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Kupala's Night

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Kupala Night, also known as "Ivan Kupala Day" (Russian: Иван-Купала; Belarusian: Купалле; Ukrainian: Іван Купала; Polish: Noc Świętojańska, Noc Kupały), is celebrated in Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, currently on the night of 6/7 July in the Gregorian calendar, which is 24/25 June in the Julian calendar. Calendar-wise, it is opposite to the winter holiday Kolyada (celebrated during the winter solstice). The celebration relates to the summer solstice when nights are the shortest and includes a number of traditional, pre-christian Slavic rituals. Indeed, the Kupala is a pre-christian rite, associated to the eponymous goddess (or personification) of fertility and passion, a ritual that has been celebrated centuries before christian imposition, and has eventually been accepted into the Orthodox Christian Calendar - as a rite related either to St. John or "Ivan" (John the Baptist). Due to the popularity of the pre-christian rite, it has been accepted into the era of the christian imposition, and is still celebrated today. Kupala is also celebrated by Rodnovers (from the Russian Rodnoverie, "native faith"), who practice a modern Slavonic religion which harken back to the historical belief systems of the Slavic peoples from Central and Eastern Europe.

Many of the rites related to this holiday within Slavic religious beliefs, due to the ancient Kupala rites, are connected with the role of water in fertility and ritual purification. On Kupala day, young people jump over the flames of bonfires in a ritual test of bravery and faith. The failure of a couple in love to complete the jump while holding hands is a sign of their destined separation. Girls may float wreaths of flowers on rivers, and would attempt to gain foresight into their relationship fortunes from the flow patterns of the flowers on the river. Men may attempt to capture the wreaths, in the hope of capturing the interest of the woman who floated the wreath. Traditionally, unmarried women, signified by the garlands on their hair, are the first to enter the forest. They are followed by young men. Therefore, the quest to find herbs and the fern flower may lead to the blooming of relationships between pairs of men and women within the forest.

This illustration is clearly and intentionally inspired by the celebrations of Kupala's night (this is the Night Version, if you want, you can also check the DAY VERSION), and also includes known, traditional Slavic symbols (such as the Kolovrat), however, above all it features original characters from my original story project: IXIPTLA ("impersonator", in nahuatl), and is part of its' fourth installment, ARMAGEDDON. This scene in specific takes place during the Kupala celebrations of MMXI a.D held in the "Stribog community" (named after the Slavic Wind God), a partially autonomous community carried out by "neo-pagans" and "political dissidents" based in Lithuania. From left to right, top top bottom, they are:
  • "Drachensohn"(top, left), an undead knight from 14th Century Mecklenburg (Germany), who used to be a farmer, right in the time when Europe was struck by the most severe Black Death crisis. His town was ravaged by necromancers and undead armies, and as a survivor, he sought refuge and answers outside the town, eventually travelling to Lithuania and other places, meeting wizards such as the not so human Veneficus, and Sorginak, a with of Basque origin who was an apprentice of Aradia (later revealed to be one of Veneficus' past bodies). Together with Sorginak and other nomads across Europe, Drachensohn has founded a band of Schwarze Ritter ("Black Knights"), Robin Hood-esque knights that opposed the role of the organized religion and institutions (such as the Western/"Catholic" and Eastern/"Orthodox" Christian churches), the State (Prussia, the Polish/Lithuanian Commonwealth), it's armies (such as the Teutonic Order, that carried out the Baltic Crusades against the non-christian Slavs) and ultimately it's role in aggravating the Black Death crisis (also by instigating persecution to non-christian communities, or "other ethnicities", such as Jews and Gypsies, in Teutonic territories), the persecution it carried out through the Inquisition and the Crusades. Years before, the Catholic Church also persecuted other christian groups such as the Cathars, and during the infamous Albigensian Crusades.
