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Deceiver

A member of the Deceiver cult

The Stranglers – also known as Deceivers and tooga – were cultists who conducted human sacrifice to Kina, a goddess of death, in the southern continent of the homeworld for centuries. The cult was largely unknown to the public, and membership was forbidden by the government of Taglios: the penalty for belonging was execution. After centuries of committing well-concealed ritual murders in separate roving bands, the group abandoned the safety of obscurity to publicly assist Lady during the Siege of Dejagore in Dreams of Steel. But, true to their name, they deceived Lady and kidnapped her newborn daughter, who turned out to be their "Foretold" messiah. They would continue to play major roles as hated enemies of the Black Company throughout the events of the Books of Glittering Stone. The most prominent Strangler is Narayan Singh, the leader of the Changlor band who would become the living saint of all modern Deceivers.

Introduction[]

Characteristics and doctrine[]

Murder was the Stranglers' primary method of worshiping Kina. They would supply sacrifices to their goddess by strangling their victims with a rumel: a silk scarf with a weighted end. This weapon is used because, on account of a "complex and irrational explanation having to do with the legend of the devoured demons", the shedding of blood was forbidden and inexcusable under most circumstances.

Their goal was to sacrifice enough people to bring on the Year of the Skulls and set Kina free from her prison. They would rob every victim, accumulating significant hidden wealth. They also had a secret language called the Deceiver's Cant, a breathy language to communicate in darkness, in near-silence, and during hostile conditions.

The Stranglers believed their faith predated all others, and it is known that they existed long before any of the Free Companies of Khatovar, which also worshiped Kina. But at least three key parts of the Stranglers' doctrine would come to include syncretic aspects from unrelated homeworld religions:

  • They believed in the Wheel of Life, which is from Gunni doctrine.
  • Their priests and jamadars celebrated the Festival of Lights, which shared many attributes of a Shadar ceremony of the same name. Their central temple, located within the Grove of Doom, had once belonged to the Shadar.
  • They believed in an afterlife paradise full of rewards (from Kina), which corresponded closely to the same concept from the Vehdna faith.

Organization[]

Stranglers are organized into decentralized, regional bands, each commanded by a local jamadar (captain) who is accorded the utmost respect, regardless of his public-facing caste. Some jamadars prove to be more influential than others, according to the success and wealth of their band. When a significant number congregates at their Holy Grove (e.g. the Festival of Lights) the jamadars defer to a group of educated Deceiver priests to settle disputes between bands.

The newest members begin as grave-diggers and bone-breakers. Many never advance beyond that level, for they develop no skill with the rumel. The yellow rumel men are the lowest ranked Stranglers. Apprentices. They seldom have a chance to kill, being mostly assigned as arm-holders for red rumel men and as scouts and victim-finders. Red rumel men do most of the strangling. Few win the black rumel. Those almost always become jamadars or priests. The priests do the divining and take omens, intercede with Kina, and keep the chronicles and accounts of the company. When it becomes necessary they act as judges.

Narayan Singh, Dreams of Steel

The color of the rumel indicates the owner's ranking in the cult, and often indicates the number of murders they had committed in Kina's name. All Stranglers begin with the yellow rumel. The lowest-ranked members, they are the grave-diggers and the bone-breakers, who expertly pulverize their band's strangling victims, without shedding a drop of blood, and ritually bury the remains in tiny graves. Yellow rumel men rarely get to use the weapon, instead, most commonly functioning as arm-holders for the red rumel man, to hold the victim in place. Above them are the red rumel men, who commit most of the killings. Most jamadars are red rumel men.

The black rumel is a rare distinction, restricted to their elite members. A black rumel typically indicates that its possessor has strangled at least thirty victims, or, less commonly, had strangled an established black rumel, earning him the right to take possession of that black rumel. The priests of the bands are educated men and seem to come from the higher castes. There was only one rank above black rumel, the silver rumel, which was possessed by only one man in history: the ancient Strangler saint Mahtnahan dan Jakel.

