Unathi Religion

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Overview

While there are many beliefs that have existed on Moghes since the earliest Unathite societies, Th'akh and Sk'akh remain the primary, dominant faiths with tension and conflict between the two being normal. Sk'akh enjoys dominance due to it being the state religion of the Hegemony. There are additional sects, heresies, and distinctive faiths amongst Unathi, all of which share communal elements and a focus on the spirit.

Th'akh

Th’akh, literally translated to "ancestor devotion" in Sinta’Azaziba, is the oldest and most pervasive religion among Unathi. Dating back before even the First Hegemony, Th’akh has been a mainstaying belief across almost every culture on Moghes for centuries, even millenia, partially due to Unathite stubbornness. Th’akh’s core tenet is simple: worship the spirits so that they may smile on you, reward your devotion, and you may join the Spirit World and avoid reincarnation. The spirits are a multitude that exist within nature, whether alive or inanimate, and are varying in power, from small impish devils to ancient and powerful spirit-gods. Particularly nasty natural disasters, plagues, and misfortunes were often attributed to particularly strong groups of spiteful spirits or even evil spirit-gods influencing events in the material world. In order to stave off these ills, Th’akh worshippers believe in almost paganistic ritualism; however, the wide-spread nature of the religion (and the various interpretations of spirits and spirit-gods) means that two believers could have an entirely different set of practices. It is claimed that the short lifespan of Unathi leant to the credence of the religion, yet it is speculation at best. Monks that practice oral tradition; aquatic Sinta that revere the sea; a nation devoted to an ancient god-king: Th’akh is as diverse as the stars in the sky.

Reincarnation

Usually, a soul returning to the Spirit World becomes a wandering spirit, a kyula. Only those that were extremely benevolent or cruel in life become resident spirits: zo’zyola. Reincarnation remains an option for kyula until they come to lean heavily towards an ideal, at which point they become a zo’zyola. It is said that the time leading up to someone becoming a resident spirit are simply trials to temper them in the meanwhile.

Most clans believe strongly that ancestors are more likely to be reborn into their clan as a hatchling. Bloodlines thus considered extremely important to many as a result, so much so that pairings incapable of reproducing children are encouraged to find a surrogate within the clan. However, ancestors can be of any range, from powerful warriors to wicked tricksters. Each zo’zyola embodies an “ideal,” and these sets of ideals can vary depending on a Unathi’s upbringing and their own view of Th’akh.

Evil and Good

The most prevalent set of ideals, evil and good are a simple enough pair of beliefs for the many to cling onto. Evil and good zo’zyola represent just that: evil residents are responsible for the ills, woes, and misfortunes of those that are living, while good zo’zyola pass their blessings and favor onto those that worship them. Each spirit demands respect and gifts, lest you get on their bad side. It is said that, with the ideals of evil and good, rarely a zo’zyola may be allowed to reincarnate to preserve the balance between these conflicting sides. In times of great despair, a lost hero may return to the Material; conversely, prosperous times do not last forever as an infamous criminal is often born again. It is a stark way of painting the world with little room for grey areas. Most stories about these spirits tend to be dramatic and teach about cultural ideas— with some often painting other cultures or peoples as evil zo’zyola.

Zo’zyola of these ideals are stark rivals, always competing to get the upper hand for however long. Their story is cyclical, and even in the darkest hours and brightest times throughout history, neither side will fully exist without the other.

Decay, Energy, Growth, and Time

Another set of ideals, these four do not paint the world as being black and white and instead offer a different perspective: nuance exists everywhere. The zo’zyola here can be described less as cosmic forces, but more as processes. Like evil and good resident spirits, there are parallels here: growth spirits are those that foster life as it continues along to maturity, while decay follows maturity to the point of death; similarly, residents of energy give motion and power to creatures of the world, while spirits of time decide how long something may be in this world. In this context, “maturity” is a poor translation— this term is not a set age or physical development, but rather the peak of life within someone. It may be when a Unathi becomes three years old or after they have become a Saa at the long age of 40.

Resident spirits of this variety are forced to cooperate and compromise in various ways. Time zo’zyola find that everything has a natural end, and they merely choose when a being’s end will be— extending something’s “time” is in their best interest, as a premature end requires more energy from them. Energy spirits, conversely, are best seen as explosively powerful; fostering a being along for a shorter amount of time means less power is needed to give it life. Growth and decay zo’zyola always butt heads about how far along maturity should happen in a being’s time. Most of the parables about these spirits are diverse and exemplify universally good values.

None of these spirits are explicitly evil or good, and as such, one can only begin to imagine if they will become a zo’zyola after they pass. Instead of rivals, these zo’zyola teach that harmony must be present for life to flourish, yet avoid the harsh truth that making peace with your enemies is sometimes an impossible task.

Bloodlines, Spirits, and Spirit-Gods

To many Unathi, spirits have a natural place in their life. Appeasing the spirits is said to bring good luck, and angering them brings you anything from bowel issues to natural disasters. Some spirits can change forms, becoming an Angry spirit, Vengeful spirit, or Guiding spirit depending on the situation. These wandering spirits, known as ‘kyula,’ linger in the Spirit World until they are able to be reincarnated. It is widely recognized that some spirits have an immutable form that is either evil or good, one that is the result of how they lived and died. Resident spirits as they are called, or ‘zo’zyola’, are rarely able to reincarnate and thus become permanent beings within the Spirit World. The longer a spirit remains in the realm of the dead, the more power it accrues as it masters the powers of the realm. These spirit-gods, the Zyola, are the most powerful and revered among Th’akh spirits and typically the most ancient as well. Due to the nuance of Th’akh, there are thousands of other spirit forms regionalized to different cultures and customs that are not mentioned.

The Spirit World

Another dimension layered over our own, the Spirit World is believed to resemble the Material World in many aspects. However, its connection to the Material World is not uniform; in some places, there are stronger presences of the Spiritual World than others. This realm of the dead harbors all spirits, and only the strongest may cross over into our plane without any sort of special help. Certain times of year (often celebrated in Unathite culture) are some of the few times more ordinary spirits can cross over into our realm, and places with a stronger connection to the Spirit World can make it easier for a spirit to cross over— whether strong conviction for their ideal or a personal vendetta to fulfill. In myth and history, the Spirit World is said to have an effect on the Material, and similarly, the Material World has an effect on the Spiritual. This means pollution, weather, and buildings would all affect the world of the spirits, which leads Th'akh believers to respect their environment and give the spirits a clean afterlife as a result.

Scientifically, it is strongly believed by Th'akh scientists to be the strange otherworld known as Bluespace, although human and Sk'akh scholars have laughed that off. It would at least explain some anomalous events that have occurred and why Unathi are so religious if this phenomena has occurred throughout their history, yet without concrete evidence, this is merely a foolish thought entertained by those supposedly “enlightened” by the advances of humans and skrell.

The Spirit World is ruled by the Zyola, a pantheon of beings that are among some of the first spirits to have been created. Each of these Zyola do not necessarily adhere to a single ideal because they are powerful enough to flip between them depending on their attitude. Some Zyola , however, are rarely flipped by their mood. Due to the widespread nature of Th’akh, the beings that comprise this pantheon of spirit-gods and how powerful they truly are is up to interpretation. The most common ones include the Dumos Clan, the Court of Stars; the Ocean Den, Guardians of the Deep; and the Eight-Pointed Cross, the Scalemates of the Burning Mother.

The Dumos Clan, the Court of Stars

The Court of Stars gets its name because the stars and constellations in Moghes’ sky were named after beings within this pantheon. Zyola in a vast amount, the beliefs of those that follow the Dumos Clan adhere generally to the ideals of spirits of growth, energy, time, and decay. They take up the ideals of the Four Forces rather than Light and Dark. The spirit-gods of this pantheon have some ideals they stick to, but being as powerful as they are, the Four Forces typically bend to them more than the other way around. As such, they can command themselves over any lesser zo’zyola with ease should they embody a certain ideal strongly enough. Their stories teach that the world is complex and driven by many different factors, sometimes outside of our control, but situations can be what we make of them. There are almost innumerable tales, myths, and parables regarding this sect of the religion (so feel free to get creative with them!), and every one attempts to explain the natural world or tell a merely amusing, disgusting, or sorrowful story. The most notable Zyola are the Titans of the Stars, the figures that are immutably present in almost every variation of the faith.

Sa’par, the Solstice King— generally respected as the most powerful Zyola, Sa’par was the one to organize the spirit-gods against the masses of zo’zyola terrorizing the Material. A great many stories depict this spirit as committing acts both wrong and right and playing into any of the four ideals of the spirits; most pressingly, Sa’par tends to uphold time on a cosmic scale in his stories and folklore. Depicted as a large Unathi noble, the only deviance from the typical Sinta is his additional set of arms which he uses to push apart the Material and Spirit Worlds. His domains are cosmos, power, and leadership, though more minor aspects include balance, judgment, and knowledge.

Cresi, the Blessed Matriarch— the spirit that assumes stewardship over all others and tends to spirits that are injured or weakened by their conflicts with others. A being of growth, Creswi represents the development of the galaxy throughout time. She is naturally kind, yet wicked to those that cross her. Her form is unique in that her tail is said to span miles, and when she is angered, her tail stomps with thunderous force to cause earthquakes. She shares the same domains as Sa’par, but hers regard female interpretations of the domains in Unathite society.

