The Grotto War is an ongoing series of conflicts between the Oathbreaker cult and the Dreiton Totalist Party. Beginning as a minor period of unrest in the backdrop of the War of the Sunflower due to rising political radicalism in Dreiton, the War began in earnest in 4845 when the Free City began to crack down on both factions, prompting them to compete for supremacy in the outskirts within the Grotto forest. The Oathbreakers, led by Hastur, are expected to emerge victorious by the end of the 4851 due to the gradual erosion of the Totalist Party's leadership and territory.

Background and history

Legends regarding the Free City of Dreiton’s mystical past have long surrounded the nation. Its first inhabitants, the Nglui, were driven from their homeland in the first Hundred Year Darkness, and their inquiries into the nature of the Old Ways were all but forgotten until the city’s rejuvenation in the 4700s. A new generation of settlers arrived from Occa, among them a sect of the occult order, the Acolytes of the Beyond, intending to claim the arcane secrets of the new world for themselves. The Dreiton Acolytes used the abnormally high concentration of dark energy in the region to master the Old Ways, performing their profane blood rituals within dim cellars and caves beneath the city until their practices began to spook the town, prompting the Knights of Dreiton to forcefully expel them into the Grotto with popular mandate.

The Dreiton Acolytes made quick work of resettling within the dark and expansive forest, carving out tree hollows and appropriating long-abandoned mineshafts to continue their arcane studies. Due to their relative proximity to the ethereal fields emanating from the Rift, the mages were able to exploit the naturally occurring leylines of the region and tap into the wild and chaotic void magicks deriving from the Aether itself. A new lineage of black mages were born, utterly secluded from the outside world for decades. With the outbreak of the Aether War, the fanatical Dreiton Acolytes performed a ritualistic mass-suicide within the depths of the Grotto in hopes of merging their souls into the growing void, thereby feeding the Ancient Fear’s conquest. Moros was driven from Aquila, however, leaving the maddened spirits of the black mages to silently haunt the caves below the forest for eternity.

Not long after the conclusion of the Aether War, the Reunion mage Benthamic Oathbreaker arrived in Dreiton chasing rumors of an arcane presence in the region. His careful investigations led him to the Grotto, where he discovered the abandoned halls of the Acolytes - still brimming with the gaping maw of the void even after Moros’ pacification, implying some other yet- undefined cosmological phenomenon at work. Benthamic devoted the rest of his life to studying this mysterious aspect of the void, gleaning what he could from what remained of the Acolytes’ records to further master his command of the Old Ways. In 4830, the Oathbreaker died, having elevated himself to a true paragon of the black magicks comparable to the sorcerers of eld - leaving what knowledge he could within a grimoire, as well as storing a replication of his consciousness within his staff’s diamond so as to one day pass on his knowledge.

Additionally in 4830, Dreiton’s politics began to radically shift. After years of economic prosperity, the lower classes still held next to no actual influence on their own governance, prompting a brief and non-violent general strike which resulted in the formation of the Citizens Assembly, acting as a sort of lower house to the Council’s legislature. The following year, the Free City of Dreiton declared independence, birthing a new generation of Dreitonese politics; though the city was still unquestionably ruled by the Council and their President, talk of further, even more radical reforms to wrest power away from the aristocracy began to grow. Three distinct political movements emerged within the Citizens Assembly: The Legalists, largely content with the status quo and sympathetic towards the monetarist class of the aristocracy; the Syncreticists, who argued for mass collectivization of the industries and workplace democracy; and the Totalists, who demanded the disintegration of the Council so as to create a popular nationalist government. For around a decade, there was some optimism that the three movements could peacefully co-exist and form a coherent parallel legislature to the Council, but by 4842 it became clear that only one of the new ideologies could become the dominant party of the Citizens Assembly. With the unequivocal support of the aristocracy, the Legalists were able to seize control of the lower house, marginalizing both the Syncreticists and Totalists despite only holding an extremely slim majority and refusing to form any coalitions.

