So, what is the Schism War? Well, that’s both very simple and very complicated…
To start with, the Schism War is not a singular conflict, but rather a long standing “Cold War” style conflict that has raged since Roman times. An easy shorthand to understand things is to look at both the long term and recent history of the conflict as separate aspects.
The Ancient Conflict
The root of the conflict really lies in the Cult of Thoth, an ancient order of magic users which came together with the goal of uniting scholars of the mystic into a web of shared knowledge and learning. For centuries the Cult trained young mages, sought alliances with other disparate groups across the known world (i.e. mostly Europe, N. Africa, and the Middle East), and generally fostered a unification of willworkers greater than ever seen in history. As the Cult and its influence grew, it grew beyond its own namesake. The relative peace amongst willworkers lasted for centuries more, particularly under the influence of its most illustrious leaders; Aquila and Lycurgus.
Aquila and Lycurgus were twins and, while each was a powerful willworker in their own right, together they were amongst the greatest mages in history. They lead the Cult, and later the Order, through the transition from a Roman group of willworkers with ties to other groups into the first truly global organization of mystics. Now the preeminent mystic order in the world, the group began calling itself the High Council. It’s goals shifted to focus primarily on fostering goodwill between mystic traditions and peacekeeping between the various factions that had arisen within its sphere of influence.
Now the siblings were talented leaders, but together they struck a potent balance. Aquila was the more warlike of the two, leading the Council’s armies in times of conflict and codifying its laws during times of peace. Lycurgus was the more peaceful and diplomatic of the two, leading the Council’s healers during strife and inspiring its scholars in times of study. They were perfect complements to each other and both founded a line of potent magi to follow in their stead upon their deaths. Unfortunately, that is exactly where the problems began.
After Aquila and Lycurgus passed, the mantle of leadership passed to their offspring and from them on down the line. Two always ruled and were advised by the High Council, from which the order took its name. In 948 CE, these leaders were Titus of House Aquila and Prisca of House Lycurgus and a conflict arose between the two leaders that would shake the foundation of the High Council to its core.
In 858, a landmass had been re-discovered within the distant oceans between modern day Europe and North America, which held the ruins of an ancient colony of willworkers. Titus, seeing the vast reserves of mystic power and artifacts from bygone eras thought the land ripe for resettlement (and a refuge from the “unenlightened masses”). Prisca, fearing both its inevitable sinking and the arrogance of claiming such a place for such selfish purposes would only result in disaster for all. Both had supporters amongst the Council, but neither held a majority. Debates raged for decades before Titus declared that he had reached his limit.
Rallying his supporters, Titus took the island and declared it the foundation of a new Exalted Order with him as its Immortal Guardian (later Emperor). He offered structure, law, and isolation from the mortal world and the people who feared mystics. This alone would not have caused problems, if not for Titus also claiming the High Council a heretical organization that existed in defiance of the tradition of his ancestors. In counter, Prisca and the remains of the High Council declared the growing extremism and isolation of Titus and his followers as anathema. What began was a conflict that would rage for 1500 years…
While each side of the Schism War would hold dominance for a time, neither would prove sufficiently powerful to eradicate the other. Thus, the mystic world came to be typified by bouts of violent conflict interrupted by decades (or even centuries) of uneasy peace. The so-called “Sixth Schism” was a conflict that raged in the background of both World Wars and ended with a truce between the Order and the Council in 1950 in response to a growing level of “diabolism” and worship of “extra-dimensional entities” was discovered amongst both groups. The truce gave each the time and focus to cleanse their ranks of those who would doom them all.
Unfortunately, it was not to last. In 2001, the Exalted Order broke the peace accord and attacked the Council’s Colony at Leng (on the continent of Antarctica). It was a place of quiet contemplation and scholarship, never before marked by the conflicts of the Schism War. There were only a few dozen survivors of the over 10,000 who lived there. The High Council took this as an obvious declaration of war and the Schism War had begun anew within hours.
The modes of the conflict have changed however, in the modern world. While the conflict does sometimes escalate into skirmishes or even full-blown warfare between the two sides, the Scourge and the threat of mortal intervention (modern weapons are almost as deadly to mages as to mortals these days), has kept the conflict quiet and behind-the-scenes. It is closer to the mortal world’s “Cold War” than “WWII;” in that it is more often a war fought through espionage/sabotage, propaganda, and subtle manipulation of mortal governments than wizards throwing spells at one another...