Gruzz, the Vile Trickster— Gruzz is the most notable spirit-god that is usually one of energy due to their seemingly endless enthusiasm for trickery and causing mischief. From harmless pranks to terrible catastrophes, most energy put forth into the world is sworn to their name. They notably do not have a gender, and most stories tend to depict them as being either. Their domains are trickery, chaos, and misfortune.

Dalskso, the Decaying Earth— Dalskso is unique due to being a collection of powerful zo’zyola that banded together and betrayed their kind. In a sort of karmic fate, their attempt to fuse together failed horribly, resulting in them becoming an amalgamation of spirits. They fled shortly underground and exercise their power from there, usually to malicious pursuits. Their monstrous form lurks under the earth, said to be the core of Moghes; Dalskso embodies decay in all things, whether natural or forced. To this end, many acts of evil done in the name of a faith are attributed to his name, especially those accused of practicing necromancy and other vile means of witchcraft. Their domains are death, illness, twilight, and greed.

Jakali, the Hermetic Winged Serpent— the obvious feature that differentiates this spirit-god from the rest is their form. They are a giant azure arbek with three pairs of wings; he is the final arbiter in a lot of stories as Jakali is believed to be inherently impartial due to his remote residence in the sky. He is seen as a deliverer of omens, hence why the view of azures can be overtly negative or positive in some cultures. Due to his omens and impartial judgment, his ideal is attributed mostly to time. His domains are judgment, balance, and travel.

Galzifrax, the Raucous Sailor— generally regarded as a bastard among seafolk. Galzifrax is a naturally bored spirit-god, finding the suffering of mortals by his hand of creating storms and disasters to be amusing to him. He does not care what people think of him, so long as they respect him— and offer interesting treasures and stories from their sailing. Most people end up speaking spite of Galzifrax as often as they show him reverence. Galzifrax is a being of energy like Gruzz, so his ideal is naturally that. His domains are oceans, storms, and stories.

Tiserse, the Timely Fisherman— a fisher of remarkable talent, she is one to never stray from routine and is one of the more reliable— and fickle— spirit-gods in the pantheon. She upholds the world and its cycles by continuing to make it spin; it is said that, should she deviate from her routine for any reason, the world would fall into chaos. Tiserse’s impressive punctuality makes her major ideal time; however, she is often attributed to decay due to her cyclical nature and near-impossibly set ways. Her domains are the seasons, bounty, and harvests.

Archozmi, the Watchful Lorekeeper— the reclusive spirit-god that records histories of the galaxy. Everything that has ever happened, she writes in her endless Book of Time, and to meet this demand, a vast number of zo’zyola get recruited to help her. Answers to any problem are said to lie in its pages; a great deal of stories involve Archozmi merely due to the other Zyolas’ jealousy of her possession of this book. Despite the Zyola’s Book of Time and recordings of it, she is attributed to decay, as she watches all things come to pass. Her domains are lore and wisdom.

Aosr, the Vibrant Druid— this spirit-god is one of the few to remain near-permanently cheerful. In numerous tales, despite hardship inflicted by the other Zyola or some zo’zyola, Aosr is an example of fun and revelry. His natural talents include being able to turn into animals, and some claim that the odd behavior of livestock or a pet saving its owner is Aosr’s doing. His ideals change frequently, being someone who displays the characteristics of growth, energy, and decay, yet he is rarely one to emphasize the importance of time. The only significant moments his wrath is incurred are on those that heavily destroy nature; stories about him and the Contact War are often bleak. His domains are nature, life, and revelry.

Riz’dabari, the War Hero— Riz’dabari is a hot-headed yet valiant warrior. His involvement in stories often plays on his fierce temper, which the other spirit-gods use to their advantage in varying conflicts. His most notable depiction includes him with two tails, each of which are prehensile enough to wield a weapon apiece: a mace and a shortsword. His hands are reserved for a shield and a greatsword, which Riz’dabari is able to wield with one hand due to his massive strength. Their ideal shifts the most depending on the stories and who reveres him, but scholars argue that the most fitting and consistent placement of his ideal is under energy and time. His domains are war, honor, and emotions.

Shamans of the Stars

Most shamans practicing under the Court of Stars spirit-gods recognize all of them as being important in the world order. More minor Zyola are brought up and can vary from clan to clan, but these remain the near-constants. These shamans often pick one of them that represents not only themselves but the village or town they work out of the most and venerate them heavily. They are usually known by an appropriate title (such as one devoted to Aosr being Druids of the Stars or those of Archozmi being Bookkeepers). Rarely is one ever devoted to Sa’par or Cresi unless they head a notably large church within a city or district.

Shamans of the Stars typically feel their spirit-god chooses them rather than them choosing their patron. This comes in the form of some divine message, whether a significant event takes place, a prophetic dream occurs, or there is a sudden epiphany and feeling of note that washes over the shaman in question. After this, the holy man typically tries to learn as much as they can about the patron that has chosen them in an attempt to preach their specific messages.

Those that walk down this road take up a field of study relevant to their patron in an attempt to further understand who that spirit-god is and what makes them the way they are. A devotee of Riz’dabari may become a warrior in some specialization, whether something as simple as guarding a town you grew up in or an inspiring feat, like becoming a Kataphract. Some have wondered if the Priests of the Aspect among the Church of Sk’akh have adapted their ideas from this point of Th’akh culture, but given the amount of interplay between these two major religions throughout Unathi history, whoever coined this concept first is unfortunately lost to time and the destruction of warfare.

Worshipping Lingering Souls

Lingering spirits can be any sort of spirit, whether a traveling kyula or powerful Zyola. They are spirits that have a reason to stick to a specific area, whether to protect their loved ones or wreak havoc on those that wronged them. Small towns might have a ‘village spirit’— this is usually a legend to the townsfolk, a hero that performed many deeds, or someone who died under nebulous circumstances. Ancestral Th’akh settlements are sometimes said to be blessed by developing the land, yet cursed for those who forsake it; Unathi that stray from it for too long or leave entirely often become cursed in some way or form.

Angered Spirits

Lingering spirits that face scorn, not enough worship and recognition, or have some agenda from when they were alive are known as angered spirits. Angered spirits can be of any variety; evil spirits might seek to cause destruction just for the fun of it, while a good spirit may become angry due to an injustice taking place. Objects and supernatural beings are the common attributes for angered spirits, manifesting themselves for a cause known only to those that know their tale. These spirits can often be associated or likened to horror myths and similar tales found in humanity. A widowed woman who hides her face— be careful not to ask where her tail is, or else she might take yours; bristling scales as they flare up for no apparent reason may be the spirit of a hatchling warning you that danger is on the horizon; committing dishonorable acts summons a ghastly apparition of a warrior, one that will correct your misgivings by the harsh edge of their blade! Localized spirits like these all have their history, and although not all Unathi know the individual stories of each spirit, the morals they teach are usually universally understood among Sinta.

A curse is one of the worst things to happen to a living Unathi— even worse if this curse were to follow you into your death, as those spirits who have cursed you may finally come to you in the spirit world for final vengeance.

Appeased Ghosts

Not all spirits remain angry forever, though. Offerings of gifts, prayers of thanks (or warding), and activities to please can quell an angered spirit to appease them. Appeased spirits are docile at worst and helpful at best. Just like angered spirits, appeased ones can be of any variety with their motivations all different depending on their ideal. Miracles that are not scientifically explainable, sudden changes of luck or fortune, and ghastly specters guiding Unathi away from harm are all examples of an appeased spirit’s manifestation. To properly give worship to the spirits, an effigy or totem is devoted to a specific clan, ancestor, or spiritual concept. These items of worship are traditionally crafted by a shaman or by the individual paying respect. They are usually crafted out of natural materials like bone or wood and shaped into whatever represents the being of worship. The item of worship should be brought with the worshiper wherever they go or be set up as a small shrine in a home or workplace. On Moghes and abroad, Sk'akh worshippers have stereotyped Th'akh effigies as items of blood magic. The traditional way to pay respects to clan effigies was to shed a single drop of related blood, which in theory strengthens the ancestral connection between the spiritual and the living. Clans in the Izweski Hegemony have been extremely looked down upon for this practice, and it is viewed as heretical. To the traditional spirit worshiper, however, it is a moment of reflection and deep memory.

Shamans

An alligator-esque unathi shaman lights an incense and prays. Spirit-gods, often represented with yellow and purple hues, are Th'akh's iconoclastic and most notable difference with Sk'akh's belief and reverence of the Goddess. Art made by Haydizzle, or Petrichor#0098 on Discord.

Nearly every settlement has a village shaman: an elderly person, typically a man, with a special connection to the Spirit World. Practices inevitably vary between them, but there are a couple of constants among most. Shamans consume mind-altering herbs to interact with the realm of spirits and channel their energies into the Material. Clans and even as far back to the time of tribes— a shaman calls upon the spirits to imbibe and bless weaponry and Sinta with their powers and blessings. Markings to pair on these blades and bodies supposedly fill a Unathi with great courage and superior strength. In modern times, due to the scarcity of shamans and the spread-out nature of Unathi, a complex rune or hilt adornment that is blessed and sanctified is utilized instead, touched (supposedly) by a notable ancestor of the wielder.

A shaman’s duties in a clan varied, but any important event, such as marriage, birth, a death in the community, a disaster: all of these would see the shaman’s involvement in some way. The spirits are seen to interact with the world in a myriad of ways, and as such, a shaman’s chief duty would be to assuage damage done by them and curry their favor whenever possible. Besides this, these small village priests often lead community projects to better the village, such as gardens, community activities, and education on new situations or for a hatchling’s betterment.