        Together with the Black Knights, Drachensohn also opposed the secret society of sorcerers and necromancers known as "The Palarokhian Order", led by the cult of the Dragon of Darkness, which unleashed a black miasma over European towns, in order to control its people, and aiming to create a magocratic State. Some of the Palarokhian Order's members were also Teutonic Knights, or were involved with nobility, and they took advantage of the collective unconsciousness concerning the spread of Black Death (considering "dissidents", "unfaithful", "pagans", "witchcraft practitioners" as guilty) to carry out their goals of domination. Another group of witchcraft enthusiasts, practitioners and alchemists that offered some aid, relief and communal life to victims of persecution was the secret Temple of Baphomet, based in Königsberg (originally Twangste), a city occuppied by Teutonic forces, at the time part of East Prussia. The Temple of Baphomet's bureaucrats possessed and controlled the powerful Philosopher's Stone, that's actually the dormant form of the entity known as Baphomet, and from this privileged ownership relation, they forged pacts with the entity, becoming powerful achemists, and creating their own circles for political reasons.
        The Black Knights discovered that some members of the Palarokhian Order were also involved with the Temple of Baphomet, and supported by Veneficus, decided to take the Philosopher's Stone for their own, preventing the Palarokhian Order's agenda from being carried out - either through the Temple of Baphomet or the entire complex of eastern and western christian kingdoms, and their own networks of bounty hunters. Drachensohn and his allies destroyed the fortress of the Palarokhian and killed (for a second time) the current Palarokhian grandmaster, Yulmar, before dying in the collapsing fortress. He was revived by his lover, Sorginak, who made a pact with the Baphomet while studying under the Temple of Baphomet, and who later took the stone for herself. Other members of the Black Knights also offered themselves to forge such pacts, granting them immortality and power over the Darr ("Philosopher's Stone" in enochian) "hidden element".
        For ages following Veneficus' disappearance, the Black Knights became a somewhat organized group based in Insterburg (nowadays Kaliningrad), with members from all Europe (some from places such as Prussia, Lithuania, Genoa [Italy], Galicia, Languedoc [France], Ireland, Norway and Crimea), that opposed the Church and the State, but who were also targeted by a revived Palarokhian Order, that took the Philosopher's Stone during the second world war (the Black Knights opposed the Nazi Regime, but failed to prevent Insterburg's association with it. The Palarokhian Order, at the time more based around the soviet Belarus, would eventually use the Soviet triumph over the Nazi regime - the annexation of Eastern Germany into the URSS - as an opportunity to take the Philosopher's Stone from the Black Knights), and kept it in a lab where they would develop a series of super soldiers. The Black Knights disintegrated, and some of its immortal members either died or travelled to places such as Poland, Lithuania and Estonia, losing contact with others. Sorginak and Drachensohn were exiled in some woods from Poland's eastern borders (possibly, the Belovheskaya Forest).
  • William M. (top, center) is a 16 years old guy from Brazil, who is able to transform into a super-fast lizardman known as Cuetzpalin Paynal ("fast lizard" in nahuatl). Possessing these powers since August 8th 2008, when he was 14, he has used them in his own actions as a lone wolf vigilante for animal liberation (freeing animals from cages, sabotaging fur farms, hunter camps, fishing establishments, fish-farming, milk/dairy/meat industry's settlements, even personally attacking major figures that profit from or simply work at animal exploitation industries. As this fearless, non-human reptile, William became a target for virtually all the modern states and their military repression agents, including to their own network of underground slavers and bounty hunters. But not only resentment, Paynal's actions also influenced the rise of awareness and action for the defense of human and non-human animal rights worldwide, as well to the formation of independent, semi-autonomous and anarchism-oriented affiliations, including a group/network of individuals involved with direct actions against the State, Church and Great Corporations informally described as "Necoc Yaotl" ("enemy of both sides" in nahuatl, an epithet of the Mexica trickster god Tezcatlipoca, associated with sorcery and the night). This group of combatants has mobilized military actions against State enforcers, and managed to free some areas and communities from State control internationally, lifting an era of crisis for the authoritarian regimes (both inside and outside the UN's standards) and usurpers, politicians and defenders of hierarchic economy. William started this fight as a lone wolf, the experience he gathered in these almost three years of fighting has refined his experience, partially helped him to set priorities in life, almost balancing a standard high schooler life in Brazil with that of a world-travelling, most-wanted anarchist lizard-man. But he has yet to face his most grave decisions.
