|“||One day you will walk as we do.||„|
|~ A standard remark of "new" members of the Circle of Thorns.|
The Circle of Thorns are a cult of mystics and an antagonistic group in the M.M.O. City of Heroes. They are the ancient enemies of the Mu of Arachnos and they prey on helpless civilians, arguably in a far more sinister way than any other super-villain gang in the game. Both Paragon City and the Rogue Isles have them labeled as pubic offenders, a tall boast in the so-called "City of Villains".
Tielekku, Ermeeth, Hequat and Lilitu
The tale of the Circle of Thorns begins with the ancient civilization of Oranbega. The Oranbegans worshiped many ancient gods including the inventor of magic known as Tielekku. Tielekku's gift of magic to mortals as well as gods made many of the greedier gods object to the equal playing-field and rebel causing the good and evil gods to fight, the good gods won and Tielekku banished the pantheon of evil gods to the spirit world, but Tielekku was drained from the experience and she went into a millennia spanning slumber, with Tielekku gone the god of knowledge and study, Ermeeth, became the primary leader of the Oranbega Pantheon. But the goddess Hequat coveted the throne and had her followers, the Mu, rise up within Oranbega and attack those that would call Ermeeth their god king instead of her. The Oranbegans received no help or instruction from Ermeeth who was a scholarly god and did not engage in violence nor encouraged it in his followers and it seemed that the Mu with their inborn magic and the backing of the witch-goddess would wipe out the civilization and remake it as their own.
In an act of desperation the Oranbegans invoked their goddess Lilitu queen of demons and the netherworld. Lilitu offered to protect the Oranbegans where Ermeeth would not and all they would need to repay her favor was to swear not to take mercy on the Mu and be willing to kill everyone of them. The Oranbegans agreed to the terms and Lilitu unleashed the armies of hell for the wizards to command against the Mu and Hequat. Hequat was defeated and like Tielekku went into hibernation to recover, the Mu offered surrender but the Oranbegans honored their deal despite their better ideals and killed the war-mages that tried to surrender. With the Mu put down the Oranbegans were left with the Mu widows, children and infirmed that had not fought, they begged to be allowed to leave swearing never to return to the city. The Oranbegans took pity on the remaining Mu for they had not fought and those that had were killed brutally so the remnants were allowed to leave. But it was this act of mercy that condemned the Oranbegans. Lilitu was furious at the Oranbegans. The Oranbegans thought Lilitu just wanted them to kill all the Mu that fought without mercy but Lilitu had wanted full blown genocide to prove they were willing to ignore the teachings of Ermeeth completely and when Lilitu found out the Oranbegans intentionally allowed the widows and children to live and worse to leave she laid a curse upon the Oranbegans for going back on their deal. The entire city of Oranbega was sunk and the Oranbegans themselves were all expelled from their bodies and turned into a massive race of ghosts. Though the contract was still in affect and the Oranbegans still had Lilitu's hoard of demons at their disposal they could not leave their subterranean city and were trapped in the limbo until the day they could eliminate all the Mu as they had promised; cruelly beyond their power in their current state.
Baron Zoria and the Circle of ThornsIn the early 1890s a gentleman's club known as the Circle of Thorns was formed like many of the era, invested in the study of the ancient and occultism. The leader of the cult was a man called Baron Zoria. Zoria had heard tell of the ancient Oranbegans and believed that Oranbega was located somewhere under Paragon City. After much digging and focusing of the Circle of Thorns' resources Zoria did in fact uncover the ancient city and encountered the ancient ghost wizards that dwelt within. After listening to their old tale, Baron Zoria asked for a boon for uncovering their old city for them but the Oranbegans, though free of the underground, were still very limited in the spectral state. Baron Zoria offered the Oranbegans a trade - he would send in his cult members down into he tunnels for the Oranbegans to possess and use as bodies, in exchange he asked for training in the lost ways of magic; The Oranbegans agreed. The unsuspecting occultists were marched one by one into the ruins by Zoria and each one was sucked out of his body and stored in one of the magical soul crystals of Oranbega after-which an Oranbegan spirit slipped into the body. With new bodies to operate in the world again the Oranbegans had a shot at completing their end of the contract with Lilitu and ending their curse. The largest problem facing them though was thousands of years had passed and the Mu were no longer a distinct race and more than one third of the world population had at least a trace of Mu blood in them. Even among the descendants only a small small number had continued to pass on the old traditions in their families and were still practicing Mu, making rooting out their requisite sacrifices an impossibility to achieve in just one host body's life-time. So the Oranbegans reinvented their people as the Circle of Thorns cult to establish themselves in the modern world, hunting down those of otherwise forgotten bloodlines.