Shamans tend towards a simple life and naturally dedicate their efforts to lead their community. Spiritual leaders first and foremost, they often avoid the trifling conflict that comes with politics. The Izweski Nation exploited this, however; they drafted many into the army to make them perform rituals for soldiers, often under duress. After the war ended with the nuclear devastation, the shamans began to be discriminated against by the government, and many are leaving the Izweski nation as traveling shamans or even leaving Moghes entirely.

The Th’akh shaman’s wear of choice is most indelibly the maxtlatl, a loan word from Basic, but the closest encompassing term for the robe in a native tongue is a zlukti, or 'spirit garb'. Some tribes have a differing honorific for the garments, though each outfit had unifying similarities. Popular adornments include dried and pressed grass, although feathers and studded stones are common too. Each adornment on the chestpiece, whether feathers, stones, or metals, is made by another shaman who has passed away: the more colorful the attire, the older it is. The headgear of the Th'akhist ensemble has a more special component to it. Besides the emulated frills made with straw or feathers, the authentic Unathite skull is from the bones of the previous owner, the deceased shaman that came before. Other cultures see it as barbaric: Unathi believe that this enables shamans to call upon their predecessors' wisdom as spirits to empower them. Interestingly enough, wristguards as a part of the maxtatl did not become prevalent until much later in Th'akh tradition. As time passed and garb was passed down from shaman to shaman, attire became cluttered with adornments. Bracers were designed as a method of adding more charms to remember previous shamans without an outfit becoming too noisy— despite its eye-popping and loud nature.

Additional Beliefs

The foundation of Th'akh belief is the spirit is the true individual while the body is a vessel that the spirit inhabits. A kyula is instilled within a vessel from the Spirit World during its development in an egg as part of the creation of life and reincarnation process. After death, it either returns to the realm of the dead as a traveling spirit or evolves into a zo’zyola, eventually becoming a Zyola if it stays there long enough.

Th'akh shamans near-universally believe synthetics cannot possess a soul and do not even count as living things. No matter how expertly a synthetic may imitate life, it remains a tool; an extremely convincing computer with text-to-speech. Shamans in the extremely small minority who disagree are often shunned by their colleagues and communities. Th'akh believes that, near universally, other species do have souls. Whether or not they play a role in the beliefs of Th'akh is highly contested by both shamans and practitioners of the faith.

Th'akh shamans have somewhat mixed views on prosthetic limbs. The belief is that they damage the soul. The said “phantom pains” (supposedly feeling a “ghost limb” after it has been removed in some way, like an amputated arm) led most to believe that, despite physical injury, a creature retains its prior shape after passing away. Due to this, and because of the consensus that synthetic parts cannot possess a soul, many feel prosthetic limbs can maim the very soul of a Unathi— once the limb is replaced with a prosthesis, that part of the soul is lost. In contrast, other shamans feel prosthetic limbs are completely normal and necessary. Because of the decentralized nature of the faith, results may vary when consulting different shamans. There is an overwhelming tendency for shamans to still view those with prosthetics as disabled still, even if they do not view prostheses as a negative thing. Regarding this, Aut’akh are not viewed as inherently evil by Th’akh, but still frowned upon for being heretics and led astray.

Some Th’akh shamans and societies believe in a third type of role: the fisherman. The fisherman is more of a role dedicated to trades and skills, such as blacksmithing, sailing, tailoring, and so forth. It is thought that some societies revered these roles so much that, like the Izweski, they carved out a niche in society for this gender. Despite this belief, most cultures did not go as far as the Izweski Nation regarding stratification based on someone’s sex. The Izweski and those that believe Sk’akh tend to believe these people are merely causing trouble by not fitting into the neat roles society has provided for them. Due to odd translation to Basic, someone with the soul of a fisherman typically goes by neutral pronouns.

Th’akh shamans also believe that, due to reincarnation, it is possible for a soul to be placed into an egg that does not match its sex. When this occurs, a Unathi may claim the soul of a different sex than their own; however, recanting this can be seen as extremely dishonorable due to lying, and even claiming this fact about one’s self without a shaman’s agreement may lead to doubt from their clan and peers. Sk’akh does not believe in reincarnation, and thus believes that this is not possible.

Non-traditional relationships are frowned on by most Th'akh shamans because of the cultural importance of arranged marriage and one's duty to continue a clan's bloodline. Because of the eternal nature of existence in this life and the afterlife, shamans heavily stress the importance of monogamous relationships— eventually, the ghosts of past-scorned lovers can cause problems in their jealousy, or their ancestors could become frustrated with the continued lack of grandchildren! Relationships for shamans are taught as combining three aspects: lust, or physical desire; love, or romantic desire; and duty, or proper desire. The more these three are balanced, the longer and healthier the relationship is for the couple and the entire Clan. With that said, a same-sex couple is not seen as a proper end-goal for Th’akhist Unathi because their duty to carry on the bloodline is impossible to fulfill. This view varies wildly with shamans with some being completely accepting of the concept of same-sex couples being eternal, but most shamans caution against non-traditional relationships in general. Marriage is usually a traditional political contract between two clans to combine their dynasty for Sk’akh and the Hegemony; despite this, there are still no mechanisms in place for same-sex marriages in the Th’akh faith with marriage being viewed as symbolic of continuing both clans through a new, stronger bloodline.

Items of Power

Th’akh universally believes items can be imbibed with power if a soul becomes attached to it. This has a myriad of applications: a sword can be enchanted by the soul of a hero to bless the wielder with a greater warrior’s resolve; an item that is said to bring good luck may be attached to the spirit of an ancestor; a doll may be hexed by a malicious banshee to allow a warlock to curse another creature. It is part of the more superstitious sets of beliefs under Th’akh, and even more casual worshippers buy into mystical believes and folk lore set by their predecessors.

Unlike Aut’akh, Th’akh believes that a soul cannot inhabit items, only bond to them. Aut’akh take this Th’akh belief a step further with its doctrines and radical execution of the Th’akh faith.

Burial Rites

Burial rites are similar on solid ground or in space. If a person dies and is unable to be cloned, the body must be tended to and made as presentable as possible in order to appease the passing spirit, which can often become upset and therefore malicious if they see their former body being defaced. The corpse should have any open incisions cauterized and all wounds should be sealed and treated with gauze or an advanced trauma pack to stop any bleeding. The corpse should then be dressed in a white uniform or the uniform the person died in— whichever is more respectable or available. The funeral should be communal with the shaman overseeing the viewing and encouraging people to share stories of how the person lived a good life. Once this is done, the body should be buried, stored away, or left in a crypt or tomb as Th'akhists often believe any wounds to the body will follow them through to the Spirit World.

History

The creation myth for Th'akh follows that after the universe was birthed, it was cold and dark and empty, without any value. Over time, the first living things were born before they were birthed and walked across creation. These first souls were deeply alone and isolated, and when they died, they became spirits that could not interact with it to the same degree as their mortal counterparts. Over time though, this world filled with the living and spirits respectively. Some of the newer resident spirits, some zo’zyola, looked on the living with envy; in their envy, some even grew resentful and became the source of all evil and disasters to the point of manifesting inside the bodies of hatchlings to live again. Seeing this, descendants of all Unathi, the Zyola, took the reins to restore order by separating the universe into two halves: the Material World and Spirit World. Relatives that pass on become watchful spirits that will forever lookout for their descendants so long as they are given proper respect.

The oldest recorded written work depicting a version of Th'akhist spiritualism dates back to 100 BC with bonework totems and other artifacts that would have been carried with nomadic tribes of Unathi on the backs of community leaders. This culture evolved over time into the creation of the first shamans, who were the most experienced Unathi of the tribe. Over thousands of years, the belief in spirits has endured. Even through Iron Crusades from the Sk'akh faith, resulting in attempts at aggressive conversion, worship of clan ancestors and the spirit-gods has endured.

The Akhanzi Order

Portrait of Vuthix Akhandi, circa 2459.

The Akhanzi Order is the oldest known Th'akh religious group on Moghes. Akhanzi itself translates to "Spirit Wanderers" in the general sense. Historical sites of the Order go all the way back to 1200 BCE, over a thousand years before Unathi ended their nomadic lifestyles and built the first towns. The Akhanzi built their temples in secluded mountainous areas where they were insulated from the greater outside world and able to practice their faiths, nearly unchanged, for thousands of years. The Order focuses on inward perfection of the self with its philosophies stressing the importance of understanding the world (reimagined as 'the universe' in contemporary times) and the wishes of their ancestors. They are highly dedicated to knowledge and the preservation of knowledge.

Each temple of the Order has a commune of male and female shamans that are dedicated to its maintenance and preservation. When they join the Order, they renounce their Clan name and all ties to their family and other organizations before taking on the title of Akhandi. New recruits serve as acolytes and can be promoted at any time, but by tradition, it usually requires the approval of multiple shamans within the same temple. Temples are dedicated to learning as well as teaching. It is not uncommon for Unathi to pick up the tradition of storytelling, a pursuit honored and revered among Th’akhists. Some Akhanzi shamans even memorize entire books from cover to cover in dedication to the knowledge it contains and to cite its wisdom to others.