Simultaneously, increasing reports of mage activity within the Free City in the post-Aether era began to send the population into a state of panic, eventually prompting a full government crackdown on suspected adherents of the Old Ways that same year. A charismatic Kazimiri national known as Hastur, driven from his country due to illegal astrological practices, rose to prominence as the leader of the new underground movement of wizards and witches residing in Dreiton, citing the state’s crackdown on their apparently peaceful activities as evidence that their survival depended on their militant resistance. Hastur and his mage resistance adopted the Syncreticist ideology to increase their legitimacy, citing the ineptitude of the Legalists and the dogma of the increasingly violent Totalist Party. The mages fled the city upon the deployment of the Knights of Dreiton, fearing their movement could not survive their merciless crackdown. While Hastur entrenched himself within the Grotto, the Dreiton Totalist Party remained in the city for a year, regularly carrying out deadly terrorist attacks aimed at crippling the aristocracy which culminated with the detonation of the Bluefeather Redstone Refinery - a devastating explosion which killed hundreds and left a sizeable portion of the industrial sector uninhabitable. The city entered a strict 24 hour curfew that night, beginning an infamous week of pogroms and political assassinations known as the Last Harvest. At least a thousand died - among them Dreitonese police, totalist militants, and innocent bystanders - and by the dusk of the seventh day of the Harvest, the Totalist Party had fled into the Grotto.

While Dreiton was consumed by political chaos, the mages acquainted themselves with the forest, quickly discovering that its canopied interior had been used for purposes not unlike their own mere decades prior. They came upon the doctrine of the Acolytes and studied their findings vigorously - though they were most enraptured by another, more recent denizen of the Grotto, the master black mage Benthamic Oathbreaker. The exiles devoted themselves to his teachings, following his footsteps in attempting to tame the chaos magicks of the void to bolster their mastery of the dark arts. Hastur, still their leader, set himself apart as the most gifted of the black mages, declaring himself the rightful successor of Benthamic who would one day destroy all the corrupt political institutions of Aquila at large to reclaim the world for the Old Ways - starting with Dreiton. He took the honorific Oathbreaker for himself, followed by his new adherents. Politically, Hastur remained faithful to the Syncreticist ideology, developing his own interpretation of the doctrine which included the liberation of mages; he declared his intent to form the People’s Syncreticist Republic of the Grotto as a rival state to Dreiton. 

Soon after the PSRG was synthesized in 4844, however, the Dreiton Totalist Party arrived in the Grotto, immediately prompting a series of clashes between the two exile factions. With both entities seeking to consolidate rule over the forests so as to strike the Dreitonese government once more, conflict was inevitable; the Grotto War began in earnest in 4845, coinciding with the invasion of Khotan in the north. Battles between the two guerrilla forces were sporadic for several years until the Totalist Party, led by their tactful commander, Emma Way, launched a brutal offensive in 4847, attempting to overrun the entrenched Oathbreakers. The mages’ mastery of the arcane allowed them to slimly hold their position, saving them from the brink of defeat at the cost of dozens of acolytes. By 4849, the Council could no longer tolerate the escalating war just beyond their borders, and the ruthless General Jon Ordun, Master of War and Lieutenant of the Councilguard, was sent to dispense with both insurgent forces as quickly as possible. He ordered his legion to begin burning down huge swaths of the forest indiscriminately to drive the rebels out and force them into submission; his tactics were brutally effective for several months, and the Totalist forces in the west eventually caved, retreating deeper into the forest and allowing the PSRG to focus on holding fast against the Dreitonese. Their learned mastery of irregular warfare and strategic use of void magicks allowed the Oathbreakers to smash Ordun’s advances into the forest, eventually creating a stalemate in which the mages were surrounded by Councilguard forces but could not realistically be driven from their position. The tie was still a strategic victory for the insurgents, allowing them to continue preparations for an eventual counterattack against the Free City. By 4850, though Totalist forces within the Grotto were still present to some degree, the arrest of their leader Emma Way resulted in their utter routing, scattering their militants into isolated cells throughout the outskirts of the forest. 

The year 4851 was filled with a string of small but important victories for the Oathbreakers, allowing them to slowly but steadily consolidate rule over the Grotto despite continuous attempts by Dreiton to drive them from their hollows. Despite Ordun’s protestations, the President decreed with the consent of the Council that no more of the forest was to be burnt, effectively securing the PSRG’s borders indefinitely. Internationally, the Children of Hades were ascendant, with mage brotherhoods across Aquila rising up and striking for the cause of the Old Ways; despite their entrenchment within the Grotto, elite Oathbreakers were able to smuggle themselves out of Aphelion through Dashari periodically, allowing them to coordinate with fellow scions within the order. Due to his growing reputation as a master black mage comparable to Benthamic himself, as well as his stunning victories in the Grotto War, Hastur was chosen as the informal leader of the Children, giving his movement back home even further legitimacy. The Grotto War is slated to end shortly with the turning of the new year, raising questions about the Free City of Dreiton’s response to a victorious PSRG.

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