Though mysterious and darksome to outsiders, the Ishtari are a people of faith. Unlike the denizens of the “bright lands” however, the Sunless Kingdom’s piety is expressed in ways that appear macabre and grotesque. The conceits of Blood, Pain and Death are important to the Ishtari faith, as they are holy to their thrice-aspected Goddess, Kali-Avesti-Ishtar.
Every Ishtari Priest belongs to the highest caste of the Sunless Kingdom: the Ashurai. All Ashurai are born thusly, achieving their grace through multiple lifetimes of virtue. While the Kshatriya are born to battle and the Vashu are born to labor, the Ashurai have a lifetime goal of prayer and piety ahead of them — for their ultimate fate is to walk the Path of Divinity and stand beside the Goddess at the end of the world.
It is taught to the Ishtari that the beginning of worlds was the end of a previous reality. The Ishtar aspect faded from the shards and shreds of the dying cosmos and from her came the Kali-aspect. From the Blood Matriarch, came the worlds and their denizens, all birthed in her ineffable agony. Through her death were the worlds made: Overworld held Gods and Demons while Dragons and Elementals crawled from Underworld.
After long eons, the aspect of Avesti came to the cosmos and ordered it. Assigning roles to Gods and Demons, to Elementals and Dragons.
But they grew to hate the order that She had wrought and they conspired against Her. As one, they all rose against her.
The Avesti-aspect was forced to slay many of them before she herself was slain in a blasphemous mockery of the cosmic order. And then the conspirators bickered and fought amongst themselves until the survivors licked their wounds and forged a truce.
From the blood and ashes of the divine war came the Human Race. The Humans were beguiled by the Gods and the Dragons, while the Elementals and the Demons preyed upon them. But the Race would be the greatest of Kali’s Children, greater even than the Gods or the Dragons.
Millennia would pass before Kali-Avesti-Ishtar would speak to the first Prophet, Ashra, and reveal to her the truth of the world: The Ishtar aspect was coming and when she awakened to the fullness of her might, all worlds will fall to her strength.
As people abandon old clothes to put on new others; so casts the embodied soul its worn-out frame to enter other forms. – Prophet Ashra
The Ishtari are taught that when they die, they are taken by Ishtar unto one of three Fates: The Path of Divinity, the Path of Ancestry and the Path of Iniquity.
The Path of Divinity is a Path walked by a scarce few. Only Ashurai who have lived lives of piety, who have died properly AND whose funeral has been correctly performed are brought to this Path, which consists of a Gauntlet of Crucibles to keen and sanctify them. At the end of this path, they are allowed to join the Goddess’ court in Overworld to assist her in her divine struggle and, occasionally, to guide the Children through their struggles in Midworld. Ashurai who fail to possess any of the requirements above walk the Path of Ancestry instead.
The Path of Ancestry is the Path granted to most Souls. Upon this Path, a Soul is flayed of their Sins and Flaws and is sent back to Midworld to reincarnate as a different Mortal. This reincarnation also purges the Soul of its memories, although occasionally some memories escape purgation.
Those who have lived as virtuously as they could ascend to the next step of their Path (e.g. Kshatriya ascend to Ashurai, Outsiders and Pariah ascend to Vashu, Ashurai remain Ashurai). Those whose sins outweigh their virtue must depend upon their family to inter them properly should die “properly” to ascend. Most Souls reincarnate without ascending however, some particularly sinful or unfortunate Souls may descends one step (e.g. Kshatriya becomes Vashu) as their spirit is dragged down by sin and wickedness.
The Wicked and the Damned among the Ishtar, those who have committed so heinous as to condemn them against the other two Paths, are sentenced by the Goddess to walk the Path of Iniquity. This Path is an infinite one, with no end. Upon the Path of Iniquity, one’s Soul is eternally tortured and then devoured by hellish Demons.
Among the Ishtari, one’s salvation or damnation in the afterlife is dependent upon three main factors. To properly ascend one must have the following factors in order:
The Moral Weight: Also called Kharma, the Moral Weight of a person is dependent on their Virtue versus their Wickedness. Simply put, Kharma is the energy created by performing good deeds and bad deeds. Only the Goddess truly knows a Soul’s Kharma.
