Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Street of the Gods

In the city of Slowhaven is a street paved with white stone. The only access is a single road that meets the street in its exact center. A wide sign marks the street as the Street of the Gods; the 'G' has obviously been repainted many times, having alternated between uppercase and lowercase, depending on whether the painter was monotheistic or not. Not that it matters; if anyone is close enough to read the sign, their attention will obviously be elsewhere.

The street itself is a wide avenue, with countless buildings crowding every available inch of space. Imposing granite structures press against squat earthen hovels, and plain wooden fronts compete with glittering half-real constructs. Every religion in Mareten finds peaceful coexistence in the Street. Ancient religions and brand-new cults live side-by-side. No one quite remembers how the Street of Gods came to be; the most likely rumor is that two competing churches were built, one at each end of a street. Rather than risk all-out war between the competing religions, the mayor declared the street a safe zone for all religious activity, as long as it did not force itself on others. Since then, the basic rules have been expanded to a 400-page rule book, and the number of churches have increased beyond number. Dark dwarven cults tunnel under the street, and strange air elementals float overhead; water and fire, earth and air, darkness and light, all that and more can be found on the Street.

The Street of the Gods is not merely a collection of churches. The name is no hyperbole. Gods of all shapes and sizes live along the Street. Oh, certainly, Alehim will not be found visiting pious clergy, nor Jormungan devouring them; the gods of the Street are no major deities, or even minor ones. Rather, they are powerful beings gifted with great magic. Some use their magic to gain followers; others, to bless those around them. Still others have no idea why they were given such power.

The Street does not conform to reality quite as strongly as other roads; it has always been that the most powerful beings reside at the ends of the street, while the least powerful congregate about the entrance at the middle. As gods come and go, the buildings shift, squeezing in to accommodate more, or widening to fill the empty space. Indeed, there is no empty space between any building; the amount of magic on the street transforms it, and no map can hope to successfully guide anyone.

While many of the denizens are fairly ordinary micro-deities, a few stand out...

Auntie is a grandmotherly figure, with simple clothing. She usually sits on the narrow porch of a modest, single-story house. She smiles brightly at passers-by, and will sit patiently and listen to any traveler's woes. The tired, old, and infirm are invited into her home; all who enter find their spirit lifted. In this case, lifted entirely from the body; no one leaves Auntie's house but Auntie. "Those poor dears," she nods, "So hopeless. So tired. Now they are safe, and their spirits are free." As horrifying as her methods can be, no one who enters her house does so without knowing their fate; all those overcome with grief or pain eventually find their way to Auntie.

Across the street is the Abomination, a wretched lump of oil and metal. It lurches around its musty lair, moaning and grinding its gears. It was once a dwarf, or so say its cult of followers. A strong, powerful dwarf, with a knack for the mechanical, and a hunger for immortality. Piece by piece, he replaced himself, until nothing remained. No dwarf, at any rate, for he had become the Abomination, cursed by his own hand to live forever, shunned by his people. His followers intend to stay with their master, learning how to replace their bodies with metal and fire, and attaining immortality as well... though, perhaps, without the worrisome constant screaming for death.

Most micro-deities of the Street are mostly harmless; the Rules prohibit anyone from so much as harming a hair on the head of someone who does not wish it, and few fight the law. However, there are some creatures in the deepest lairs who make even the strongest godling shudder.

An unmarked hole with a rotting ladder leads down to a warren of twisting tunnels. Inside are gruesome creatures, barely recognizable as men; they wear little more than a muddy sheet, wrapped around their body. They have no legs below the knee; they crawl, heads low, scuttling through their tunnels on unknown missions. At the bottom, the darkest crevice of a stinking pit, is a restless horror. Every step the creature takes is a twisted mockery of movement. Its skin slides over its unnatural bones, unconnected to tissue beneath. Its arms and legs splay outward at impossible angles; it can only crawl slowly in the mire, its bulging eyes staring, its mouth drooling black liquid. Few visit the warren, for the relentless revulsion inside threatens insanity more with each passing moment. Even drawing near to its entrance brings a sense of unease.

Once every evening, just at sunset, the Lady walks. She appears to be a woman in an white gown, a veil over her face, and lace gloves on her hands. She leaves her church and walks the entire length of the Street to the end, and returns along the other side. She speaks with a low voice, and petitions those she meets to give her their dreams. Those that do find themselves unable to dream again; their nights are forever dreamless. And yet, somehow, they feel as if their dreams are plagued with nightmares. As well they may be, but only the Lady knows for certain.

Not all creatures are so dark or haunting; one young man, his countenance cheerful, will gladly talk and laugh with any who draw near. He retires shortly before dark, for like a phoenix, he is consumed every evening in flame, only to be reborn. He claims the process is harmless, but that he removes his clothing to prevent costly wardrobe replacements; he used to allow private viewings of the event, but has recently gotten married. On his most jolly days, he challenges visitors to a duel, intentionally losing. With his dying breath, he whispers, "See you... tomorrow..." - and always does. No injury, no matter how terrible, from magic or might, can kill him. No matter where he is, he always returns to a specific spot. While he enjoys the name "The Immortal Phoenix," he prefers his friends call him Fen.

Another creature of the light is a young girl, clad in a simple summer dress. She dances and sings and laughs, delighted to meet every soul, be they fairest maiden or grim specter of death. Indeed, no one can harm her; even if they so wished, her form is immaterial; even the most enchanted weapons cannot touch her. Unlike many of the Street, True Seeing reveals nothing more about her; she is a girl, happy and content... and has been so for thousands of years.

From pious monks blessed by their god to tortured, soulless beings of chaos, the Street of the Gods holds them all. Just remember: stick to the middle, and your visit will be pleasant.

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