The shamans live in a symbiotic relationship with their local communities; the people of a village or town bring the temple offerings of food, water, or other material goods. In exchange for being provided for, the shamans, in turn, use their temples as places of learning for all Unathi that ask in fields such as astronomy, history, mathematics, and philosophy. There are also several sections of the Order which teach more physical pursuits, such as martial arts, farming, fishing, or ranching. While technically they will offer lessons to any Unathi that asks, it is traditional for you to provide an offering of food or supplies in a fair exchange.

Mountain Temples

Temples are ancient and incredibly sacred to the Akhanzi Order. Defilement of the temples is an unthinkable crime. Unfortunately, many of these temples were razed to the ground by the Sk'akh Inquisition in May of 2460, and their archives were lost. Some survivors of the crusade have fled to space and many are congregating in Tau Ceti. There they maintain large community centers that act as libraries, colleges, and living areas for the shamans and to help support the communities in poverty that reside there. The Order is still struggling to restore fragments of its lost archives while having to rely on the memory of the older members who committed texts to memory. Now, they serve as important facilities of education for both Unathi and others within Tau Ceti.

Aut’akh

Emerging from the hatred of former warriors, the Aut’akh are a religious commune of cybernetic-augmented Unathi. In the relative safety of their communes scattered across various towns, planets, and systems, they know a remarkably satisfying life. They have yet to truly attain their perfect leaderless society as their own supposedly defeated prejudice still runs in quiet circles within communes; meanwhile, society often rebukes and ridicules these fanatical trans-speciests. Their lives are gently guided by the shamans or "paradigms," which act as the religious advisors and sometimes roboticists of these communes.

Aut'akh embrace the old, forbidden magic of Mador with new, progressive technology to create a hybrid philosophy, reinforcing their burning drive to adapt with any circumstance while holding as true as possible to their ideals and the mystic arts. Mador is millennium-old magic that was long forgotten. Thought to be the religion of heretics in the northern pole of Moghes, this ancient practice was revitalized when a relic of the dead faith was supposedly found on Ouerea. This claim has yet to be properly substantiated, though.

The Aut'akh believe that spirits inhabit all things and can reincarnate in various ways, much like the Th'akh religion they are based on. They also believe in the common ideals of spirits (usually evil and good, or some hybrid of multiple) and the differing Zyola pantheons. However, they also believe the weakness of the flesh also hampers the soul, and thus evil spirits can manipulate people's minds and souls to do evil acts through the flesh. These zo’zyola are given power within a being when the person succumbs to greed, anger, or other emotional vices. Aut'akh preach that the Contact War was the result of Sinta being so consumed by the demons within them that they brought the world to ruin. Unlike Si’akh, the Aut’akh believe power is the source of evil within the world, not ourselves, and that all powers, whether that of a government, major religion, or corporation, are inherently corrupt due to the influence of evil spirits.

Aut'akh say the spirit must be kept pure to ensure virtue is maintained and the soul within is kept happy and pure. They claim the body is tainted and imperfect as it is easily maimed or given in to temptations of the flesh. As a result, all Aut'akh strive to augment and enhance their bodies with technology, which they say is the perfect vessel for the spirit within. A Unathi who augments their body only strengthens the bond between their body, mind, and spirit.

Doctrines of Note

As with other Unathi religions, the foundation for Aut'akh belief is that the body is only a vessel for the soul. However, where they differ is that the Aut'akh believe— while flesh is animated by a soul, it is not strong enough for a soul to exert complete control over it. All spirits become stronger when their bodies pass. To combat this weakness, Aut'akh believe that proper augmentation not only appeases the soul, but allows more strength of willpower and resolve. Magic is a force that strong souls can use to turn opinions or even force events to give an outcome in their favor through Mador.

For robotics, the Aut'akh doctrine takes a hard turn away from orthodox Unathi beliefs. It holds the spirit is happier within a stronger vessel in which it has more control. They also believe that without their original body, they can more easily resist temptations of the flesh.

Shamans tend to frown on those who refuse augmentation or prosthetic limb, seeing it as embracing weakness, temptation, and vice. Burial rites involve a funeral, during which friends and loved ones offer stories of good times with the departed to help the soul retain its form and ward off evil spirits. Afterwards, a body is stripped for useful parts, though this is frowned upon by more conservative Aut'akh.

Unlike other religions, Aut'akh believe souls do not have the same limitations and labels Unathi do. As a result, it is not uncommon for Aut'akh to identify with gender similar to how humans and Skrell do. Similar to the other major religions, however, this means that a female soul can be born into a male body and vice versa. Aut'akh bodies tend to be so augmented that it's almost impossible to visually distinguish the gender of an Aut'akh anyway. Despite these views, stubborn Unathi conservatism lingers in that Aut'akh still face patronizing behavior from their peers should they try to break conformity.

Non-traditional relationships are basically irrelevant to the Aut'akh because the clan-less and leaderless communes prevent anyone to hold real power, and a dutiful and honorable relationship is simply one that both people agree on and stick to. There are still mechanisms for marriage, with two or more engaged members ceremoniously gathering the commune for a day of festivities. In a rebuke to feudal customs, there are no laws mandating that the parents must be asked permission before courting their son or daughter, but some few still continue this practice.

Leaderless Aspirants

Aut'akh by and large are anarchist communes that preach amicability and cooperation over the placement of leaders. However, even though they are considered radical by Sinta standards, like all religions, most Aut'akh are not extremists and do not automatically resort to violence. Violence is actually frowned upon by the majority for a couple of valid reasons. Firstly, Aut'akh, who are already ostracized and despised Unathi already, would certainly be lynched if they were caught harming or killing another Sinta. Secondly, most shamans believe that giving into violence will only empower evil spirits and thus should be avoided when possible.

Aut'akh, though opposed to the power of mega-corporations, are not entirely uncommon among them. Zealots often see working for them not only as an opportunity to indoctrinate others but also to obtain resources to send back to the commune. Corporations still hire them since Aut'akh are seen as a niche, powerless cult due to lacking a leader, and a lack of experience with human society makes them more exploitable. Unfortunately for them, this can only reinforce an Aut'akh's radical beliefs or give fuel for recruiting others.

Shamans of Magic and Tech

The engineers and founders of the religion are by and large the shamans or "paradigms" of this religion. Each one to a degree helps with guiding individuals on religious matters, hosting any important rituals, fitting prosthetics for Aut'akh, and even recruiting new members. Shamans are usually recognized only by individual communes, though some prominent founders of the religion enjoy recognition by most if not all the Aut'akh societies.

The only formal process for becoming an Aut'akh shaman is by a Consensus. Only a majority of four out of five Sinta or more allows for someone to become a commune shaman. Those that are inducted into the clergy of this spread-out religion are quickly taught the secrets of the rituals for Mador, as most of their time will be needed to learn the engineering aspect for robotic limb and organ creation, repair, and maintenance.

Sk'akh

Sk'akh, or “goddess worship,” is the second most common religion, which is followed mostly by Unathi from the Izweski nation and enjoys a status as its unofficial state religion. It still reveres ancestors, similar to Th'akh, but with a major notable difference: the spirits of all Unathi who die become part of Sk'akh, the Great Spirit. Sk'akh is a gender-neutral God, being called 'he,' 'she,' or 'they' interchangeably to represent that Ska'kh is a collection of all Unathi, so it becomes a matter of preference. God and Goddess are used interchangeably with the Great Spirit to also denote someone’s preferences on Sk’akh. They are also called Three of One because the spirits combine into three Aspects that are all different yet all a part of Ska'kh: the Warrior, the Healer, and the Fisherman. These three spirits are personifications of the most important aspects of Unathi society. It is said that all three are equally important and that disasters are caused by an imbalance in the Great Three. Priests often stress the importance of balance, both in matters of the spirit as well as in society and personal life.

Doctrines, Anointed, and the Empire of Sk’akh

The pervasive belief among Sk’akh is predestination: the outcome of everyone’s life is already determined, and time moves along in an immutable way. Sk’akh worshipers believe that honorable deeds lead to spiritual reward not only in life but in death. The Beastlands serve as the final resting place for Unathi that fulfill their lives with honorable deeds: they are known as the Anointed. Other afterlives exist for the various other species and their gods. In the Beastlands, the Anointed can enjoy an honest life with their creator. The Great Spirit and their Aspects periodically send ‘xzarak’ (or “messengers” in Sinta’Unathi) to uphold the world and its natural order. Sometimes, these xzarak are sent to those on the Material from the Beastlands in order to deliver divine messages. They tend to represent one of the Aspects of Sk’akh, whether the might of a Warrior or the skilled craft of the Fisherman. Sk’akh remains a unified faith, with the Church of Sk’akh being the final authority on all matters regarding new religious doctrines that must be declared. This used to be High Priest Unzi, but currently falls on an interim council to vote on affairs until a new High Priest is declared.

The Beastlands and Other Afterlives

The Beastlands and the Chained Wastes are said to be two of many afterlives layered over the Material Life. However, their connection to the Material World is not uniform; in some places, there are stronger presences of these afterlives than others. This realm of the dead harbors all spirits, and only the strongest, both evil and good, may cross over into the Material Plane without any sort of special help.

The Great Spirit resides in theirEmpire, collectively known as the Beastlands. Unathi that are righteous in life are sent to their kingdom to forever live in harmony with their creator. Previously known as the Hunt of Harmony, this idyllic lifestyle is a reward for doing right by the Great Spirit on the Material Plane and enduring the sins of other folk. It is described as a rolling plain that stretches on forever, dotted with tall grass, beautiful oases, and wonderful animals to hunt and tame. Once an inhabitant of this plane, Unathi enjoy their lifestyle until feeling fulfilled; after reaching this peak of comfort, they can join Sk’akhto help guide future Unathi.