Those who have good Kharma may Ascend in their next life or even walk the Path of Divinity. Those who have bad Kharma may even descend or if one’s Kharma is bad enough, walk the Path of Iniquity.
The Holy Death: The Manner of one’s Death (sometimes called “Maran”) is important among the Ishtari mythos. The Holiest Deaths are those in Childbirth (mother or child). Also considered sacred are Deaths via Ceremonial Sacrifice (typically with torture), Holy Battle (against the enemies of the Ashur-Ashurai) or in defense of one’s family.
The least Holy Deaths are: being executed by the Ashur-Ashurai, unholy suicide, dying for an evil cause and being consumed by unholy magics.
Ishtari who are on their last breath often whisper a prayer to Ishtar even as they suffer. They do not speed Her way to them however, because they know that their fatal suffering is holy and pleasing to the Goddess.
The Sacred Lament: Another important factor in the Ishtari afterlife is the concept of the Kriya, also called the Sacred Lament or funeral. This has to be performed by a Priest (preferably a Priest from Koil-Ishtar) and must be attended by one’s family (preferably Children) or at least, one’s close friends. This important ceremony also requires the deceased’s body, although in the absence of a Body, a Priest from Koil-Ishtar may assign an effigy instead (typically, an urn with the deceased’s most prized possession).
Their grief buoys a Soul upwards, lessening the weight of bad Kharma and the proper preparation of their body, reflects well upon their Soul. Those who have no family or friends to mourn them are in peril of descending or walking the Path of Iniquity.
The rituals for one’s funeral varies from City to City in Kali-Ishtar. There are three constants however:
1. Preparation of the Body: Universally part of the preparation rites is the extraction of blood from the corpse. This helps mummify it or else allows the body to burn easily.
2. Lamentation of the Soul: The Priest and the deceased’s beloved lament the deceased’s passing and speak or sing of the fallen one’s virtues.
3. Renunciation of the Flesh: Most Ishtari are burned and placed in urns. Also, the blood is disposed of in a holy manner: dried to a scabrous mass within holy braziers and then burned.
The mummified heads of matriarchs and heroes are often encased in ice and housed in the family property or else shrunken and hung from the important places on the property or even worn as heirlooms. On occasion, bones are also repurposed as sacred heirlooms.
View on Magic:
The Ishtari believe that Magic is a Gift from the Goddess, given and received by those who prove themselves worthy. The holiest of magics are the Divine magics that are gained through piety and discipline, as well as the dark arts achieved only through the most perilous method of Sorcery. Witchery and Totemic ability are revered and respected still, but the other two paths of magic are more esteemed in the eyes of the Ishtari — one for its legitimacy and the other for the audacity and bravery of its practitioners.
Because of its frequency in Kali-Ishtar, the use of magic is regulated in the Sunless Kingdom. The Goddess’ Priests are automatically connected to Her Holy Temple. However, the other paths of magic require blessings and licenses to practice if one is not an agent of the state religion. Those rogue magicians who use magic unlawfully, either because they are unlicensed by Koil-Avesti or because they are outlaws, are called “Apostates”.
Those who have earned the ability to perform magic are nonetheless regarded as blessed and gifted in the eyes of the people. Among the castes, those who have proven themselves capable of sufficient magic-use are elevated into the Kshatriya at the least. Those who are especially worthy in talent, faith and skill may become Ashurai, although this is an extremely rare circumstance.
Besides the magics brought by faith, Diablerie is a discipline respected by the Ishtari. Not just any Diablerie will garner the Sunless Kingdom’s respect however, a Diabolist with ties to the True Vault (and only such a Diabolist) can be given the same reverence as a Priest (provided that he or she is Ashurai Caste). The True Vault is said to house the servants of the Goddess, although it remains a place inimical to most Mortals, including the Kali-Avesti-Ishtar’s children.
Special Note: Licensed Diabolists from Kali-Ishtar must draw their power from the True Vault. Precede the word “True” in any incantation where the Vault is mentioned.
The Temple of the Trinity
And the Goddess spoke to Ashra, biding the Prophet to watch over the Children. Forever after, Ashra’s closest disciples did as Ashra did, warding the Ishtari with the Goddess’ Gift to lighten their burden…
Sometimes called the Koil, the Temple of the Trinity is the state religion and the governing body of the Sunless Kingdom.
