Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Mummies

It is possible for slavery to persist into death.  This is, essentially, what separates mummies from other undead.

There are many types of mummies within this definition, but let us begin with

The Mummy

When certain aristocrats die, it is common for their household to follow them into death.

Their finery will be heaped into the tomb alongside him.  Their spouses will poison themselves at the announcement of his death.  Their slaves will drugged and sacrificed at his funeral.  Even prize racehorses are not exempt.

In some cases, this is a mere embalming.  When a potent cleric is involved, this is something more.

A slave will pressured into swearing eternal servitude.  It does not seem like such a terrible deal--the slave receives preferential treatment in exchange for a mere ritual.  But like many magical oaths, this one is binding.

If the contract does not require an eternity of servitude (as most of them do), then the duration is usually for ten thousand years.

The body must be preserved if the mummy is to persist.  The only thing that unified the souls was their service to the flesh--without the flesh, they begin to unravel.  Imagine seven birds that were huddled together in a nest during a storm.  As the storm stops, each bird begins to realize that they are not a seven-beaked creature whose lower half is a nest; they take flight.  This is what happens when a body decays.

For these mummies, the lowest of servants, beasts, and wives, their existence as a mummy is a living nightmare.  Brief flashes of existence, a half-life inside a tomb, separated by oceans of darkness and lost time.

WARNING: Pictures of mummies ahead.
This one is King Tut.
Their memories are usually scrubbed away.  The clerical embalmers use long hooks to pull the purple soul out of the nose of the recently deceased.  What need does a servant have for a full memory?  The only knowledge they need is how to serve, and that lives in the belly, not the head.  A servant without memories is a stable servant, one who will not change with the long eons.

Instead, the soul(s) are bound in certain strictures.  This occurred during the binding ceremony, but the bustle of life keeps the servant from ever noticing the net being woven around their soul.

Not all mummies are hostile.  Depending on the instructions that they have been given, they grovel on their bellies in order to welcome you into their tomb, or they may be trembling things that curl up in a corner and await their demise.  Or they may be shuffling things that flee in order to rouse their brethren, and return at the head of a horde.

If you ever come across these damned things, know that destroying them is a the greatest kindness you could ever provide.

Mummy
Level Def leather  Claw 1d6+rot
Move human  Int 10  Mor 10

Mummy Rot -- Half of the damage that a mummy deals is cursed damage, and will not heal normally.  You can remove this curse by visiting a church, or by appeasing the mummy.

Appeasing the mummy involves sacrificing one of the mummy's enemies at the local altar and begging for forgiveness.  The enemy can be a tomb robber, a particular ethnicity, or the mummy across the hallway.

Lindow Man
The Mummy Lord

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the clerics themselves, who bound themselves according to the same covenants, in order to serve their lords on the far shores of death.

Unlike the lesser mummies, they retain a great deal of memory and free will.

Their existence is not much better.  Their behavior--and even thoughts--are confined according to the same covenants which they made prior to their death.  While they might appear to have agency, their limitations are just as present, and possibly more painful, since they may remember what they've lost.

Their duties usually entail the guardianship of the tomb, but their most important role is ceremonial.

An entombed pharaoh might still arise every morning in order to command the sun to rise.  A mummified warlord might still want to have his army paraded through the tomb every fortnight, and their weapons presented for inspection.  A peaceful queen might still wish to hold mass, her bells ringing out underground, week after week, year after year.

The tomb of a mummy, then, is far from an inert.  This is not an oddity--this is why these people were desperate to become mummies in the first place.

Tombs are not happy places.  Eventually the candles burn down and the books become unreadable.  Eventually the weapons chip and corrode.  Eventually, the memories rot out of the skull, and the souls become unglued.  What a mummy loses can never be regained.  They have slowed entropy, but they have not halted it.

Those who were waiting for a long-promised messiah or armageddon are disappointed.  Where is the apocalypse where they would be crowned eternally?  All there is to do is to lie alone in the dark, feeling the hard tissue of your limb becoming thinner every century, grasping at your fleeing memories as your mind hollows itself out.  You remember having sons: what were their names?  You are waiting for ragnarok: what were the words that you must greet the gods with?

And so the minds of mummies slip into something sullen and foreboding.

Mummy Lords usually have either clerical spellcasting, a powerful magical weapon, and/or an Aura of Majesty.

Aura of Majesty

You must succeed on a Save vs charm in order to approach the mummy lord, and you must succeed on a second Save in order to harm them.  You gain a bonus on this check according to your social standing: +4 if you are aristocracy, -4 if you are a murderhobo without any title.

The Great Royal Wife Tiye
The Shabty

Erroneously called "least golems", the sad creatures known as shabties are even more wretched than the lesser mummies.

They were made from slaves that were despised, or known to be untrustworthy.  They were made to swear the same binding oaths as the other mummies, but their bodies were disassembled after death.

A shabty resembles a small figurine, about 3d6 inches tall.  They are made from clay, hair, bone, and paint, more-or-less assembled into a pleasing shape.  You will find them inside a small sarcophagus or bag.

Shabties will obey any command that they hear, and so smart owners will usually bind their ears closed with cloth (which may be discovered with the shabty).  They make poor combatants.

Every time a shabty accepts a command, it bows.  Every time a shabty completes a command, it shrinks an inch.  When it is less than 3 inches tall, it becomes inert.