The Circle of Thorns grew in secret, a hushed whisper in the world. The Circle of Thorns had a divination tool that traced Mu blood through the ages and hunted down anyone and everyone anywhere near their headquarters with even a sliver of Mu blood in them. Though the Circle of Thorns functioned as a cult and tried to lure it's victims in with promises of power and arcane knowledge those who were not temped were stolen off the street or from their homes in the dead of night. Willing members completed their training by plunging a spirit thorn, from the Circle's mystic tree into their hearts, once the thorn entered them though, the new initiates' old lives and values became nothing to them and they were enthralled to the Circle of Thorns. The more willful people or those of Mu blood met their fate at the hands of the soul crystals though, as the original Circle of Thorns had, where they were separated from their bodies and stored in a library of souls while the Oranbegans wore their flesh to recruit others. In response to the Circle of Thorns another group was formed, The Midnight Squad, lead by the learned magical hero Dream Doctor. The Midnighters hunted down the Circle where-ever they could find them but were never able to trace them back to their source through the winding tunnels under Paragon and were only able to disband front companies and smaller private clubs. Dream Doctor disappeared while hunting them in what he called the "Dreamspace" - a forth-dimensional pocket of the astral-plane and was lost to the world. Even without Dream Doctor the Midnighters continued the hunt, impeding, but never crippling the Circle of Thorns.
The Circle of Thorns resurfacesIn 2004, a group of aliens called the Rikti invaded Earth in the global changing event known as the Rikti War. When the Rikti arrived they decimated most cities though were held off by heroes like Statesman, Hero1, Scirocco and Vanessa DeVore. Though Hero1 would ultimately lead the task-force to stop the invasion it was ironically the Circle of Thorns that first turned the tide of war significantly. The Rikti bunkered-down into the land around Paragon City to stage assaults against the heroes there but this would be a great undoing on their part. The Rikti had inadvertently blown into the subterranean city of Oranbega when creating their bunkers and encountered the angry ghost wizards. The Rikti were from an alternate dimension and had superior technology and science but from a reality where there was no magic. With no defense for this unknown force called "magic" the Rikti were uprooted and forced into a retreating position for the first time in the conflict by the rampaging demons and magics the Circle commanded.
Though the Rikti War eventually passed, with the heroes victorious over the Rikti, the Circle had been exposed and their underground cities revealed. Since the Rikti War the Circle of Thorns has stepped up recruiting drive to try to get more bodies to replace those burnt out fighting the Midnighters and many of the magical origin heroes of Paragon. In response to the Circle preying on them the Mu, those still aware of their powers and still practicing their rites, reached out to Lord Recluse, an Incarnate like Lilitu, to sponsor them in place of the slumbering Hequat. Lord Recluse agreed to protect the Mu if they pledged their services to Arachnos as his league of mystics within the group. Lord Recluse's lover, Red Widow, had her soul stolen by the Circle of Thorns, with her soul stored in one of their soul crystals deep within the halls of Oranbegan. Because of both the patronage of the Mu and the lose of his lover, Lord Recluse has placed the Circle of Thorns on Arachnos's most wanted list and they are one of the very very few villain groups that even Arachnos will not negotiate with; What's more Arachnos has orders to shoot any Circle of Thorns members on sight even those possessing the bodies of former Arachnos operatives. The Mu are lead by Scirocco, a former freedom-fighter cursed and currently stuck working for Arachnos with the lives of the Mu hanging over his head if he fails Lord Recluse in anyway.
As a result of their notoriety in Paragon City and the Rogues Isles the Circle of Thorns only emerge from their underground caverns and tunnels in places of great magical influence or in heavily suburban areas to replenish their ranks with innocent men, women and children. The Circle have an ancient island they defend strongly in the north of Nerva Archipelago in the Rogue Isles, the small isolated island is known as Thorn Isle where their tree of spirit thorns has grown these many thousands of years since their banishment as hub of their power. Lilitu and "Baron Zoria" are still within the ranks of the Circle of Thorns. Baron Zoria was made into a lich of great power but shortly after he failed to complete an important sacrifice he was possessed by the mage Akarist. Exhausted by the centuries of work, Akarist would eventually turn on the Circle of Thorns in exchange for protection from Lilitu's wrath, bringing with him information of the Circle of Thorns to the heroes of Paragon while still inside Zoria's undead body and the crystal containing Zoria's soul as well. Unlike Baron Zoria, who was a figure-head at best, Lilitu is still worshiped as their goddess - the real power behind the the Circle of Thorns. Lilitu is constantly pushing the Circle Magi to prove their worth to her by completing the genocidal pledge they unwittingly made to her all those centuries ago.