Technically, it is directed by the Prophet-Matriarch (currently Medeshka), who is advised by her councilors in the Ashur-Ashurai. In truth, the Ashur-Ashurai handles almost all the daily activities of government and bureaucracy, although Prophet Medeshka is still the main arbiter of Kingdom policy.
The Ashur-Ashurai is comprised of the three High Priestesses of the Trinity Temple: the Gar-mata of Koil-Kali, the Var-Katar of Koil-Avesti and the Shir-Satya of Koil-Ishtar.
Beneath the Ashur-Ashurai are the many ranks of the Trinity Temple’s clergyfolk. There are six grades listed below, but within each grade are may be two or more tiers, dependent on which aspect of the Goddess that they serve and the nature of their service
1. Initiate – the first rank of the Trinity Temple is given to those who have proven themselves capable of wielding the Goddess’ power. These Initiates are tasked by their superiors toward basic duties such as being a scribe, a healer or the equivalent of a private in an army. However, Initiates have more political and religious clout than most Ishtari because they are all of the Ashurai caste.
2. Acolyte – the second rank of the Trinity Temple is given to those who have spent a few years as Initiates. Acolytes are given leadership roles over their Initiate brethren as well as given greater areas of responsibilities.
3. Disciple – the third rank of the Trinity Temple is given to those Acolytes who have proven themselves worthy of greater roles of leadership and responsibility. Higher ranking Disciples are often given small temples, districts and companies to govern.
Some Disciples are chosen by the Trinity Temple for their talents and instead of being placed in roles of governance, they are given special missions to perform and unusual sanctions that free them from conventional strictures.
4. Chantric – the fourth rank of the Trinity Temple is given to those who garnered the special attentions of the Ashur-Ashurai and the Prophet-Matriarch. These are the generals of armies, the governors of cities and the writers of dogma.
5. Invokate – the penultimate rank of the Trinity Temple are occupied by the High Priestesses of the Koil, the members of the Ashur-Ashurai. By council and the direction of the Prophet-Matriarch, they guide the Kingdom and the Temple.
Unlike the other ranks of the Trinity Temple, the rank of Invokate is largely hereditary. Furthermore, there has never been a male Invokate in the history of the Trinity Temple — although such a circumstance is not strictly forbidden from happening.
6. Prophet – also called the Prophet-Matriarch, the highest rank of the Trinity Temple is held by the Ashurai known only as Medeshka, although the position has only been recently filled.
Like the Invokate, Prophets are always female.
It is said that the Prophet is imbued with the presence, the memories and the power of all previous Prophets, including but not limited to Ashra herself. The Prophet has also been seen practicing other forms of magic (such as Totemic ability, Witchery and some Sorcery). Unfortunately, there are terrible costs to this power: Medeshka rarely answers to her former name (which is known only to a few) nor does she regard her family and friends as anything but Chosen.
The Koil of Kali
Kali is also known as the Blood Matriarch, the All-Mother and the Solace amidst the Shadows. This Aspect of the Goddess is credited with the creation of the world and its inhabitants. While her love extends to all things, she shows favor especially to her Children, the Ishtari, who revere her, respect her and adore her.
Just as Blood binds Mother to Child, so too do the followers of Kali revere the blood that binds us all. The blood and agony of birth is especially holy to the Koil-Kali whose presence is required in the ceremonies that surround the birth of a new Ishtari citizen.
Among the Ishtari, Kali is also the Aspect of Love (although Avesti is the aspect of Matrimony). This covers filial devotion, romantic commitment and even simple carnal satisfaction.
Kali’s protective facet is reflected in the stories and myths of the Ishtari where she shelters her children against the evils of the world and teaches them how to defend themselves. While she herself is rarely combative, the Blood Matriarch has been known to lash out at those who would strike against her brood.
Typically, the Kali-aspect is depicted as a matronly woman swelled with child sitting before a cauldron, a blood-soaked nubile maiden or a huge mountain bear.
– Kali is love, creation and beauty; be as her — create and protect beautiful things in the world.