Ranks and leaders[]

Relationship to non-Strangler cults of Kina[]

Not all Kina-worshipers were Stranglers. Many other non-Strangler cults of Kina existed throughout the 16 worlds linked by glittering plain. They include:

  1. the Kina worshipers of Khatovar who created the Free Companies, including the Black Company;
  2. the Nar, whose leadership descended from the Black Company's priests of Kina;
  3. the other unnamed worlds' competing Free Company movements, which cropped up after the first of the Khatovar Companies;
  4. and the ancestors of the Nyueng Bao De Duang who were persecuted by the Shadowmasters.

The Strangler Sindhu was dismissive of the Nar and did not consider them to be "true" Kina cultists: "They have abandoned themselves to Shadow. The true Deceiver seldom spills blood. He opens the golden path without tempting the goddess's thirst. Only the blood of an accursed enemy should be spilled. Only an accursed enemy should be tortured."

History before Croaker's Annals[]

The cult of the Stranglers was established by Kina, who mentally reached out from her subterranean prison beneath the fortress with no name, influencing many followers to seek her liberation. To accomplish this, she had the three Books of the Dead written, which contained knowledge granted to the ancient Stranglers by Kina to be used to free her. Strangler bands developed, waxed, and waned for centuries in the homeworld.

Rhaydreynak's persecution[]

In ancient past of the southern continent of the homeworld, the Stranglers there were persecuted vigorously by Rhaydreynak, the powerful emperor of the areas later known as Taglios and the Shadowlands. These Stranglers had possession of all three of the Books of the Dead. To preserve the books from Rhaydreynak's rampage, they escaped onto the plain by using the golden pickax to cross the Shadowgate. They entered the nameless fortress and hid the Books in one of the caverns above where Kina herself was trapped. Rhaydreynak's crusade against the Stranglers was so effective that the Books of the Dead were lost by the cultists and their golden pickax was forgotten in the Vinh Gao Ghang Temple of Ghanghesha. However, the most prominent Strangler, Mahtnahan dan Jakel, assassinated Rhaydreynak with his silver rumel and even lived another 40 years after the murder. Mahtnahan dan Jakel was the only silver rumel man in the Strangler's entire history: he had personally slain more than 1000 victims.

Subsequent generations in hiding[]

The Stranglers continued in the southern continent for generations, surviving many more attempts to exterminate them. To hide in plain sight, they maintained identities as either Gunni, Shadar, or Vehdna in public. But when they traveled together to commit their periodic murders, a man of the lowest Gunni caste could be the jamadar of his Strangler band who would command the unwavering respect and submission of the most arrogant Shadar aristocrat.

Dreams of Steel[]

Narayan Singh and Ram were the first Stranglers that Lady encountered. Narayan Singh seemed to believe that she was a reincarnation of their goddess. She did not trust them completely, but accepted their help for the purposes of consolidating her power.

They eliminated several of her Taglian political enemies. This included the strangulation of Chandra Chan Tal and his cronies in their temples, assisting her in personally assassinating Jahamaraj Jah at Ghoja, and organizing the Massacre at Khadi Junction. Lady was tested by Kina and survived.

During this time period, the Stranglers were themselves deceived. They were tricked by Soulcatcher, Lady's sister, who was masquerading as Lady in Taglios and who had taught herself Deceiver's Cant. She ordered Stranglers to kill Longshadow's spies in Taglios: One Who Leads Eight Who Serve and seven other shadowweavers.

Eventually the Stranglers revealed their true objective: their plan all along was to kidnap Lady's newborn, whom they would revere as the "Foretold" prophet. Although Ram defied his fellow cult members and killed 4 of them heroically in defense of Lady, he was slain by Narayan and the baby was abducted. Narayan and the Stranglers would call the child the Daughter of Night and raise her in the ways of their cult.