Conversely to the Beastlands, the Chained Wastes are a blight. Punished souls arrive here chained to the hot and scorching sand— the Wasteland is often alluded to as being the Chained Wastes of the Material for this reason. Vengeful spirits of Sk’akh remain here to punish those that have done wrong, revelling in their torture as it remains retribution for these spirits’ misdeeds in the last life. After tortured for some time, those with good in their hearts are rarely allowed to join others in the Beastlands. However, it is considered the final resting place of many souls. Some are said to escape, the most evil of spirits, to return to the world and wreak more havoc, harm Sk’akh’s chosen, and even lure people away from their beliefs.

The Worship of Sk’akh

Regular worship is communal with Unathi clans or villages coming together for feasts, festivals, and even regular services to give thanks to their ancestors and Sk'akh for good tidings, or to ask for favors or assistance in life, with a priest to guide the service and provide interpretation of Sk'akh’s intentions. These priests also help deliver Sk’akh’s message from ancestors in the Beastlands to those that wish to, or need to, hear it. The worship of the Great Spirit is either done as a whole if there is no particular point of worship concern or to a specific Aspect on certain topics. Even in foreign lands, statues at any Sk’akh church are available for taking and buying, and as such, they have been commodified in a cheap version for purchasing in foreign space, too.

The Great Spirit is depicted as a three-headed being with three sets of arms and a long, coiling tail; their design can be seen as being passed down to their Aspects as well, since the Warrior inherits their multiple arms and the Fisherman carries their long tail. They are draped across the torso in a himation, depicted in neither masculine or feminine traits for a Unathi, and draped with a coif over the eyes for every head. Despite never showing Sk’akh’s eyes in official imagery, the Church promotes the belief there are three eyes under each coif, with the third one being in the middle of the forehead and slitted vertically rather than horizontally. Each head is one of the Aspects’ heads: they are green, red, and black, from left to right. The scales of Sk’akh’s body are described as being the metals and gems of various kinds, though statues often omit this detail and use one type of metal, especially on smaller, cheaper ones.

Sk’akh’s Great Spirit is represented by a triangle, typically with a sword, a staff, and a fishing pole intersecting each side of the triangle. This imagery, barring this barebones representation, is the most diverse thing about the religion with artists of all types doing their own takes and ideas of this concept. The Church even encourages these arts— provided the artist themselves are not uncouth or of bad standing in society.

The Warrior Mukari

The Warrior is a figure represented as being the ideal male Unathi with four arms. He often uses these arms to carry a sword, a shield, a holy symbol such as a metal bar with a coiled top, and lute; the Warrior’s many arms allow him to defend the Healer and the Fisherman. This Aspect often takes up the role of an arbiter, handling disputes either with his words or the blade carried on him. He is a red-scaled Unathi donned in splint armor, ringed with silver and platinum, and in some cases, a bow or rifle with intricate designs of animals hunting each other is on his back. Fights, conflict, and strife are matters that people worship him for. However, the Warrior is revered for things such as festivals, coming of age ceremonies for men, and ritual combat. His statues are almost universally common around Dueling Guild grounds, and his imagery and symbols are common at ceremonies.

The symbols of the Warrior, iconically, are the sword and the lute. Some colleges and institutes are dedicated to teaching the Way of the Warrior in Skalamar to anyone that wishes to learn and can pay. Some focus on music and storytelling, such as theater and orchestra, and others take on rough training and lessons in conflict resolution. A rare few of these colleges even blend both arts to train a Unathi to become a warrior-poet: a skald. Skalds almost exclusively are reserved for nobility that take up the mantle of becoming a warrior, or those that are skilled enough to become Kataphracts. Even those that believe in Th’akh are permitted within some schools— if they do not speak up against the religion in place there.

The Healer Simi

The Healer is the pinnacle of femininity in Sk’akh belief. She has a quarterstaff or bo staff in one hand and a tome in the other with a satchel at her side; her wit carries the Healer, and Simi’s knowledge and supplies are what lets her heal the Warrior and the Fisherman. She is a green-scaled Unathi that dresses elegantly— though, notably amongst most outside observers, rarely revealing scales— the Healer carries herself with elegance and grace. Her outfit of choice is a flowing dress that goes down to the ankles, sometimes covering the feet almost entirely. Simi’s eyes are blindingly bright like gems; the eyes of the Healer cannot see, yet they are said to be able to pick apart a person’s intentions with a glance, such as discerning truth, lie, and rumor. Good health, life, death, and learning are what Unathi turn to her for in their rituals and actions. She also presides over coming of age ceremonies for women, milestones of age for Unathi, and blessing surgeries and medical operations.

The symbols of the Healer are her whitewood staff and her leather tome. The staff is a twisted branch of whitewood and represents wisdom, as only the most wise in Unathite societies have staves, typically. Her tome is a reference knowledge, and it is a leatherbound book decorated well with a woman and man standing above a prone man, tending to him. Schools of medicine are a popular choice for women. Those that do not marry when they are of age pursue these avenues and carriers should they prove some talent in them. As a result of this, any Sk’akh-dominated institution will have a statue erected in Simi’s honor.

The Fisherman Verrix

The Fisherman remains someone shrouded in clothes, leaving most of their form hidden. Remaining slender with a long tail, he uses it in order to grab onto things and never lose his balance. Otherwise, Verrix carries a fishing pole over one shoulder and a sickle in the other. He is a plain, black-scaled Unathi. A hood dons over Their long, dorsal frills, a long dark blue color that is said to shimmer and shine in the sun like fish scales. The Fisherman’s arms and legs are covered in plain wrappings with muted colors as well. Using his sickle to reap plants of use and his fishing pole to collect food, Verrix is a veritable worker that provides food and supplies for the Warrior and the Healer. He is regarded when hard work, craftsmanship, the harvest, and nature are topics of worship. Verrix is celebrated during times of harvest and large feasts, arduous and long projects, and before, during, and after hard trials and challenges.

The symbols of the Fisherman are his fishing pole and silver sickle. Guild halls are especially dedicated to the Fisherman, and any Sk’akh-leaning guild will have his imagery everywhere that can be found to remind their workers of what hard work looks like in the faith. Hydroponicists are especially committed to their devotion of Verrix, seeing as his xzarak moderate the harvests and nature itself. Otherwise, artists turn to him for inspiration in their crafts, hope that their work pleases him, and pray they will become successful.

Rituals of the Church

The rituals of Sk’akh are universal and rarely waver. There are prayers and words of wisdom for any situation with most priests being wise in specific areas of the faith. Most interestingly, the various Aspects of the God are referred to or revered as individual people as the focus of different prayers, hymns, rituals, and offerings. Those focusing on the Warrior often are thankful for the passing of time and the seasons in addition to those revolving around conflict; the Healer is regarded for the cycle of life and death and for— as one may have guessed it— healing; the Fisherman is given thanks for reaping things from nature and for giving back to nature as well as travel.

Sk’akh’s name is invoked for major points in someone’s life: officiating a marriage, after a time of great ruin, the birth of a child, and so forth. Other events are done at the discretion of the one looking to host one, but they may come at an exorbitant fee for the one looking to host at a chapel or church.

Dances of the Warrior

The Warrior is the most lively of the three Aspects. Words in reverence to Him are typically evocative and filled with imagery, and those particularly smitten by His Aspect take up poetry, song, and other verbal arts. Anything that is more than a verbal affair tends to be a physical expression. Two aspirants and warriors sparring in homage to the Great Spirit may look more graceful than the typical fight; people relate these fights to dances, as two warriors in fierce combat can resemble a ballroom dance more than a vicious spar. As such, some Unathi attempt to emulate this by focusing on showing grace in combat. It becomes more interesting in choreographed fights— and, as a side, can make a well-trained Unathi an appealing choice for both live-action and CGI fights.

One popular prayer is dedicated to whenever someone wakes up or before they go to sleep, done routinely:

Song of the Sunstones

   As my time slows still,
   The Burning Mother
   Burns bright and fulfills
   The Moon’s slick borders.
   And now, the Sun will
   Rise again, further,
   Once I sleep and kill
   The restless slumber.
   O Warrior, in night,
   Bring me further light,
   Dawning on the edge
   Of crowning yester.

Another prayer dedicated to the Warrior is customized by the needs of whoever is chanting it, but always begins with the following phrase: “My Warrior, claws wielding the Blade of Her Holiness, bestow me [a] borrowed boon.” This line is used in what is called the Champion’s Chant, a prayer dedicated to the Warrior before an important conflict or challenge will occur for the reciter.

Dedications of the Healer

Those that show reverence to the Healer rarely make a verbal commission to her; instead, acts are considered the most sincere form of worship to the Healer. Charity and kindness are dedicated to her name, and as such, it is not uncommon for nobles to go through what is considered “routine charity” by giving in a specific way as a tokenistic act of keeping the Healer appeased. However, most people see that it is not the value of the act that matters, but the importance of it. Buying food for someone is not as meaningful as cooking a meal for them, for example. As such, thoughtful acts are appreciated more by those in the Church for giving thanks to this Aspect.

