to a certain extent, that there is some manner of secret organization in their midst which is fighting for their greater good, and most could be counted on to hide and support any Amiliki operatives in danger.
Black Gull Rider, a Chosen of Journeys, leads the efforts of the Amiliki in the West and it was his carefully political maneuvering which ensured that the Convention of Water would receive a strong Amiliki presence upon the eventual graduation of adepts. What would perhaps shock and infuriate his fellow commanders is that he is closely aided and advised by a Bronze Faction functionary named Katchana Debinro, a Chosen of Secrets who has been a part of the Convention of Water for centuries. Yet the west is a place of compromise and moderation, where sacrifices of faction loyalty are made and doctorate must often be ignored to simply survive. This unity has seen to it there are little real intelligence or espionage operations in the west from any organization. Nearly every ounce of manpower is committed to the never ending struggle against the Sea and to unearthing dangerous cults of demons or rogue spirits.
The Convention of Wood
Stronghold to the Gold Faction, it can only be expected that the east and the Convention of Wood would be largest base of operations for the Amiliki as well. Amiliki within the east are of a very dedicated variety. With perhaps the exception of operatives in the Convention of Water, no other Convention works as closely with their Sidereal masters as those in the Convention of Wood. Nor does any Convention have the same range of operations as the Amiliki of the east. It is the largest economical base for the Amiliki. The Scavenger Lands and the Hundred Kingdoms there in represent a hotbed of political turmoil and military venture absolutely ripe for the plucking and the Amiliki milk it for all it’s worth, squeezing every chipped dinare and jade token they can out of local affairs and using it to fund operations abroad. There sheer number of Essence wielders make it a perfect testing ground for new operatives as well – there are always cults of demons, rogue spirits, and even Exalted to dissolve and eliminate. The All-Seeing Eye has little presence to speak of in the east and their activities closely monitored and eliminated virtually at whim, but the Convention of Wood still serves as the ultimate intelligence network against them, sending out operatives to monitor other Conventions or assigning elite Cadres to deal with specific trouble in neighboring areas. The Amilik here are also the most likely to be engaged in work with the Solar Exalted, assigned most often as guardians to young Exalts or aides to more experienced Chosen, and they have a strong presence among the Cult of the Illuminated in the east.
Under the overall command of a Chosen of Battles, Red-Star Sheena, the Amiliki in the Convention of Wood have a reputation for being more martially employed than other areas. Conflict breeds strength, according to Sheena, and she does her best to ensure the operatives under her command are never lacking for something to keep them occupied. The recent events in Thorns have changed the operational parameters of many long-standing Cadres, away from tasks of demon-hunting and towards the goal of investigation into the Mask of Winters. Sheena has been debating upon the idea of training her operatives to be employed as a field-force, in the event the Deathlord seems keen on forcibly expanding his domain beyond Thorns, but such a drastic change in methods and training might take too long and come too late should matters ever come to a head at the newly formed shadowland. For now, she is content to have the Amiliki monitor Thorns carefully and has already managed to plant a handful of agents inside without detection.
During the initial months of the Amiliki's training, Bronze Faction watched the entire proceeding curiously, but then dismissed it as a waste of resources and energy, one they would happily allowed the Gold to squander their personal time and funding upon. This casual dismissal would cost the Bronze Faction greatly in the years to come. In the past year alone, several Wyld-Hunts have been spoiled by coordinated attacks by Amiliki commando groups and the already beleaguered All-Seeing Eye now finds itself entangled in a game of intelligence and counter-intelligence within the Threshold. The Bronze Faction knows about origins of the Amiliki as readily as they do the Cult of the Illuminated, but the Amiliki have proven even more difficult to uproot and destroy as the Cult. Indivigual and even entire cells of Amiliki agents have been uncovered, but their system of secrecy and independent operations has seen to it that interrogation of one Amiliki will uncover as little information on others as possible.
With recent events heating up as much as they have, the Gold Faction has begun to rely more and more on the Amiliki to support it’s operations within Creation. It is not a vain reliance. Resources poured into their equipment and training methods which have been revised and perfected over the past few years have culminated into producing mortal agents more skilled and ready than any other in Creation. The thaumaturge-agents of the Amiliki are as near to the Chosen themselves as many mortals are apt to become. Some Amiliki have even found themselves assigned to work directly with their Sidereal masters or the Solars who the Gold Faction seeks to protect and educate. It has not become unknown for entire Cadres to be assigned to those Celestials whom the Gold Faction have deemed important enough to warrant that level of protection and there are even Amiliki who have become the unofficial entourage to Sidereals visiting Creation.