        In April 2011, with the return of a long gone Cuetzpalin ("lizardfolks") Bounty Hunter among his own ranks, William learned it the hard way that, if he kept using his powers to transform into a Cuetzpalin (like he has been doing straight days since 8/8/8), he risked losing forever his human form. If that decision came anytime earlier, when he was still starting High School, he'd prefer being a truly free, stronger and faster lizard-man, who has no ties to any State, political/social order, nor relation to money and law, than some teenager living under a State full of surveillance and control, manipulated with a prescribed fate - to pay the bills of others by working hard his entire life, with stuff he doesn't like. Yet, this time, he wasn't so sure of his decision (normal people would prefer being human, nothing wrong with that, yet William felt he could do much more as a Cuetzpalin, and felt it not only egoistical in a bad way not to be a Cuetzpalin, but also not so desirable from an usual utilitarian perspective). Why? Because he hoped to get a job, to enter college? No, he didn't fall for that bullshit, even if he got into any of these, none were big deals or as appealing as something else he'd fall for: love. Some months ago, while helping his ally Cuauhtemoc, who in turn is a long-time ally to the Black Knights such as Drachensohn (and who, in first place, introduced William to the Black Knights), William finally met this supposedly disbanded group of immortal, medieval "freedom fighters", that were just recently gathered back with the help of someone else, a young Belarusian girl who had made a pact with the Baphomet, or the Philosopher's Stone. Keep reading and you'll know more.
  • "Sorginak" (bottom, left) is a medieval-era witch of Basque origin, and one of the founders of the Black Knights, during the era when Europe was most severely struck by the Black Death (which impact was enhanced by the mortality promoted by the Church and other popular organizations which spent time blaming minorities for the spreading of the disease, or that rather spent time praying to a god that doesn't exist than studying something practical). Needless to say, she was accused and persecuted by the Inquisition, and had a hard time escaping the faithful lot. That doesn't mean, though, she didn't have her own faith - in the Goddes Mari, in the Akerbeltz, and other figures from the pre-christian Basque beliefs. A traveller by need, Sorginak has met several other witchcraft practitioners from a young age, including some from the Temple of Baphomet (Baphomet, whose likeness partially matches the Akerbeltz), and the legendary witch Aradia, who happened to be a human host for the Cuetzpalin Cuauhtemoc. She was Aradia's apprentice before Aradia died, and in search of clues from her missing master she found the mage Veneficus, who introduced her to Drachensohn - at the time, a farmer made knight (and thief) by need, after he witnessed the conversion of his town into a necropolis infested with the restless dead. Veneficus, Cuauhtemoc's next host, was creating an association of independent people - bounty hunters, thieves, witches, wizards, healers, smiths, architects, all unrelated to the church - that had the intention of fighting the Black Death, and possibly, the means to do so. Cuauhtemoc had been infiltrated in the Palarokhian Order enough time to know their involvement, and the vision which he had for the Black Knights was to make it the contrary of the Palarokhians: instead of a vertically built, highly hierarchic and authoritarian, bureaucratic and cryptocratic initiatory order, the Black Knights should be a free association of protection of the peoples which the church persecuted and marginalized because of their knowledge and ways of life, that if applied in community, could form a society that doesn't depend on parasitical institutions like the Church and the State (let's say, the Black Knights are anarchists before their age). After things got said and done, and the Black Knights dealt with pontual threats by directly combating Palarokhian initiatives, some of their members died, and unwilling to lose her lover, Sorginak made the hard decision to capture the Philosopher's Stone (guarded by bureaucrats from the Temple of Baphomet) and use it to keep her, and some of her friends, alive for eternity - but with their free will belonging to the Baphomet, OR anyone holding the Stone (which would be her). For some time it worked out perfectly, or as good as it could be - she would eventually grow a little old, but Drachensohn became a skeleton without flesh. That didn't mean too much for her, she could still love a dead man - until they lost the stone for a renewed Palarokhian Order in the modern era (infiltrated in a Soviet military program), which meant the destruction of their castle at Insterburg (nowadays Chernyahovsk), the dissolution of their decaying brotherhood/sisterhood, and the exile of their survivors.