Nonetheless, the Healer does still have some prayers and mentions. They often remain in a rhyme and to the point with sophisticated language. The most common one is for someone recovering from an injury or that has fallen ill:

Ease of Disease

   Keep vigilant eyes over those bordering the Beastlands,
   My Healer and my Grace,
   Do not let Your meticulous methods stray Your slow hands
   And take those out of place.

Alternatively, singing is (not officially) used as a means of showing gratitude to the Healer as good singers require precise pitch in order to deliver a perfect performance. The few prayers that are given to Simi’s Aspect are often done through song by disciples as a result.

Tributes to the Fisherman

The Fisherman, like the Healer, appreciates words less than another tactic: offerings. Food is the common way to show reverence to the Fisherman, whether leaving a piece of every meal to the earth or rivers, pouring (some) drinks over the earth, or feeding better food to livestock. Open braziers provide ways for burning the offerings— which can also be particularly-coveted plants, incense, and expensive spices— the smell is said to waft through the air and please the Fisherman and his xzarak. The way the offering is presented depends on what is being asked of the Fisherman: if it’s for blessing a yield of food, typically the food is burned; blessings for long commutes are done by pouring a drink on the ground, to soften the earth one is about to walk; if someone is about to partake on a hunt, the Fisherman and Warrior are both regarded with a hearty feast and a whole plate offered up to the Fisherman. In later years, the Fisherman has also come to represent the skilled artisan crafts that are required of Unathi culture, such as blacksmithing, glassblowing, jewelry, and other crafts.

The lines coming from prayers for the Fisherman often are heavily drenched in metaphor, simile, and allusion. The following is the beginning of a prayer that is offered at the end of a good harvest: "While nature is constant, its blessings are not. As the tides of life and fisheries recede and draw in, we can only pray the food is fat and filling."

Some prayers are also offered for a long journey. One recitation, in particular, can be used for the reciter, or for someone they know that is traveling: "Winds provide a current to blow away storms; waters replenish my body like a river; earth yield to my claw-falls; fire from the Burning Mother keep me warm and energized for every step I take."

The Priesthood

The Sk'akh Church has seen power increasingly centralized into a handful of influential priests in the last few decades with the High Priest being a mere honorary title for a priest that oversaw ceremonial rituals for the Hegemony's royal family. This status quo came to a surprising head in 2458. High Priest Yizra Unzi used a moral panic on Moghes over alleged cultist infiltration to begin an inquisition across the Hegemony. Once the court chaplain for the Izweski, Unzi used this cult scare to rapidly elevate his power and centralize the Sk'akh church, becoming the official leader of the church and commander of its militant inquisition, the Maraziite Order. After a dramatic confrontation with the Izweski family itself, the resulting negotiations created an agreement that reformed the Sk'akh Church. Now the entire church is overseen by the High Priest, who has authority over the church and its dogma.

Sk'akh priests universally consider synthetics to be devoid of a soul, and thus they cannot be considered living beings. In December of 2457, the Council of Teht was held, in which an assembly of Sk'akh priests mandated this as doctrine for the faith. While a minority of priests argued against this, they were overruled by the majority and forced to accept their views.

Church of Sk’akh

Once the court chaplain for the Izweski, High Priest Yizra Unzi used a cult scare in 2458 to rapidly elevate his power and centralize the Sk'akh church, becoming the official leader of the Church and commander of its militant inquisition, the Maraziite Order.

The Church of Sk’akh is a formal organization that has almost evolved into a bureaucracy of sorts within the last decade. It is run as a tight ship with inspections of churches and the priests running them, measurements of tithes taken and checked for fraud, and reports on worshiper counts being done frequently. Each church has very similar parallels, and while the specific activities and local events done out of a given church will vary widely, their functions, responsibilities, and worship all operate the same way.

Affairs of the Church

The Church is staffed exclusively by the clans of its priest(s), or by Unathi that are interested in someday becoming a priest themselves. As such, it is typical for a clan’s job to be running a chapel, collecting tithes, running community events, carousing with nobility for the Church’s agenda, and other duties. A church at the local level does not do much to impact the decisions of the Church of Sk’akh as a whole.

A church will hold biweekly summons, typically interspersed as evenly as possible and with the attempt to work on days that work the best for the community. For example, if near a fishing guild, sermons may be held near the middle of the day due to the early hours the guild spends in a hatchery or aquaponics farm. During these summons, people of the community interact, share tales, ask the priest or priests and their peers for guidance, and share food. On a day of summons, it is considered appropriate to eat and to bring food to share if able. Additionally, the meal of the day is reserved for sharing with everyone at a chapel or church on a day of summons. The priest, or one of them if there are multiple, will then host a discussion on a topic of their choosing and weave in one of Sk’akh’s words of wisdom or draw attention to certain details the Church of Sk’akh puts out. Sometimes this will begin with summarizing the latest information the Church has put on the Extranet, though this is not always the case. This is interspersed with prayer, singing, offerings to the Great Spirit and their Aspects, and collecting tithes (once every week or so).

Churches and chapels are also the ideal location for a marriage occurring under Sk’akh. The specific affairs of the wedding are often left to clans to decide upon, such as spilling blood from each spouse into a bowl and pouring it, a friendly competition, or eloquent professions of admiration and love. Each priest mimics the same role in officiating the marriage, bestowing a blessing upon the newly-wed couple on behalf of Sk’akh, and offering the usual priestly services in addition to coordinating guests and performers around the space.

Grand Priests and their clans have more sway in affairs. They collect tithes and send a portion back up the ladder, but they can otherwise use money to renovate existing churches, hold important festivals and ceremonies to attract new followers, or run emergency events, such as in the wake of a tragedy to mourn or otherwise pray over. Archpriests collect the rest of the tithes in the same way, but they have the power to construct new churches or tell the Grand Priests how to spend their funding, if needed. Additionally, they can help weigh in on important decisions for the faith in the case of new rulings or responses to galactic issues. The High Priest has ultimate authority on all things within the Church, and currently, there is no set way to remove him from power. Due to the formation of the Sk’akh Church and how Unzi has departed, there has been intense internal strife about how to elect a new High Priest and if there should be internal reform of the Church before that is realized.

Ranks of the Church

Typically to become a priest, you must seek and obtain a Mastery of Sacred Theology in a major Unathi university first. The degree takes three to four years to obtain. With this, you can apply to enter the Church of Sk’akh, with recommendation from a noble, and begin training in its ministry. This process of training can take anywhere from three to seven years depending on the student, how quickly they learn, and how much time they devote to studying. This entry level is known as a Peer of Sk’akh. Peers are sent out on work exchanges for up to two years after they have completed their training, to spread the word of Sk’akh to Sinta across the galaxy. Time abroad is meant to be the final test: either the galaxy reaffirms your beliefs, or you are turned away from the Church.

After becoming a priest, most people stay at this position for some time. Promotions from here can vary, either into becoming a Maraziite, joining the Priests of the Aspect, or looking to be promoted to a Grand Priest or further. At this point, the Church becomes more corrupt; regardless of a priest’s religious intuition and knowledge, their cunning and some political navigation will get them much further in the ranks of the Sk’akh Church.

The Church of Sk’akh has developed a similar power structure to feudal lords in that the clans of prominent priests within the Church help organize and run regions of Sk’akh’s influence, whether it be for a single town to a whole region of the Hegemony. The hierarchy is as follows:

Church of Sk'akh Hierarchy

  • High Priest: the title for the person in charge of the order. Previously, this was High Priest Unzi.
  • Claws of the High Priest: the circle of priests and advisors chosen by the High Priest to aid him in decision making.
  • Archpriest: there is currently one of these for each notable Overlord in the Izweski government. These all attend to their respective Overlords regarding religious affairs as well as report to the High Priest and take orders directly from him.
  • High Aspect Acolyte: there are three of these, one for each sect of the Priests of the Aspect. They make decisions for the specific orders within the Church and report directly to the High Priest. While they are technically their own order, Priests of the Aspect that run chapels are treated the same as other priests, barring the cases their specialized knowledge is needed.
  • Grand Priest: the director of a diocese. Makes more local decisions such as renovating churches and missionary outreaches into majority Th’akh towns.
  • Guildmasters: formerly the same as the above, but with the Maraziites, now disbanded.
  • Priest: a priest assigned to a town or city district.
  • Chapter Master: formerly the same as the above, but with the Maraziites, now disbanded.
  • Peer: a disciple in training.

Priests of the Aspect

Some Sk'akh priests also try to embody one of the Great Three: a Priest of the Aspect. They become great paladins, skilled doctors or surgeons, or even aquatic farmers. On top of their studies in theology, a Priest of the Aspect takes additional years to study their chosen field on top of this degree or study both fields in tandem. As a result, a Priest of the Aspect is typically older in their relevant field than other entry applicants. However, training into the Sk’akh Church as one of these shamans will guarantee jobs within the Hegemony and abroad due to the high prestige of the institution and their reputation of professionalism and efficiency.

Divine Paladins of the Warrior are near-universally highly respected, and form a small, elite fighting force that is on par with the War Riders. They go into battle with intricate hymns drawn across their armored plates while chanting to Sk'akh for their blessing in the battle. However, in recent times due to the lack of conflict, they have taken to fighting off malignant ghosts that try to disrupt the lives of the living. Divine Paladins usually study techniques of mediation and conflict resolution as their honor and position are often called upon to settle disputes, both violent or otherwise. Medicinal Acolytes of the Healer go on to study medicine, stating that the anatomy of creatures is sacred and cannot— should not— be altered genetically, mechanically, or otherwise. This is what lends Dominian Unathi away from genetic enhancement; Medicinal Acolytes of the Healer are often the ones who starkly oppose the Aut’akh and Si’akh the most due to their harsh views. Unlike the rigid society they live in, these priests can be either male or female due to the dual nature of the role. Those that study aquaponics become Spirit-Guides, a play on words in Sinta’Unathi due to the words for ‘spirit’ and ‘river’ sounding similar. They travel from town to town and offer their expertise to help show new techniques and ways of raising fish in hatcheries. Their goodwill and assistance is seen as a form of missionary work in the Sk’akh Church and is how they keep their reach relevant, even in Th’akh communities within the Hegemony.

