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Mykaran Soul Cages

Inspired by Spooktober Prompt #1: Portrait

Try and avoid looking into their eyes for too long. It only serves to draw their attention to you. Bound they are, but not entirely...helpless.
— Ifri of the Red House, Guardian of the Ayolan
Burial rites are often at the core of a culture’s relationship with the afterlife. And in the same way that each culture has its own vision of the world beyond, so do they posses a ritual or set of rituals designed to guide one’s soul there. Mykarans defy this trend, seeking not to guide their deceased but to contain them.  

To paint a Soul

  Mykarans are famed for their connection with colour. Be it the seeming absence of any sort of colour in their hair and skin, their total obsession with turning every tiny speck of land they own into a painting or the ability to see colours no other human can perceive, the ways of the Mykarans are as fascinating as they are strange. When one of their number dies, they will embalm the body or prepare it for burial.   Instead, it is burned, hair, skin, blood, and all. The ash left over is then mixed with various chemicals to create an assortment of colours, some lighter and some darker, but all of them a tone of reddish grey. Once this is done, a Gravepainter is called upon. These men and women then create a picture of the deceased, painstakingly recreating their features on a canvas made from blessed paper.  

To cage a Soul

  But one should not mistake this practice for an act of reverence alone. For while the paintings are made to remember the past, to both hail great deeds and mourn vile acts, their Mykaran name “Soul Cage” does hint at their other, and far darker purpose. To imprison the soul of the deceased.   The paint, made from the very essence of the dead, combined with the blessed canvas creates a second body for the soul of the deceased. One from which there is no escape. For Mykarans do not wish to let the souls of the dead go on. The dead are not something to revere but to fear instead.   An afterlife akin to the “Garden” of Feran myth does not exist for the Mykarans. They believe that the souls of the dead instead remain in the world, ever hungry for a new body. They will torment the living, haunt them until they can no longer fight back. And finally take their body and drive their soul away.   Once the painting is complete, a priestess will come to take it into the Ayalon, the House of the Dead. It is a vast gallery of sorts, a place where the pictures are kept safe and where the living can go to pay their respects. Hundreds of specially trained slaves guard them and keep them in pristine condition.  

The purest Soul

  One may ask why there is need for guards if the pictures already imprison the wayward souls. The truth is that while the deceased are locked away, they are not totally helpless. Wandering through the gallery, one will feel their eyes follow them, will feel the air thick with their greed, hunger, and lust, and may even spot them move ever so slightly within their painted confines. There are rumours of those that disappeared within the depths of the House of the Dead. Of people that vanished for days or weeks, only to return strangely changed.   In the far depths of the gallery is a trio of paintings stranger than any other. Caged in thick chains made of blessed metal and with veils hiding their true features. None bar the high priestesses of the Ayalon may enter their prison, for each of the pictures hides an individual of true terror. No one is entirely sure who is kept down there in eternal darkness. But rumours fly and the people whisper. Of Ameris the Pure, ancient Tyrant Queen of Nurn. Of Nyanis the All-Seeing, cager of the Mykarans. And some whisper about Cybelle…Tormentor Goddess of the World.
Why would the dead remain content to watch us? How we live the lives they never could. Take the chances they never did. Is it truly so strange that they would want to return?
— Lysis, Priestess of the Ayalon.
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Only those with special talents are chosen to undergo the long and punishing training that is required to become a Gravepainter. Decades are spent and not all those attempt it survive. Part priest and part artist, they are among the most respected members of Mykaran society and honored guests whenever encountered.
  The House of the Dead  
One of the oldest buildings in Nurn, the Ayalon is part temple and part prison. Here, all Mykarans can pay respects to their ancestors and some may even ask for guidance. Hungry the dead may be, but their wisdom cannot be denied. Each painting, its position within the House and those connected to it are noted in a great archive.   Guides lead those seeking their forebearers, for the labyrinthine corridors of the temple make it easy to get lost. Another defense against the dead. Even if they free themselves from the painting, they could forever wander the halls of Ayalon without ever seeing another soul. The Tetrarchy pays for everything, rather aware that to not do so could have dire consequences.
The body is all that keeps us from going into the great nothing. The wailing domain of the dead, a realm of eternal regret and envy.
— Ifris, Mykaran Gravepainter.

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Cover image: by Nick Kasolos


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5 Mar, 2023 18:11

What an absolutely cool concept this is! Very intriguing.

Summer Camp is here and I'm so excited! It's my favorite World Anvil event of the year! Keep up to date with my progress on my personal Summer Camp page!

6 Mar, 2023 17:13

This is so surreal. Genuinely horrifying to know that one's fate after death is to be trapped in an eternal painting. Grandiose yet terrifying. Twisted and fabulous. Magnificent. I can only wonder about the kind of twisted mind that imagined this (just a joke). Seriously, I congratulate you for this work of art.