        It was around October 2009 that, by an accident (which she rather considers "fate"), the Philosopher's Stone got a little out of control from the Palarokhians possessing it, and in this short period, one of the people wounded by the blast made a pact with it: the girl Alica Kozlovskaya. Alica learned her new powers the hard way, experiencing the revival of dead people in her neighborhood, and through the persecution by KGB officers who are more like some dark wizards / RPG enemies than standard security forces. In this time of learning, she was lucky to be approached by Sorginak (who was exiled in the border between Poland and Belarus, not so far from Alica's hometown), who introduced her to advanced withcraft, and to the history of the Black Knights - thus revealing, in her own narrative, that Alica was meant to reorganize the Black Knights and reclaim the Philosopher's Stone, that for years was being used by the corrupt remnants of a secret order hid within Soviet bureaucracy which plan is the development of automated demons that should replace not only humanity, but all sentient life given time. Alica also learned that the Baphomet entity is a sentient being, and imagined its' agony in being held in the form of the Philosopher's Stone, so she set out to free it. In time, though, she'd learn that the Baphomet's awakening could mean that all who made a pact with it would fall into unconscious state. That, of course, if there was no way to stay awake - and Sorginak promised her there was a way, and that if they worked together, they would achieve it.
  • Alica Kozlovskaya (bottom, center) is a 16 years old girl from Brest, Belarus, who has accidentaly made a pact with the Sorcerers' Stone, after the Baphomet went out of control and caused a havoc near the range of the Belovezhskaya Forest Reserve, between Belarusian and Polish territory. On the occasion, some witnesses were shot by KGB agents, and Alica was hurt - she made the pact in order to survive, and only later realized what her new powers were, and what all that meant. A pact with the Baphomet granted her abilities to wake and control the properties of the "Hidden Element" (magic elements that hide as common periodic table ones, but that are different, and have been used by different sorcerers across history. Only an "awakened" sample can reveal and wake the properties of more samples spread across nature. Of course, those elements are part of an underground black market and even an industrial secret held by sorcerers that play roles in the international, if not intergalactic mining network) known as Darr. The Darr hidden element derives from the Philosopher's Stone, the first Darr, that has been in possession of different mages and witchcraft practitioners, or institutions, throughout time. They've been stealing or killing each other for the power of the stone, during some time it was Sorginak's possession, but she lost it for the Palarokhian Order's modern incarnation, a secret group within the Soviet era KGB's bureaucracy, that resumed its operations even after the dissolution. With this in hands, they were developing an artificial army of undead powered by the Baphomet. For their plan to work out, however, given that there's a limit for people who make these pacts (one can't expect such advanced witchcraft to be taught in schools, for generations, and to form a social organization of witchcraft practitioners, with its own bureaucracies and a population growth rate. As usual, such power would rather lead people to kill each other and form smaller enforcement groups, that would only grow in a constant rate, while making sure the power, knowledge and access to such techniques were more or less reserved to their own group). That's why they launched their own operation to hunt down the remaining Black Knights, and after October 2009, Alica. Yes, she's been identified by these fiendish secret agents as a witchcraft practitioner, and for some reason, she hasn't been turned into a well known wanted criminal because they wanted to eliminate her (at the time, a 15 years old high school girl. How could she be a threat to the public?!) without a fuss.
        After realizing the hard situation she was found into - and while trying to hide her new abilities from family and friends, something she only partially suceeded, as she couldn't hide from a friend her telekinetic and technomancy abilities - she sought to follow the instructions which the Baphomet gave to her in her dreams, to learn more of her powers and prepare to invade the facility where the Philosopher's Stone was held, in Kaliningrad (Russia). That sounded like a suicidal mission, and would be, if she hadn't met in the way some of the last Black Knights, Drachensohn and Sorginak, in Polish territory. Other Black Knights lived on exile in places as far as Lithuania, Ukraine and Russia, and after taking Sorginak's words as true, Alica decided to help them. Ultimately, that's what would have her meeting Cuauhtemoc and William, whose "alter ego", Paynal, was often televised as "a terrorist". Alica, though, rather saw him as a freedom fighter - perhaps more violent than he could, in some occasions, but still, someone with a great sense of commitment and also an unclouded, brave yet sometimes foolish resolve to fight whatever and whenever to make the world a better place - si vis pacem, para bellum. With time, Alica looked back and witnessed how she was just following a random, uninspired way of life most people, wanting or not, fell into - the old work, consume, die, limiting people's fun to whatever they or their families could afford buying. That alone made her inoffensive at the eyes of the State, yet, witnessing first hand how security forces disposed of "innocent" (let's say, fiscally obedient) people, or pretty much anyone (it's not like you and I aren't replaceable, for the eyes of the State and military, people are just meat. In a world with 7 billion + "humans" how do you expect that anyone, even more people with a gun in hands and the social permission to commit murder, would give a damn, talk, consider peace or even think rationally at all?), her intuitions about the value of individual sentient life, and how the status quo disregarded all that - for the benefit or maintenance of a privileged class (the bourgeois and State officers, whether right or left-wing, people who have enough rich and can get it done through their slaves) - were just confirmed. Out of need for her own survival, Alica has become an anarchist, and in times like MMXI, those are targeted by neo-crusaders that, despite unable to wash their own dishes (they usually have their mothers doing it for them), will defend their petty existences and lazy ways of life (or that of their masters, who they see as alike, but who aren't) to their deaths, rather than doing some minor, and necessary labor.