Bleak Seasons[]

Murgen led a Black Company ambush on the Stranglers' temple in the Grove of Doom during Bleak Seasons. By chance, the attack happened to take place during a gathering of the Strangler leadership and six of Longshadow's shadowweavers. Narayan Singh fled with the Daughter of Night before Goblin's sleep spell could disorient him, and he escaped the area entirely with the help of the Howler and his flying carpet.

A group of at least 15 veteran Stranglers invaded the Palace of Taglios in a failed attempt to assassinate Croaker. The two who led the raid disguised themselves as holy prostitutes of Bashra. Covered up in that clothing, they got close enough to the Royal Guards to kill them and to continue into the Palace. Because their intelligence was out-of-date by several days, Croaker was not present during their strike. Instead, the Stranglers murdered the toddler To Tan and attempted to kill other residents like Uncle Doj, Ky Sahra, and To Tan's horrified father Thai Dei. The Stranglers were defeated by the seasoned Path of the Sword experts.

She Is the Darkness[]

Now allied with Longshadow, the Stranglers experienced a resurgence, with a noteworthy increase in their numbers. They carried out the murders of several members of the Black Company, inspiring fear and necessitating constant vigilance.

At Charandaprash[]

During the Battle of Charandaprash, almost a whole encampment of Stranglers was wiped out by Uncle Doj, who used Ash Wand to hack his enemies to pieces. Doj was accompanied by Ky Gota, one of his Path of the Sword students who was elderly but spry and no stranger to violence herself. The cult's population suffered a dramatic decrease.

The best surviving red rumel men were ordered by Narayan Singh to infiltrate the Taglian camp followers who survived Charandaprash. Each had specific targets. Because of their newly-reduced numbers, these Stranglers were also commanded by the Daughter of Night to ensure their own survival. They waited until their enemies were outside Overlook to strike.

Outside Overlook[]

In the prelude leading up to the Siege of Overlook, the red rumel men who had been planted near the Black Company and their allies at Charandaprash were ready to strike at their targets. The one who attempted to kill Willow Swan failed and was very effectively interrogated by Lady. He surrendered the names of his disguised compatriots, and they were rounded up by Blade and beheaded by Lady. Their heads were displayed on poles planted very close to the walls of Overlook. The grim display was seen by the Howler, who showed it to Narayan Singh. Narayan was deeply aggrieved by the loss. He reported it to the possessed 4-year-old Daughter of Night, who in turn was uncharacteristically shocked, and contacted Kina directly for guidance. The dark goddess, typically was aware of earthly events, replied that the killings were unknown to her, causing Narayan to state "almost none of our people remain alive" in fear and depression.

During the later stage of the siege, Narayan was captured by the Company but Soulcatcher absconded with the Daughter. The Daughter was Soulcatcher's captive until she was later rescued by Narayan. Around this time, Narayan also stole the most sacred relic of his cult, the golden pickax, from Soulcatcher as well.

Water Sleeps[]

The Daughter of Night oversaw a resurgence in the Strangler cult during the 15 years leading up to Water Sleeps. Ritual killings took place in cities like Dejagore, Meldermhai, Ghoja and Danjil. The strangulation of the tax collector Perhule Khoji was the latest such cult initiation, and the first within Taglios proper. The Daughter announced her presence to witnesses. That same day, the event was introduced for discussion by the Radisha Drah to the Privy Council.

Both the Daughter and Narayan were cornered in their apartment in Chor Bagan by the Black Company's elderly wizards One-Eye and Goblin. They were captured and brought to the Company's secret headquarters elsewhere in the city (a warehouse on the great river waterfront owned by the elderly Nyueng Bao merchant Banh Do Trang.)

Later, the Black Company operative called Slink and his men secretly entered the Grove of Doom and killed 6 or 7 veteran Stranglers who arrived after them. Their rumels were left in a place where Iqbal Singh discovered them, and Iqbal turned them over to Sleepy. After Sleepy's prisoner Narayan Singh turned over the golden pickax, he was accidentally shown one of the captured rumels by Suruvhija Singh, which alerted him that his fellow cultists were already dead.

