The Children of Asterion
Whilst the island of Crete may be most famous for its place in a history that has become mythical, the consequences of that infamy live on in its most notorious children.
Both prison and punishment, the presence of the Labyrinth of Daedalus, and the snorting, grunting bellows of Asterion - the minotaur - that echoed out in the silence when the seas were becalmed, were an oppressive and constant reminder of those that had been taken from the people of Crete: The fathers and brothers and uncles who were sent to their deaths in the tunnels of the maze they had helped construct, all so that its secrets would be lost to the ages... The spectre of death haunted the entire island, and some of its bereaved children began to see the adults’ deference to their grief as a boon given in exchange for an unwilling sacrifice. Forged then in the shock of terrible loss, The Children of Asterion began as something akin to a macabre game. The names of their founder and first leader, the first of the other children brought into the fold and the effect they had on the group’s tenets and beliefs, their rituals, are all gone.
Instead, we are left with only rumours of their earliest practices; the ritual sacrifice of animals, the wearing of skins that were bloody from being roughly cut away from still-warm meat and other, various, sanguine brutalities. Their affect was the product of childish imagination, an obsession with justifying death as the price of a nebulous privilege. As this deference waned, The Children of Asterion might have outgrown their increasingly unpleasant practices but instead they rationalised, pared down their beliefs into a form of Thanatoic worship with the figure of Asterion as a bringer of death at its heart. Where they had been taking the lives of small animals and livestock, Asterion had killed hundreds - if not thousands - of people. The next step was logical, if unconscionable to the well-adjusted, and the most zealous of The Children of Asterion had been not only numbed by the cruelty in their previous violence, but become eager in its execution.
The children most hesitant to embrace the changes to this group, which by this point it seems fair to call a cult, were themselves an incidentally ideal source of early fodder for the first human sacrifices. Already mired in the bloody play of animal killings, their doubt cast as a symbol of the weakness of those who had died in the Labyrinth and became the first human victims of The Children of Asterion, a purge of the group’s remaining conscience. Though they had begun as literal children, drunk on the excitement of gaining agency out of grief, this new violence was sobering. The games, even their old lives, were over; they were committed to their new course and to the beliefs that allowed them to live with what they had done and with what they would go on to do. While occasionally winnowing their own number, to keep dissenters from becoming deserters, they usually preyed on the uninitiated and vulnerable, returning to animal sacrifices only to gather the rank hides of bulls to wear at their gatherings.
From horrific and humble beginnings, The Children of Asterion grew into adulthood and spread in small enclaves across the mainland, waxing and waning over time as they found sympathetic shores or armed resistance to their beliefs. Splintered into different chapters, and with the longest-serving members of the cult eventually dying off, their numbers diminished almost to nothing, their myth resurfacing hundreds of years later to become the spurs for groups with little connection to the original organisation. One, led by a woman calling herself Pasiphaë after the legendary queen of Crete, managed to unite the remnants of the group under her banner. Cold, but not given to enjoy the cruelty as her forebears did, she brought all those who worked under the name of The Children of Asterion together and shared her vision for their future. It was a dramatic and abrupt shift in iconography and beliefs, a reinterpretation of Asterion as a figure emblematic of brute strength and ruthless power, and a plan to redirect their joint efforts in the pursuit of the same.
The reception to these changes was mixed, with those still adherent to the old ways of the first Children of Asterion threatening to refresh their faith in the blood of the bastardising neophytes who agreed with Pasiphaë. As one group bayed for her blood, those who were already loyal to her vision enacted their plan, taking those from the old guard by surprise and stabbing them with sharpened bulls’ horns. It was a massacre, and when all those opposed to her were dead Pasiphaë declared that those were the last people The Children of Asterion would ever kill, at least unbidden and unpaid. Over the following thousand years they expanded into political and economic spheres, their existence becoming an increasingly open secret and drawing the ire of other, even more powerful groups. Eventually, at the end of the first crusades, the Catholic Church sent the Order of the Knights Hospitaller to wipe them out and raid their coffers. Whilst this campaign was seemingly successful, The Children of Asterion slowly re-emerged or reformed, more cautious and secretive at first, until the religious stranglehold across Europe was loosened.
In recent centuries they have existed and operated on the loosest fringes of mainstream faith, more alike to a private club than an offshoot or sect of the majority of religious practices. Rather than proselytising en masse, their leadership instead recruits from business magnates and industry leaders to politicians and lawmakers, preferring to decentralise their power to high-ranking members within any number of economic and political powers. The symbols and imagery of Asterion remain important to them - a shibboleth to distinguish between the bulls and those who are merely bullish - but where the still-gory hides that members used to wear have fallen by the wayside, technology has given The Children of Asterion more permanent, pervasive and grotesque ways to become like their totemic minotaur. Surgical techniques have been enhanced by the creation of hormonal and genetic therapies that thicken skin to a leatherier texture, create an animalistic musk and even reshape features, all to given those most fervent devotees and leaders an unmistakeably bestial and imposing aspect and presence. Their power writ large in flesh.