Shabtys are usually carved with exaggerated servile features, such as hunchbacks and small feet.  Their faces never look up from the ground, and they will twist their heads to avoid meeting the gaze of anyone inspecting them.

They are treasure.

Gallagh Man
The Mandrogi

Erroneously called "grass golems" or "debtor golems", these are bundles of grass shaped like men.  They are employed by the merchants of the Pashetso as a labor force.

The merchants tell people that they little grass men are made from grass that has been bound together and animated with the breath of an industrious horse.  This is a lie.

In truth, each mandrogi contains the soul of a debtor, who died while owing money to a Pashetso matron.  After the death of a debtor, it is up to the young men of the clan to crack open the coffin and extract a single tooth from the mouth of the deceased, wherein hides the terrified souls.

This is all part of the standard terms of a loan.  Few bother to read all of the fine print.

Mandrogi are not rare.  Most people do not repay their loans to the Pashetso.  Why would they?  The strange clan has little ability to collect.  And of course, everyone dies.  If the Pashetso do not operate the graveyard, then they are owed money by the people who do.

After all, gravedigging is ignoble work, best left to those itinerant outlanders.

Sidebar: the Pashetso

A tremendously insular clan of merchants, magicians, and charlatans, the Pashetso are rumored to be ruled by a cabal of demonic cats.  They shave their daughters in order to make them unappealing to outsiders, and their sons are ritualistically blinded in one eye for the same reason.

In most caravans, it is only the elders who are allowed to speak to foreigners.  This taboo against speaking with outsiders is sometimes dodged through the use of puppets.  Despite these oddities, they Pashetso are well-known cosmopolitans who are involved in minor mercantilism, moneylending, and horse racing of all types.

Despite their social buffers, they have more than their share of runaways, and the streets of Shangalore are filled with eyepatched acrobats and short-haired scribes.

Excavating some ogodai.
This might also be Pompeii.
The Ogodai

Sometimes a jail sentence exceeds the lifespan of the condemned.  For these poor souls, there is the Ritual of the Ogodai.

Unlike the other covenants that are used to bind a person's soul to their body, the Ritual of the Ogodai is very explicit, and is always achieved through torture.  The prisoner usually relents in order to stop the suffering, and then lives out the rest of their days knowing that death is only the beginning of their sentence.

The ancient empire of Cheox built several prison-tombs to house their ogodai, and it is from their records that we know that the sentences range from one lifespan (100 years) to eternity (in the case of pretenders to the throne).

After they die, their body is compressed under a layer of burning ash.  For a year they are left buried.

When they are excavated, the trembling thing is half-mineral, a faceless manikin of ash, heat-reduced flesh, and (deep inside) a blackened skeleton.

An ogodai is only capable of kneeling and bowing.  Cheox interred vast numbers of them in their prison-tombs, and faced them towards Coramont, so that they could pray for forgiveness.  The ogodai with eternal sentences (imperial pretenders, serial killers) were instead hung upside down inside tiny cells, which were then bricked up.

Cheox believed that the ogodai would remain trapped in their corpse forever.  With the passage of centuries, we now know that they are wrong.

The enchantments decay at the same speed as the body.  Moisture, movement, heat, and vermin all contribute.

After a hundred years, an ogodai might be able to turn its head to the side, in order to look at a new wall.  Another hundred years, and it might be able to crawl.  A few hundred more, to walk.  A few hundred more, perhaps to speak--who knows?  But what would a man speak about, after so many long centuries in the dark?

The Rendswühren Man on Display

7 comments:

  1. Great imagery. I love the idea of trembling, groveling mummies welcoming you into a tomb. Greater mummies still holding court in the dark, eroding slowly. And that image of a younger heir walled in a black hollow, forever - I might need to sleep with the lights on for a while.

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  2. Grass golems you say?

    https://worldbuildingandwoolgathering.blogspot.com/2019/06/unlikely-golems.html

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  3. ‘The only thing that unified the souls was their service to the flesh--without the flesh, they begin to unravel. Imagine seven birds that were huddled together in a nest during a storm. As the storm stops, each bird begins to realize that they are not a seven-beaked creature whose lower half is a nest; they take flight. This is what happens when a body decays.’

    If for nothing else today, I thank you for this. It is beautiful.

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  4. the amount of stuff you've managed to build off the idea of seven souls is astonishing! it's also cool to see how different cultures in your world interact with that same idea. great stuff.

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  5. In my imagination, the souls of the Madrogi don't escape when the fragile straw falls apart- instead, they're bound back into the tooth they came from. Pasheto matriarchs wear long strings of human teeth, and within the tribe most trade is conducted in these little enamel pearls

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    1. That's as good as anything I'd write. That's pretty much the same as "demons use souls as currency".

      I like the idea of mandrogi being used as currency, though. Why does "demons use souls as currency" seem trite, but "the merchants down by the river use souls as currency" seem monstrous?

      Poor little bastards--when do they get to shuffle off to some dim afterlife?

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    2. In my game spirits who don’t move on right away get tied to the land as ghosts. Over time the ghost looses a sense of self eventually becoming a genius loci and eventually fading away. we have witches called stick binders that use old worn down spirits to animate sticks for them to perform tasks. Stick binders definitely are going to start trading in teeth.

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