The Maraziite Order

Also known simply as “the Order,” the Maraziite Order is a military order under the command of the High Priest with the right to bear arms and dispense justice against spiritual threats to the Hegemony, following the revelation that a secretive religious cult had infiltrated the Hegemony government. In its short existence, it has arrested several hundred individuals and seized many tomes and documents that Maraziite authorities claim are evidence of cult involvement.

Maraziites were commanded by the High Priest of the Hegemony, directly overseeing a small council of Guildmasters appointed by himself. Prior to the disbanding of the Order, the Guildmasters formed an elite council under the High Priest and advised him on the day to day matters of the Order specifically. They also commanded the overall operations of the Order through their subordinates, the Chapter Masters. Chapter Masters ran individual Chapters of the Order in their specific settlement or City. They oversaw the Maraziite officers and were responsible for the efficient running of their Chapter. Individual officers are merely referred to as Maraziites. The officers are often called the Iron Masks because of their tendency to wear iron masks while on patrol.

Qualifications to become a Maraziite were, outside the obvious need of being a follower of Sk'akh, at least minor experience in law enforcement, military experience, the priesthood of the Church, or a completed Apprenticeship in a university. After applying, a Maraziite Fledgling is put under a quick, extensive interview and investigation. Upon completion, they were assigned to a Chapter and sent to enforce the law of the Great Spirit upon the souls of the Hegemony.

Maraziites are now considered an unofficial group— in the eyes of the Hegemony. In the wake of the Izweski Civil War of 2462, High Priest Unzi of the Holy Sk’akh Church and Hegemon Not’zar Izweski turned on each other over accusations of Not’zar’s sibling going missing in a short and fiery conflict. Lords and noble clans were forced to choose between their religion and their Hegemon when blades clashed. The aftermath provided a clear victor: Unzi’s collection of power was not enough to challenge the status quo, and he fled the Izweski Hegemony. Condemned to the Wasteland, hired by the Dagamuir Freewater Company as tail-turners, or taking to the corner of the stars to hide from their dishonor, the Maraziites are pushed out and away from the Church they were formerly a part of.

Doctrines of Note

One of the foundations for Sk'akh beliefs is the soul is the actual person, and the body is a vessel it inhabits. The Great Spirit instills a newly created soul within a hatchling as it develops within the egg. Unlike Th’akh, Sk’akh believes that a person’s gender has to match their sex as a result. Sk’akh’s creations are perfect, and only the interference of malformed spirits can disrupt it, such as when a baby is stillborn.

For robotics, Sk'akh doctrine goes farther than the Th'akh generally do, believing even full-body cyborgs to be without spirit. To ardent Sk'akh, the concept of borgification is to have your soul sent to the Chained Wastes.

Priests always frown on prosthetic limbs and augments, believing them to be unnatural. Aut’akh are seen as a horrible heresy, even compared to the tamer and more reasonable Th’akh, in the eyes of the Church. The Sk’akh Church encourages its followers to preach to these heathens, or else they will be damned to oblivion forever.

Marriage between any Unathi is seen as fine and proper to the Sk’akh Church, to the point of some of the Izweski clan marrying those of the same sex and being officiated by the Church. Since certain marriages are seen as being under the jurisdiction of specific Aspects (men under the Warrior, women under the Healer, and a marriage of man and woman under the Fisherman), each marriage is also seen as a boon or a sign of favor from said Aspect. Some marriages are arranged in this way to bestow certain blessings on both clans, should it not be something chosen by the people getting married off.

Sk'akh priests take a hard stance against biological augmentation. The Church posits that any "gene-boosting" utterly obliterates the person to have any claim to pride or glory and that they should instead be mocked as insecure and boastful. The Church also condemns manipulation of a hatchling still within an egg for anything that is not medically necessary. A 'designer-hatchling' is a profane act against Sk'akh. It is a profound arrogance for any person to claim to know the path of an unborn Sinta better than the one Sk'akh had laid out for them. Medical Acolytes of the Healer are the most staunch and strict on this matter. Biologically augmented Unathi are extraordinarily rare as a result outside of children, due in part to this belief and the fact it is new for most Unathi.

Statues, Shrines, and Monuments

Sk’akh is unique to the other religions because Sk’akh practitioners utilize shrines in order to worship the Great Spirit and their Aspects. Shrines are common for households, clans, and even villages if they are particularly poor. Constructed of stone for the base and ornamented with wood, metal, and gems (again, depending on who has constructed it), they are a method of offering and venerating Sk’akh and their Aspects for Unathi. Monuments are common for poorer clans and villages, as they take no likeness to Sk’akh’s image outside of inspiration and imagination. These have the most discrepancies in their designs and are rarely if ever sanctioned officially by the church. Statues are the most expensive and can be found anywhere in a public city or institution that can afford it within the Hegemony.

Shrines and statues are so commonplace that they can even be made in smaller versions of marble, clay, wood, and other materials to carry around with someone wherever they go. It is not uncommon for Unathi to bring these miniatures to place somewhere where they work or live temporarily when traveling, to have something to honor Sk’akh with wherever they go.

Views on the Tribunal of the Goddess

While sharing some similar core beliefs, such as the Three of One concept and an overarching God, priests of the Church of Sk’akh look upon the Tribunal with scorn and contempt due to the Unathi that partake in it. They hold that humanity has diluted the beliefs of Dominian Sinta and caused it to take such an unnatural form to what it was before. The Goddess is recognized as being an entirely different concept from the Great Spirit; moreover, a recent doctrine was established that recognized the existence of other gods for other species, yet stated that these gods belonged to those species and should not be worshiped by aliens. Therefore, with this choice, they hold that Dominian Unathi are heretical— if not as much as Aut’akh or Si’akh.

Burial Rites

Burial rites require the body to be treated with respect and any open wounds sealed or cauterized. A priest oversees a funeral process and gives a sermon on the individual, which are traditionally communal affairs, assuring the attendees that the individual in question will join their ancestors in the Great Spirit after the ceremony. The funeral ceremony finally begins by placing valuables onto the body, and then the body is offered to Sk'akh through violent and roaring ritual flames. The spirit may eventually find its way out of the body, however cremation will assist the spirit in the process.If someone dies a good person, they join Sk'akh and become a part of the Great Spirit. If someone dies an evil or wicked person they are barred from joining Sk'akh, doomed to go to the Chained Wastes where they will receive millenia of torment until finally being redeemed. These spirits tend to become malicious and hateful near the beginning of their torment and are easily twisted into seeking ways of escaping their just torment. When they do so, they come back to the Material and attempt to ease their suffering by inflicting it on others. Spirits that end up doing this are said to be a lost cause forever.

Myth of Creation

The creation myth for Sk'akh follows that after the universe was born, it was cold and dark and empty, without any value. Over time, the first living things walked across creation. These first souls were deeply alone and isolated, and when they died, they entered an empty spirit plane with nothing to guide them. In both life and death creation was chaotic and without meaning. Eventually, even the stars, without purpose and order, fell from the sky and began to burn creation to cinders. Three wise elders, the first Fisherman, the first Healer, and the first Warrior came together in the spirit realm and declared that order must reign in a chaotic universe. Merging their souls together they formed Sk'akh, who became the custodian of creation. Sk'akh is the source of duty and purpose. It is by His command that the stars remain in the sky, that the rivers flow, and the arrow flies. It is by His command that the Beastlands, the Chained Wastes, and other afterlives for beings of all kinds came into being. It is by His command that Unathi learned to work together as the Aspects once did. Thus, everything came into being.

This myth makes Sk'akh followers scornful of the Th'akh, who they see as encouraging the chaos that came before Sk'akh. Beings that defy the demands of order in the universe are scorned by Sk'akh and their spirit is left to perish in the Chained Wastes, eventually becoming forgotten or even becoming an evil entity until their sins are punished fully.

Si'akh

Emerging from the fires of the Contact War in 2439, Si'akh has spread across the Wasteland in underground cults and by the proselytizing fires of its priests. It is led by charismatic former Sk'akh priest Juzida Si'akh, who claims to be the Messiah for Unathi. Si’akh is a radical Sk'akh heresy that claims the Contact War to have been final judgment for the Unathi species caused by their innate wickedness. He claims all Unathi that died in the “cleansing fire” of the atomic weapons were given salvation, and all Unathi that survived are damned to remain trapped in the Chained Wastes for eternity unless the species and Moghes are rapidly purified by converting and repenting for their sins. The movement is believed to have hundreds of thousands followers, and it has come into immediate conflict with the orthodox Sk'akh church due to Si'akh claiming it to be completely illegitimate with the revelation of the Contact War. Its followers were ruthlessly hunted down by the Maraziite Order and the troops of Hegemong nobles. Despite the bereavement that came with the Order’s expulsion, the nobility of the Hegemony continue to strike at Si’akh congregations in their lands. Many of its followers in Izweski territory are fleeing into human space as they try to find personal salvation as a result. It is treated as a heresy and fanatical doomsday cult by orthodox Unathi.