  • Baphomet (bottom, right) is the mysterious entity which rose from the ancient Philosopher's Stone. The first time it has been awaken, in 1130, by the alchemist Nicholas Flamel, on the town of Twangste (under protests of kings who, afraid of Flamel's power, accused him and some of his fellows, including templars, to be worshippers of Baphomet), the town has been sacrificed so the entity could rise. Flamel died in the proccess, but some members from another secret initiatory order he was part of - The Palarokhian Order, a.k.a the Cult of the Dragon of Darkness - lived on and kept the stone for themselves. With Baphomet's awesome power, they've split from the Palarokhian Order and created the Temple of Baphomet. This schism of the Palarokhian Order shifted some of their interests - the Palarokhian Order was created in the 9th Century by secret sorcerers from a diverse background around eurasian and north african nobility, that have managed to contact the Dragon of Darkness, trapped in another dimension, who taught them advanced magic such as telekinesis, necromancy, teleportation, telepathy, the creation of illusions, immortality, and the control over shadows, and also promised them more political power - under a magocratic state which would rise from the ashes of all the world's nations - if they freed him from his prison. For years, they've communicated with the ancient god of darkness through crystals, but failed to liberate him or his "children", a race of shadowy fiends made in his image. His liberation only came 3000 years after his imprisonment, in a time he incarnated on a Lithuanian man that became the grandmaster of the Palarokhian Order - and Cuauhtemoc's nemesis. Cuauhtemoc has learned about the order a long time ago, some 60 years before Baphomet's awakening, when an alliance between members of the order and a group of dragon slavers teamed up to enslave his nomadic people - the Banterans, who mixed Toltec and celtic lifestyles - and destroy their current land, the woods of Alfheimr (possibly between Sweden and Finland's southern coasts). Since he witnessed their destruction, he also learned about the dragon of darkness' aparent ancient hatred for his kind - the Cuetzpalin - and that they'd team up with whatever enemy of the Cuetzpalin to advance their world destruction agenda, re-populating a scorched earth with undead minions and competing warlocks until one took absolute power over all - and unlike the fools who followed the dragon of Darkness, Cuauhtemoc knew this fight was over before it began. Tupaq, the dragon of Darkness, was this fight's victor from the start.
        The Baphomet's personal interests are clouded in mystery, it onlt communicates via telepathy with those that made a pact with it, and even in those occasions, its' messages are ambiguous. One can only wonder if there's truth in these visions, but analyzing patterns of its communication, it's possible to consider Baphomet's main interest, perhaps shared with other entities of common origin (SPOILER: like Xolotl), is to feed through the victims killed by those who made a pact with it, and also to keep making more pacts - inducing conflict between those who made the covenant. The more people who are sacrificed by those that made a pact, the more powerful the entity gets. Another feature may make the Baphomet the most powerful "hidden element entity" out there: Tupaq, after incarnating on the man later referred to as Umbra, and aware of the Baphomet's awesome power, had the stone in his possession for some time, in direct contact with his own hidden element crystal - an Ater Adamantis, the most powerful element from which the other five derive from - that modified the Baphomet, and granted it the ability to convert his element - Darr - into other ones. This change also reflected on those who made a pact, they could (learn to) control not only Darr, but other elements. That makes Alica and Sorginak especially powerful in relation to other witches. But then... Are the Baphomet's interests even compatible with Sorginak's and Alica's, or their own interests alike? They may claim to fight for freedom, but what does it mean for a medieval woman, and what does it mean for a 21st century teenager girl?