– Kali is as the mother bear; she shelters the faithful and destroys those who would attack her charges.
– Kali is the Blood Matriarch; blood is holy to her and its needless spilling through killing or injury must be sanctified with pain, prayer and/or sacrifice.
Symbol/Colors: The Symbol of Kali is a full moon, often represented by a silver disk ringed by black and/or blood red. Ornate or personal versions of this Symbol often include a half lidded Eye (typically the same color as the ring) at the center of the moon.
Spells: Priest anointed to Kali inflict Silver-type damage with their Divine spells.
Sphere Access: Priests anointed to Kali may cast spells from the following Spheres:
Clergy: The biggest of all the Ishtari clergies, the Koil-Kali is the dogma of the Kali-aspect but is also the term for the clergy anointed to the Blood Matriarch. Colloquially, female priests of this sect are titled “Mother” while the (rare) male priests are called “Father” In the Sunless Kingdom, these Priests are required to officiate ceremonies and rituals of Birth, Adulthood and Matrimony, as well as in ceremonies of sowings, harvests, commencements and beginnings.
The Koil-Kali is inextricable to the growth and the progress of Ishtari cities and society. Within the Koil are the Kalian Builders: excellent craftsfolk and builders, refined in the carving of ice or the use of bones and hides to create structures or objects for the citizenry to use. Laborers and workers toil according to their design to bring glory to the Sunless Kingdom.
The Merciful Aspect of the Goddess is best embodied by the Kalian Wardens. They are healers, midwives and physicians, permitted to touch even the Pariah in their mandates of mercy and their holdings are places of healing and solace. These Hearth-havens are possessed of song, light and warmth — radiating outward to protect and comfort the homes of Ishtari citizenry.
The Kalian Singers also involved in the education of the Ishtari; these minstrels and teachers are tasked to instruct and educate youth and adults alike about the world and its perils.
Despite their civic bent, the Koil-Kali are far from completely benevolent. Aided by the Avestians and Ishtari, some Singers are also keepers of darksome knowledge and forbidden lore.
Overall, they are trusted by the populace of Kali-Ishtar for their beneficence but their influence over the citizenry as well as their control of basic resources (food, shelter, necessities) allows them to guide to people according to the wishes of the Prophet-Matriarch and the Ashur-Ashurai — all for the greater good of the Sunless Kingdom.
Ilyana Maryanu is the Gar-mata (Grand Protector) of Kali in the Ashur-ashurai. Often clad in the coat of a large horned polar bear, Ilyana is possessed of silver and black tresses and has birthed over ten children. It is her direction that guides the construction of the Ice-Builders and it is her voice that dictates the songs of the Hearth-singers.
Second only to the Prophet-Matriarch, Ilyana is a beloved figure among the Sunless Kingdom, nicknamed “Ra-manna” (or Great Mother) by the populace. Her visits are anticipated with feverish zeal, not just for the chance to meet with her but also the blessings of fertility that she bestows.
Ilyana is ever surrounded by her nine Husband-Guardians, each hand-picked by the Gar-mata for their power and their strength. Each of these men are madly in love with Ilyana and are loathe to leave her, even when she meets with the other members of the Ashur-Ashurai.
Her primary stronghold lies in Ashragrad where she presides over Koil Askira, a massive temple of black ice and Ganeshi bones. A place of healing and solace, it is also called the Temple of Blood and Bone.
The Koil of Avesti
Avesti is the Magistrate-Crucifier, the Sword of Dogma and the Sanctified Scourge. She is an authoritative entity, seeking out truth and meting out judgment upon the world. It is believed the Avesti governs the world’s workings, keeping the tides, the winds and the seasons in order.
Avesti’s dual nature of condemnation and salvation are often referenced in the scriptures. However, the stories of Avesti damning a sinner to torment are more frequently referenced than the stories of her mercy.
The Ishtari invoke her for inspiration when dealing with dilemmas or when going through trials. It is believed that the tribulations she sends to agonize the Ishtari are intended to strengthen them if they are worthy or weaken them if they are not. Avesti is best known for myths and stories where she overcomes Demons, Gods and Disasters through wisdom, leadership and magic, but not without suffering through trials and tribulations of her own.
