Tuesday, 6 August 2019

The City of Nahemot

Pixelart on reddit by u/IRudim ...
(Kyrans aren't ersatz arabs, but until I draw a cityscape myself, this evokes the right kind of atmosphere)
A glistening white sliver on the narrow horizon - hugging the lip of the deep, still waters of the Ezran Oasis - comes into view. As the boat draws closer, the air is thick with the scent of shelfish and roses. An uncommon mix, but one that is redolent of Nahemot, the most Holy City of the Kyrans. These tall, dark-skinned men and women wrap themselves in robes of brilliant white, the bleaching of which keeps a whole quarter of the city gainfully employed. The rich and proud among them adorn their bodies with gold jewellery, while the poorer - whether man or woman - ornament themselves with fresh flowers.

Occasionally, the black-robed followers  of Belphegor, lord of the dead, might be witnessed among the crowded concourses at the harbour, pushing dung carts or collecting rotting fish. Perhaps more rarely, a bold young Thrane might eschew the fashion conventions for the colourful robes of their ancestors. The Thranes number as many as the Kyrans, but for the most part they have adopted the sartorial habits of their cousins.

So, here is Nahemot: where the flower sellers, herbalists, fruiterers and perfumiers of the local region congregate to sell their wares, and merchants from the west come to stock up before returning to their more affluent cities. But amongst the hustle and bustle of brisk commerce is a steady flow of pilgrims, travelling to what is also the most holy of cities.

The provincial town grew in stature during the anarchy, a singular speck of stability in a sea of tumult: for while the warring mages ravaged the lands of the Iniku River, this city was under the protection of the Kyran hero known as Ezra, founder of the New Temple.

Though not as large or as wealthy as the city named in Ezra's honour, Nahemot is considered the most holy. It was here that the messenger of the true god spoke to Ezra of His special plan for human kind, and the necesity of crushing those who were not destined to be part of it. The Holy Temple of Nahemot is THE New Temple from which the religion draws its name, built upon the site of Ezra's revelation. The high priest of Nahemot is the Patriarch (or sometimes Matriarch, though not currently), the spiritual leader of not only the New Temple but all the Kyran people. Though temporal power across the Holy See is divided between many different clans, the Patriarch remains a unifying figure.

This is, however, only half of the story: for while more than fifty percent of Nahemot's population are Kyran, the majority of the remainder form a subtly distinct ethnicity: the Thranes. Taking their name from the long-dead empire, these proud men and women claim descent from the very first humans. Though their language is related to that of the Kyrans, the dialects are not entirely mutually intelligible, and this shows no sign of abating: both cultures possess complex oral traditions that are passed down ritualistically, preserving the subtle differences between the tongues indefinitely. The two groups rarely intermarry and keep to their respective half of the city, but traditionally the distinction between the groups has been subtle. The Thranes of Nahemot all "took the water" of the New Temple centuries ago, practising the religion of their neighbours with apparent piety.

Behind closed doors, it is rumoured, the Thranes still keep the faith of the Old Ones just as their nomadic cousins in the desert do. More significantly, it is said that the most senior families practice an ancient form of sorcery bound to the oral tradition of their culture, in defiance of the doctrine of the New Temple, which views all arcane magic as devilry.

Until recently such rumours were dismissed as just that: rumours. Yet the ascent of a prominent Thranian family to the thrown of a far off city some twenty years ago encouraged something of a cultural renaissance. Young Thranes began to wear the colourful clothes usually reserved for private ceremonies in public, and began eschewing the weekly holy days at temple in favour of private worship.

Aaliyah as Queen of the Damned, solid inspiration for Queen Pina.
Initially, the Kyrans paid no heed, and the cultural renaissance also saw a revival of Thranian fortunes, through a greater involvement in trade and commerce. Indeed, the Thranian quarter has become a popular spot for outsiders seeking entertainment in an otherwise sober city. This is where friction has arisen.

For the Patriarch, it is a blasphemy that such debauchery should be occurring within the shadow of his faith's most holy site. While he has the outward sympathy of many Kyrans, in private they are grateful for the outlet the Thranes have provided. Thus, the situation persists, in part due to the double standards of the city's elders.

It is widely believed by foreigners that the New Temple utterly eradicated the worship of other gods within the lands they occupied. They are only partially correct, for while honouring any icon or idol is blasphemous under their doctrine, they have allowed the priests of Belphegor to persist.

Scholars have postulated that this is owing to the New Temple growing out of worship of the older faith in the sun god, Tiphareth, of whom Belphegor was his opposite or "husk". Within the faith, however, it is simply due to the belief that all souls are doomed to annihilation, and of all the hungry demons that devour our doomed souls, Belphegor is the cleanest. His followers keep the city free of detritus, manage the sewage systems, and take cure of internment of the deceased.

So within the New Temple, all souls are doomed, and leading a good life that both honours god and accepts the inevitabilty of one's annihilation ensures that the journey into the void is swift and painless. Shepherded by Belphegor, the soul is instantaneously consumed rather than forced to endure millenia-long digestion by Malak, or the tortuously slow creep of Nehema's black tide. Such a death is a blessing.

However, the followers of Belphegor believe that those who return from the dead, in whatever form, are to be honoured and revered. This means that a ghoul creeping out from the catacombs is garlanded and worshipped rather than eradicated, and from time to time these ghoul-cults get out of hand. Paladins of the New Temple are sent in to turn the creatures back into the deeper recesses of the catacombs, knowing that to destroy them would invoke the ire of the temple of Belphegor, leading to major civil conflict.

This is threatening to create a schism in the religion as Ezra clearly had no idea that this was a practice of the temple of Belphegor, and yet he made them a cornerstone of the New Temple faith. While two sides argue as to what can be done about the problem, both agree that the general public needs to be kept in the dark as to the growing population of ghouls living beneath their city.

Oh, they do a really nice curried goat here, too. Served on flatbread and spiced with hot peppers, it is secretly considered to be the true reason for Kyran piety.


  1. Given the arid climate, where do the shelfish come from?

    1. Thank you for being the first person to ever comment on my blog! Just had to wait for nearly five years for my dreams to be fulfilled!

      You'll note in the first line that the city is being described as a boat approaches it over water. The local geography is modelled after the Faiyum oasis in Egypt, which drains into an enormous freshwater lake. This is where the locals catch all manner of crustaceans! However, I think I need to re-write the opening line as it describes the boat going over the oasis, which isn't quite correct.