During ARMAGEDDON, these people are eventually brought together, not only on fights against the corrupt, false moralist religious and political organizations behind the Inquisition (the Catholic Church, other christian groups, some corporations and associates, usually but not limited to right-wing parties, think-tanks, sponsors, investors, and even autonomous [para]militias motivated by nationalism [ignorance], religion [stupidity] and tradition [blindness]), but also on moments of introspection and tender feelings. They are found in a "neo-pagan" (some prefer the term native faith, or revivalist) community, where most people, despite supposedly opposed to the christian intolerance, are found in a gray area where they have many similarities with their enemies - defense of a tradition (one older than the christian mafia) and a land (the one their parents were used to), and a way of life (cults, practice, consumption, language). Drachensohn has lost faith in a god many centuries ago, Sorginak has her own perception of reality, and the Baphomet is beyond comprehension, but William and Alica have more skeptical backrgounds. Alica, though, has been reevaluating some of her own perceptions since she started to practice her awesome power; William's powers are awesome, too, but don't defy too much one's perception of reality - even though it does change a lot one's view, not only because his brain, skull and body change into a lizard's, but also because his speed trepasses most barriers. Still, nothing of that can even remotely link Alica and William to a "Slavic Native Faith" scene going around, which they've been introduced to by a common ally in the fight (and a friend), the self-proclaimed Dazbog (named after the eponymous Slavic God). They don't even like the rites of throwing water on others, or this old fashioned marriage tradition at all... it's just that Alica like the clothes, and that William like to spend time with her, whatever they're doing, whatever they're talking about, or however they're wasting time. For months, he has it inside of him, and for some reason can't spill it out, he even expressed to her his feelings on deciding not to become a Cuetzpalin anymore (he even apologized for deciding being human, of course not clearly stating the main reason he decided to remain human, which not only depends on himself, but more on his dream of being with her in a deeper sense), which had her answering that "he should think more on himself first", despite still keeping a conscious view and consideration of others, and that "it was alright to choose remaining human". He knew, deep inside, that they had different interests on this subject he avoided to talk about, but which made his mind for a long time, he only needed, he thought, better opportunities. Anyway, pressure was heavy, his ally Drachensohn, besides Dazbog and his friend "Gous", knew what his decisions were, and what motivated him. They wanted to help him, some more than others, but in the end only Alica would have the final word.
    And about Alica, because of her fashion and pentagram-inspired acessories, some Slavic people would often mistake her for "Satanist" which in fact she's not. She shows some respect for the Baphomet as if the entity is a sentient beast like any other, and that deserves freedom and well-being like any other. She only hope to find a way of achieving that, and not dying herself in the way (what would happen if the Baphomet kept awaken for all time, AND Sorginak didn't come up with the possibility of learning a technique that could 'hack' this entity/pact relation). But her plans for the far future aren't as material, she just want to have some fun and to destroy christendom, nationalism and all this stuff which makes her, and other animals' lives so harsh, in the long proccess.
if you haven't realized yet, William and Alica are vegan and anarchists, who despite coming from different backgrounds have common interests and an internationalist view. In no way they're some traditionalist "traditional Slavic couple" (William isn't even ethnically slavic, and Alica, despite being one, doesn't consider that even remotely relevant. Before she had her powers, she was spending most of her days playing music, videogames and producing cosplay costumes, things that aren't particularly relevant, but that also aren't a traditional culture) like some people may think, they just happen to be in the festival because they were invited by friends and decided to take a look
.

    While these people enjoy their night time illuminated by the moonlight, inside their minds they struggle with the answers of problems unseen - yet felt, while their enemies prepare for the night eternal. As time runs out, they realize one can't conciliate a living with the urge for true freedom - they're enslaved by the forces of nature by default, the same nature which denial is as grave as its' acceptance. When they haven't got what they wanted, will they pretend they never wanted it in first place? Will that be able to numb their pain?

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