Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Death In Ur-Hadad, Part 2

See? I told you I'd get to it! It's time to revisit the biggest of topics as we talk about death in the First City for this semi-A to Z RPG post. 

No great field of graves receives the dead of Ur-Hadad. No vast necropolis of mausoleums accepts as tenants the cast-off corpses of the First City. Whatever catacombs line the walls of her sewers and deeper passages beneath the streets bear no form of organization and no semblance of any logic known to modern Man. In his short millennium of dominion over Ur-Hadad, Man has developed strong traditions for disposing of his fallen fellows and many more myths about exactly where the soul goes once the body fails.

Burial At Sea

The land approach to Ur-Hadad is treacherous and, frankly, messy. Miles of marshland give way to miles of swamp, all teeming with deadly animal and humanoid (and monstrous) life. The secret to Ur-Hadad's existence has always been the sea trade, and its placement along nearly every trade route known throughout the great seas of the world ensures that every sort of commodity known throughout the world may be found here. With trade and seafaring being so essential to the economic success of Ur-Hadad, it is little wonder that the god Jallur, Treasurer of Heaven and Admiral of the Empyrean Seas, finds many worshipers in the First City. Before being incorporated into the common pantheon of modern men, Jallur found his origin in the Lagesh city of Erepur-Golam, where he (in this incarnation, actually a she) was the feminine personification of the bounty of the sea while Dagon (who men now consider to be either one of the Old Ones or a Demon Lord) was the masculine personification of its wrath. Lageshi merchants would half-jokingly offer that their (considerably vast) success at plying the sea lanes was due to Jallur's favor and after several decades of jealous dockside traders later, Jallur's worship quickly spread as merchants attempted to emulate the success of the Lageshi. With a small metaphysical sex-change, Jallur found himself one of the most popular deities in the First City.

SammyWolfe @ DeviantART
Focused as he is upon seafaring and trade, Jallur encourages his followers to dispose of the dead in an economical and simple fashion. As such, the practicality of the burial at sea, long essential to sailors across the globe, has impressed Jallurites as the quintessentially Jalluritic method of burial. While in other faiths, burial at sea is largely seen as an ad hoc solution to a pressing problem that often stretches the definition of a "proper burial," in the Jallurite faith, it is considered right, proper and the most sanctified way to pass into the Empyrean Seas to wrest an eternal reward from them.

Being ever-practical in their faith and observances, each Jallurite keeps as one of his prime treasures a decorate writing, rarely smaller than a coin and often large enough to act as a serving plate, that serves a three-fold purpose. First, it acts as a record of the faithful's last will and testament, etched into the very metal (or, in some cases, stone) of the writing. Second, during the burial at sea, the object functions as a weight to help drag the body down to the deeps, a duty from which they earn the title "Death Weight." Finally, since they are often ornate and crafted both from and with valuable materials, they are meant to be spent in the afterlife acquiring a ship and crew with which to sail the Empyrean Seas, or perhaps to buy a place on an auspicious one. Rarely is a Death Weight heavy enough to actually drag the faithful's body below the waves, but each crewman on a Jallurite vessel is expected to provide the captain and first mate (each) with a rubbing made from his Death Weight (normally, this is done as part of signing on to any crew's roster and charter) so that they may enact its content while the weight joins its owner at the bottom of the sea. Jallurites are expected to carry their Death Weight into battle in case they die and fall overboard, a fact which often precludes the weights from getting too impractical or encumbering; however, to prevent theft, they are often objects worn in plain view and rarely secreted in places that their bearer can lose track of. The loss of a Death Weight is not considered particularly unlucky, but few Jallurites can rest easily until a new weight replaces a lost or stolen one.

When the worship of Jallur spread to mainland Ur-Hadad, the practice of burial at sea and the Death Weight spread there as well, often with far less practical implementation than ship-board. The merchant Ahaz Bulgallygurhal, for example, has invested a sizable portion of his fortune in a golden Death Weight so large, it is rumored, that the thirty slaves that it takes to bear it from his home on the Boulevard of Boundless Pleasures to the edge of the harbor will likely be crushed beneath its immense weight and momentum and follow it, along with their master, to his watery grave. While the seagoing Jallurite's Death Weight is a practical thing, in Hadadi culture, as is so often the case, the Death Weight has become a status symbol that borders on the obscene. Often, the instructions of the disbursal of the deceased's wealth will include last requests, the more ostentatious the Death Weight, the more ostentatious the requests. Bulgallygurhal's Death Weight is said to contain the exact recipe for every dish to be served at his memorial dinner, a precise seating chart for the event (which is revised monthly), the full text of the quasi-Jallurite death ceremony, tailored to his particular tastes, along with an exhortation of what to do with one's self meant to be presented to everyone who had ever wronged the merchant (who are all, of course, named, with the list updated when the seating chart is, for obvious reasons). A large industry has cropped up that specializes in fulfilling these last requests, but rarely are these businesses run by devout Jallurites, who often see "pop Jallurism" as an affront to the deity, but rather by the priests-accountants of the Lord of Black Skies, a deity who, it is believed, sees Jallur less a rival for the devotion of Man, and more of a sponsor.

In the end, the practice of burial at sea, particularly with the ostentatious and gaudy Death Weights preferred by the Hadadi, should by now have filled up the entirety of the harbor at Ur-Hadad were it not for the fact that the Death Weights are, in fact, quite valuable. It could not have been long after the land-borne adoption of the Death Weight practice that some enterprising young individual noticed that, although the soul of the departed must go to the Empyrean Seas to seek an eternal fortune, the Death Weight seems to stay behind, doing no one any apparent good. Thus, a vast army of submarine grave robbers infests the moonlit harbors and shores of the First City every night, using air bladders fashioned from animal (or otherwise) stomachs for prolonged dives. Watchmen, clad in bronze plates and caps easy to doff should the need arise, pole gondolas with long spears on the lookout not only for the usual smugglers and miscreants that harbors, wharves and docks attract, but also for these thieves, whom the watchmen call "vulture mollusks" (since they "feed" at the bottom of the sea from the bodies of the dead).

For Jallur's part, he declines to comment on Hadadi practice. Rather, the Prophet of Profit, Engobaz the Ever-Voracious, has proclaimed that the will of the Treasurer of Heaven and Admiral of the Empyrean Seas is that "he who shall cast himself into my domain and with him bring word of the earthly accounting of his deeds and wealths, let him take an equal measure of what wealth he brings to my domain in eternal fortune for his immortal reward, for he is mine and what is his is mine, for that which passes into my domain shall be mine until the end of days." The end of days, it seems, does not apply in the case of vulture mollusks.

The next time we look at Death In Ur-Hadad, we'll learn a bit about exactly what folks in the First City is awaiting them after death. Well, at least some of them.