Avesti is typically depicted as a stern judge with a runed tablet, as a wizened crone with a cane of many bones or as a grey-furred cavern spider.
– Avesti is wisdom and insight; never act with emotion and always seek clarity, especially when others seek to provoke you and blind you.
– Avesti is order and law; the laws of others are nothing against the sacred laws of the Goddess– enforce justice and do so with as little hindrance as possible, even when it means doing so in secret.
– Avesti is light and dark; mercy and cruelty are not exclusive, they are aspects of the Goddess that can be used to further her glory. Be good to those who aid the Goddess and be vile to those who are deserving of her wrath.
Symbol/Colors: The Symbol of Avesti is a disk that is half-silver and half dark red, ringed with black. Six eyes (occasionally stars) adorn the interior of the disk either lining its borders or arrayed in twin columns.
Spells: Priests dedicated to Avesti inflict Ice damage with their Divine spells.
Sphere Access: Priests anointed to Avesti may cast spells from the following Spheres:
Clergy: While the Koil-Kali are beloved of the Ishtari, the Koil-Avesti (also called Magisters) command the Children’s respect. They are often found in roles of administration, judgment, investigation and leadership. Low-ranking Koil-Avesti oversee and witness official functions, even their peers in the other Koils defer to their wisdom. High-ranking Koil-Avesti direct generals and civic leaders according to the dictates of the Goddess.
The logistics branch (the Avestian Overseers) orders the flow of resources and manpower across their community (aided by the Koil-Kali). The Overseers interact the most with the Vashu, listening to them and directing them as necessary for Kali-Ishtar’s benefit. The Overseers work in teams with the people in their district to see to its needs, develop the local infrastructure and ensure that the Ashur-Ashurai gets their tithe from the populace. They also preside over many rituals and ceremonies of Ishtari common life.
The judiciary branch (the Avestian Justices) ensures that the Kingdom’s laws are followed, determining the fate of those who break them (aided by the Ishtarian Confessors) and ministering to those who could be redeemed. The Justices enforce the dictums of the Prophet-Matriarch and the Ashur-Ashurai, through instruction, castigation or, if necessary, deadly force. They often lead groups of trained Kshatriya, Ishtarian Confessors or subordinate Justices in their patrols and missions. Those they subdue, they bring to a Crucifier Court for judgment and sentencing.
The Avestian Binders are a branch of the Magisters, akin to the Singers of Kali. Their task is to police the various magics, magical entities and magic-users within the Sunless Kingdom. Their other responsibilities include secreting away knowledges that they feel are dangerous to the soul of the populace and leashing the Yog-Shirai, a servitor variant of the Yog-Mothol demons.
Although they began as a part of the Justices, the Binders have developed their own methods, earning their own independence and responsibilities through acclaim and hardship. The Binders work closely with the Confessors and Justices to ferret out any heresy within the ranks of the Goddess’ clergy.
Aruna Nikarov is the Var-Katar (Purest Blade) of Avesti. An ancient and peerless swordswoman, she is never seen without her hollowed cane of bones (which also holds her ice-bladed sword). Besides her advisory role in the Ashur-Ashurai, the Khanda directs all three branches of the Koil-Avesti. The Var-Katar of Avesti is as feared for her severity as she is respected for the sharpness of her wisdom – her judgments tend to be harsh but are regarded as fair by elders and wise folk.
In her youth, Aruna presided over the purges of heretics and unlawful magic in the Sunless Kingdom. It is known that the Var-Katar personally slew her older sister for the charge of heresy.
Aruna’s main stronghold lies in Ashragrad. Koil-Katar (The Temple of the Sword), a massive fortress of black ice and freezing waterfalls, overlooks the city with a guarded mien. Koil-Katar also features the second highest Crucifier Court in the Kingdom, second only to the Prophet’s own court.
The Koil of Ishtar
To truly know Ishtar is to know death. Among the Goddess’ aspects, she is the Taker of the Fallen, the Soul-Reaver and the Shadow of Death. The Ishtari pray to the Ishtar-aspect for fortune, for mercy and for a holy death.
It is known that Ishtar ever lurks in the shadows between this world and the afterlife, taking the souls of the fallen and the dying to their true destinations. Although Deaths prolonged by ritualistic pain please the Soul-Reaver, the holiest of deaths occur after extended agony of Child-birth, in a grim reflection of the World’s creation.
