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Nithian inspirationby John Calvin
As per Geoff's suggestion in another thread, I am writing down some impressions/ideas/inspirations that I had while walking through the King Tut exhibit (currently in San Francisco) and absorbing the sites and stories there.
These are just initial impressions and rough ideas, but maybe we can take some of them and turn them into usable material for a Mystaran campaign. These might be appropriate for a range of Nithian cultural elements, including those of the Nephthisians (of whom I've been pondering over recently anyway, with my continued delvings into the Hollow Moon).
I'll start with:
The Rise and Fall of Akhenaten
Akhenaten was (possibly) the father of Tutankhamen, and somewhat of a radical for his time. He abandoned the traditional polytheistic religion of his people and replaced it with the monotheistic worship of the Aten, represented by the sun disk. This caused much turmoil, specifically among the priesthood, but also among the general populace, and was apparently such an unfavourable idea that after his rise to pharaoh, Tutankhamen abolished his father's religion and returned to the old ways. The boy king died shortly after this at the age of 19.
I see several parallels here in Mystaran history, the foremost of which is the corruption of the Nithians by Thanatos (and other forces of entropy) in 700 BC. In this case the religious coup succeeds however, and there is no return to the old ways. Two hundred years after this event the Nithians are wiped from history for their transgressions by the immortals.
Another possible Mystaran connection would be during the time of the Nephthisians (as proposed by Sharon Dornhoff). This group of Nithian priestesses are associated with silver, and the moon, and are driven from power once Rathanos takes a place of prominence in the Nithian pantheon. Being associated with fire, (and being sponsored by Ixion) it might be easy to draw parallels between Rathanos and the Aten.
There are a couple of things that struck me about the Aten and its main apostle, Akhenaten. Many times the Aten is depicted as a sun/sphere with many rays shining down on its followers. Each ray in turn ends with a hand, and in the case where these rays land upon Akhenaten or his queen, the hand bears an ankh (symbol of life) as a gift. Now, this might be seen as a very beneficial sign, and at face value I think most would take it as such... however taken together with the second thing I noticed about Akhenaten, there may be another interpretation. That second this is that most of the time Akhenaten is portrayed in a very stylised way... almost a caricature type form with elongated features.
So... what if the Mystaran version of the Aten is not actually the sun, but rather an amorphous being with many long tentacles that can reach out from between the stars (where it dwells) to touch its loyal followers. Doing so bestows upon them extended life, but also changes them in strange and subtle ways... contrary to the very laws of nature and possibly even the immortals themselves.
Throughout the exhibit I encountered many examples of shabti - these are basically small wooden or ceramic dolls that are used in Egyptian burial rites. Those for the nobility were custom made to look like the deceased, but commoners also used them as well although theirs were of a mass produced variety. The earlier forms of these funeral dolls were mummy-form, however in later periods each was designed to represent a different aspect of a person's life. For example one might be carrying a basket of wheat, while another could be holding engineering implements.
The idea of the shabti was this: that while one was in the afterlife, one could be called upon to perform a number of tasks - toiling in the fields, quarrying stone, or labouring in any number of other endeavours. If one had a shabti buried with them, the shabti could be sent in their place to perform the labour. In this way one might avoid some of the more unpleasant tasks in the afterlife.
That's an interesting idea, and one that we might explore as is, however I got to thinking, what if the Mystaran version of shabti worked in the opposite way. Rather than being sent to perform some labour in the afterlife, what if a shabti could call forth the deceased (or some portion thereof) in order to perform some task in the realm of the living?
What might some of those tasks be? Shabti could take the form of a warrior, and be called during a time of physical need. Perhaps they could take the form of a scholar, and be called upon to provide advice. Think of a Nithian pharaoh who could call upon a long line of his ancestors (through their shabti) in order to aid him in ruling his empire. Shabti designed for these purposes might be single use, crumbling after they are called, or they may restrict uses to a number of times per year. Perhaps calling upon one in the living world requires that act to be repaid by the caller in the next world.
Staff of the Sun and Staff of the Moon
One set of artifacts in particular caught my attention. These were two staffs, one of them decorated in gold with sun symbolism, and the other decorated in silver with moon symbolism. This stuck out because I've recently been going over Hollow Moon material, and the Nephthisians are related to silver and the worship of the moon.
I'd like to think about connecting the Staff of the Moon to lycanthropy in some way. I know canonically that lycanthropy didn't start until after the Alphatians magically tampered with their own bloodlines in 400 AC... however I never really liked that take on the disease. I much prefer to tie it in with the Taymorans (see my previous article A Treatise on Lycanthropy). Anyway, in that article I propose that the Nithians tamed the more virulent strain of Taymoran lycanthropy by binding it with the powers of the moon. This seems like a perfect fit for the Nephthisians.
If this is the case the Nephthisians can be the founders of lycanthropic orders (both martial and otherwise), and several forms of lycanthropy can reach the Hollow Moon setting in a much earlier period. The loosing of Nithian knowledge and lore on the outer world greatly contributed to the re-emergence of lycanthropy as a curse, however the Nephthisians would have retained all of their knowledge - they were on the Hollow Moon when the Nithians were wiped out. They may even have contained or modified the disease since their colonisation, in ways that we have not imagined yet.