Soldiers Live[]

During the Battle at the Shadowlander cemetery, the visiting Stranger pilgrims who were present in the Grove were ambushed, executed, and beheaded by Aridatha Singh and his men from the Taglian City Battalions. Aridatha was the biological son of Narayan Singh, the recently-deceased Strangler saint, but Aridatha was an avowed enemy of the Stranglers. The Daughter of Night and her guardian, the Khadidas, were immediately subdued and carted off to Taglios.

One of the last bands of Stranglers secretly supplied the captive Daughter of Night with a rumel, which she used to attack her biological mother Lady. This final band was hunted down and mercilessly wiped out by the Company. After Kina, the Khadidas, and the Daughter of Night were killed, the Stranglers were either reduced to insignificant numbers or annihilated. With Kina gone, her notorious mental influence over the minds of men and the Grove of Doom was finally erased. Any remnant of the Strangler cult may have dwindled and died out afterward.

Possible Stranglers in the Voroshk world[]

Nevertheless, once each year, sometime during the time when the

Deceivers would have celebrated their Festival of Lights, somebody
managed to strangle a member of the Family and get away.

In Soldiers Live, Croaker reported that a single member of the ruling Family in the world named after them, the Voroshk, was strangled each year around the time of the homeworld's Festival of Lights. The perpetrator(s) had never been caught. This suggests that a cell of Stranglers existed in the Voroshk world, long after the Kina-cultists of Khatovar – the source of the Free Companies of Khatovar – were wiped out. This shadowy group is not mentioned again in the Annals. It is doubtful they would have escaped the hellish onslaught of killer shadows which that world was later subjected to, especially when "not one in a hundred peasants had survived" the cataclysm.

List of individuals attacked with rumels[]

This is a list of named individuals in the Annals who were attacked with rumels. Women as rumel wielders are over-represented in this list: Lady and the Daughter of Night are apparently the only women Stranglers in the cult's entire history. All other historical rumel attacks and killings were committed by male Stranglers.

Victim Rumel wielder Result Chronicle
Rhaydreynak Mahtnahan dan Jakel Death Distant past (mentioned DoS ch. 19)
Jahamaraj Jah Lady Death Dreams of Steel, ch. 18
Chandra Chan Tal (unidentified Strangler) Death Dreams of Steel, ch. 31
Moma Sharra-el Lady Death Dreams of Steel, ch. 38
One Who Leads Eight Who Serve (unidentified Strangler) Death Dreams of Steel, ch. 49
Ram Narayan Singh Death Dreams of Steel, ch. 75
Shadowspinner Lady Death* Dreams of Steel, ch. 56
To Tan (unidentified Strangler) Death Bleak Seasons, ch. 85
Murgen (black rumel man) Survived Bleak Seasons, ch. 85
Willow Swan (red rumel man) Survived She Is the Darkness, ch. 42
Longshadow Narayan Singh Incapacitation She Is the Darkness, ch. 64
Uncle Doj Narayan Singh Survived She Is the Darkness, ch. 105
Perhule Khoji (yellow rumel initiate) Death Water Sleeps, ch. 6
Narayan Singh Khadidas Death Soldiers Live, ch. 49
Lady Daughter of Night Survived Soldiers Live, ch. 138

(* Shadowspinner succumbed to many wounds, but, a rumel was one of the primary weapons used to attack him.)

Trivia[]

  • The Stranglers are based on the real-world Thuggee cult / gang which originated in India, and who's members loosely worshiped Kali, the Goddess of Destruction. They formed during the early 14th Century, and continued to operate until they were eradicated at the beginning of the 20th Century by the British Empire. It has been speculated they killed anywhere between 50,000 and 1,000,000 people during their existence making them the most destructive 'terrorist group' in human history.
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