In many Ishtari mythologies, Ishtar is depicted as pursuing doom that must be negotiated with or appeased via offering or oath. Attempts to trick Ishtar, as with the parable of “the Fool and the Tiger”, often end in tragedy for the would-be trickster and with a lesson for those who believe themselves more cunning than the Shadow of Death.
Ishtar is typically depicted as a warrior in spiked-bone armor and a bone-toothed sword, a woman in flowing spider-silks with her mouth sewn shut or a shadow tiger with blood-red stripes.
– All life is holy to Ishtar; the rite of Murder is an act as sacred as Birth, never to be used unless necessary and always to be performed with poise and reverence.
– Ishtar is shadow and silence; Boasting and exaggeration are the words of lesser souls. Sully not the ears of the Faithful with untruth, but with holy silence or direct report.
– Pain and fear bring joy to Ishtar; Let those you prey upon bring her gladness and let your own hurts feed the Goddess’ power.
Symbol/Colors: The Symbol of Ishtar is a Black disk ringed with Silver. Blood red either drips from the ring or extends outward in wavy rays like a bloody sun.
Spells: Priests dedicated to Ishtar inflict Shadow damage with their Divine spells.
Sphere Access: Priests anointed to Ishtar may cast spells from the following Spheres:
Clergy: Ishtarian clergy, called the Koil-Ishtar or Mourners, are divided into three sub-sects, each focused on a function of the Ishtarian sect.
The Ishtarian Sanctifiers are Mourners dedicated to the funerary arts. Largely non-combative and reflective, the main duties of the Sanctifiers are to oversee the last rites and the funerals of the faithful, tasks important to the spiritual well-being of the dying, the dead and those who would be born again. They dress and prepare the bodies of the dead so that their spirits are prepared for their sojourn into the after-life. They instruct the families of the deceased toward the proper decorum during these rituals, thereby ensuring peace for their fallen loved ones.
Feared even by the faithful, the Ishtarian Confessors are the fangs of the Koil-Ishtar. Their very position ordains them to violence, torture and murder – as their superiors and their Avestian allies see fit. Extraction is their duty, whether it is to spirit a target away from their home, to painfully draw information from their victims or to whisk a heretic’s soul from its coil. Because of their grim function, Confessors are tasked to great amounts of prayer and meditation – some even self-mutilate to purify themselves for their gritty work.
The Ishtarian Heralds are the clergyfolk that direct the Prophet’s military arm. The largest portion of Koil-Ishtar belong to this branch as generals, advisors and captains of the Kingdom’s armies. Unlike their ceremonial brethren among the Sanctifiers and their shadowy Confessor kindred, the Heralds are trained in the strategies and methods of open warfare, drilling constantly in tactics, in leadership and in martial skill. In times of war, the armies of the Sunless Kingdom, including the Kshatriya’s familial forces are subservient to the Heralds.
Leadership: Tatyanna Yamaraja is the Shir-satya (the Truth of Shadow) of the Koil-Ishtar and a member of the Ashur-Ashurai. Believed to be over a hundred years old, she is practically a mummified husk that has somehow continued to live and govern the Koil-Ishtar, although she speaks only in a whisper to her eldest and only surviving great granddaughter, Nashya Yamaraja.
It is believed that Tatyanna lost most of her voice shortly after she became the Shar-satya and immediately after she spoke personally to Gilgorin the Watcher. Despite her losses in vocal ability and family (from their duties as Ishtarians), Tatyanna has gained great insight from her conversation with the Holy One. This has allowed her to direct the Mourners to great success within Kali-Ishtar and beyond.
Tatyanna knows that her time is coming and that the Goddess will come for her. Thirty-year old Nashya is set to replace her as Shir-satya. Oddly, her funerary preparations are either nonexistent or a closely held secret. What this portends for her afterlife or her future plans is known only to her successor, the Prophet-Matriarch and Gilgorin himself.
The main stronghold of the Koil-Ishtar lies beneath Ashra-grad itself, in a set of dimly illuminated glassy caverns called Koil-Satya (the Temple of Truths).