The Prophet

Portrait of Juzida Si'akh in the middle of a firebrand sermon, circa 2457.

Born Juzida Aizahi, Juzida Si'akh was born in 2409 and was rather unassuming as a priest— at least, he was rumored to be— until the Contact War brought nuclear devastation to his village. Si'akh was the sole survivor in his village after a nearby nuclear blast flattened the entire area. He emerged to the blasted hellscape and saw Sk'akh in a distant mushroom cloud, who spoke to him and gave him divine inspiration, declaring him the Final Prophet: the messiah and last hope for Unathi. Since that day, he has been a firebrand preacher, traveling the Wasteland and giving incredibly intense and passionate sermons. He claims to have a direct connection with Sk'akh which gives him supernatural powers. He claims he can bring salvation to Unathi with a simple touch. He traverses the Wasteland wearing simple robes, typically with nothing but his walking stick and his journal. He is an extremely charismatic leader and has spawned a cult of personality around himself. His formal title is the Final High Prophet Born of the Purifying Flames.

The popular and unofficial symbol of Si’akh is fire of any variety, be it commonplace flames burning something down, atomic fires wreaking havoc, or depictions of the Chained Wastes. The official symbol Si’akh and his clergy uses is a circle with a triangle inside of it, with the circle being on fire. This represents the Sk’akh origins Si’akh comes from, but also shows how Unathi are trapped in a circle of reincarnation until they can prove themselves to Sk’akh— and Si’akh. This will be sewn into clothes as the traditional means of display, yet it is not uncommon for final acts for Si’akh worshipers before dying to use their blood (if possible) to draw the symbol of Si’akh on any nearby surface, as if asking for one last blessing from the Final Prophet before testing their chances of making it to paradise.

Fire Priests

The church organization is decentralized due to its nature as a radical heresy constantly hunted by the established Sk'akh Church. However, beneath Juzida are his Speakers of the Purifying Flames, or Fire Priests, that spread his message across the Wasteland. Named in reference to both the cleansing fire of the atomic weapons that swept across Moghes, it is also in reference to the firebrand sermons given by their messiah. Fire Priests tend to be former Sk'akh priests that embraced Juzida's radical messages. However, in the past, Juzida decreed that anyone with a determination to spread the message can become a Fire Priest, but it is a rite of passage to first come before him and recite all of his sermons from memory. Radically, even a female can become a Flame Priestess, which is something even his most ardent followers must come to terms with.

Doctrines of Note

The primary, overriding belief of Si'akh is that the nuclear conflict of the Contact war was Judgement Day and that all Unathi that live after it are Damned. They believe that upon death their soul is unable to join Sk'akh, instead doomed to reincarnate forever across the galaxy for their sins of defiling Moghes. The only method of achieving salvation is through being personally forgiven by Si'akh or by following his doctrines and gaining enough favor with Sk'akh to be forgiven after death and join the ancestors. Si'akh believes that evil and selfish behavior transform the souls of Unathi into literal demons who then perform evil on the world. Fighting back against one's innate wickedness is the primary goal of all Si'akh.

Like the traditional Church, Si'akh believe that the soul is the true individual, and that the body is a vessel. However, the relationship between the vessel and the soul is given a radically different relationship. The body and soul both fight temptation and the influences of daemonic forces. They also believe that the soul was in the past instilled within a vessel during its development within the egg by the Great Spirit, but with the Damnation facing the species, all unborn are instilled with the reincarnated souls of the Sinta barred from joining the Great Spirit in death. This belief in reincarnation makes Si’akh take a stance similar to Th’akh: someone may claim that a soul and its host body may not match, allowing someone to be recognized as male when they were born female and vice versa.

The second primary belief of the faith is that Juzida Si'akh is the Messiah. Sk'akh has personally bestowed upon Juzida the objective of helping the Unathi species find redemption. His followers accept him to be an immortal with supernatural powers. If he is successful, Sk'akh will then rule Moghes as a literal heavenly paradise for 10,000 years. The faith generally considers that finding redemption means converting more people to Si’akh. As such, it is not uncommon for Fire Priests to venture into the stars in search of Unathi, particularly in the Republic of Biesel. Many degenerates flee there in the eyes of Si’akh, such as the Aut’akh, various dishonored groups, Guwan, and other Unathi that need salvation. These people, according to the Final High Prophet, are fleeing Moghes in shame of the deeds of their ancestors, or are attempting to avoid the consequences of the species as a collective.

Si'akh are forbidden from eating anything but raw food and drinking anything but water. This is to purify the soul and train followers in self-restraint. It is said that, due to this extreme diet, some Unathi abroad have sometimes starved to death if the circumstances are right (such as being stuck with nothing but jerky or other prepared meats). However, later proclamations from the Final High Prophet have allowed people to eat liquid rations and other bare minimum foods, claiming that they are as pure as raw meat.

Repenting within the faith means to resist temptation and live a life according to asceticism: to live meagerly and not give into the temptation of luxury and overindulgence. Frugality and simplicity are words to live by; tailoring plain clothes, eating simple food, and keeping honest hobbies and work will set you along the path for salvation. Of course, practicing ritualistic obedience to Si’akh’s teachings puts someone along this path and makes it easier to do. Good works also absolve Unathi of their past sins, and it is said that someone who does enough works and follow the tenets of the faith will be overcome in a feeling of “righteous fire.”

Si’akh believes inherent wickedness comes with money and opulence, and as such, he opposes the idea of nobility sitting above the rest of Unathi as rulers and kings. Owing in part to why the Hegemony so vehemently opposes this religion, Si’akh has been known to inspire small revolts where he has traveled to— and those in charge fear what may happen in their own lands should Si’akh take root amongst the masses.

Like all Unathi religions, followers are taught that even xenos have souls that go to their respective afterlives and greet their gods upon death. Unathi are given the unique curse of being banished entirely until they can find redemption, however.

Si'akh demands strict burial rights in the form of a body being cremated. Anyone that knew the Unathi that passed is expected to attend the cremation and beg for the soul to be forgiven by Sk'akh, expressing all the good the person did in life in order to curry favor with Sk'akh. Anyone that dies having followed the path laid out by Juzida can be redeemed and embraced by Sk'akh, joining them in the afterlife. Those that die failing in their duties to resist temptation and vice remained damned, forced to reincarnate into a new body. However, some souls can become completely overtaken by daemonic influence through temptation and vice, causing them to become literal daemons in the afterlife. These particularly damned souls prey on the living, filling them with the temptation to create even more of their kind.

Relationships in general are touched on heavily by Si'akh. He completely throws out the orthodox definitions of relationships of being a mix of Duty, Love, and Lust, saying that relationships are a question of duty and duty only. Marriages are framed in a survival sense, with new generations of hatchlings being reincarnated souls of the Damned unable to join Sk'akh. As a result, the only type of marriage Si’akh recognizes is one between a man and a woman. These 'second try' souls must be raised to participate in Si'akh's grand vision in order to achieve salvation. Notably, Si'akh forbids divorce and demands that any relationship be a lifelong act of monogamy.

Reavers of the Flame

Being situated in the incredibly dangerous Wasteland, and coupled with ruthless oppression from the Maraziite Order, Si'akh early in his days as messiah created a fanatical militant holy order answerable only to him. Its members are called Reavers, and they are charged with the protection of Si'akh and all of his followers. Based in Wasteland forts, they guard pilgrims who travel for miles to follow the traveling Si'akh, sheltering them from bandits. They are frequently attacked by explorers and mercenaries hired by the Hegemony, and have taken to arming their troop with a mix of Contact War era weaponry and crude ballistic weapons to defend themselves. Using welders, Reavers are required to burn off their horns when joining the Order, giving them a strange appearance compared to typical Unathi. Joining the Order is a fast track to salvation.

Reavers of the Flame have taken an almost barbaric stance on self-defense in the name of their savior. Where called for, they are merciless, unafraid to use ambushes and underhanded tactics to gain the upper hand. They give those that attack them and the followers of Si’akh a ruthless choice: join the flock or die in the sands. Given that they must reincarnate if they are not saved, Si’akh has not given any dismay or disappointment at this development among the Reavers; however, he has been known to occasionally step in, offer his blessings, and perform a rumored miracle to convince bandits to join his cause.

Religious Holidays

While some holidays do not have a religious bearing, most festivals pertaining to the spirits or some variant are shared by most religions, merely celebrated in different and conflicting ways.

Keeping of Memories

The Keeping of Memories is a holiday that marks the true beginning of Travakh, the Season of Ancestors, though for the Intergalactic Standard, it is traditionally observed on December 7th. A basic festivity in premise, the Keeping of Memories festival is one for Unathi to celebrate their ancestors and the realm that houses them: the spirit world. Though it has been a recorded celebration for centuries, the exact origins of the event have been lost to the contact war, with only fables and stories from each religion giving guesswork as to where it originated.

Traditionally, the day is full of close-knit celebrations to citywide parades, and a majority of Unathi remain unproductive from sunrise to sunset. Feasts are common during this day as one larger meal is prepared in the morning to be enjoyed, allowing the rest of daylight hours to be devoted towards other activities. When food is prepared, portions of it are reserved in remembrance for ancestors who have recently passed, while some food is saved for revered ancestors of note, like clan heroes, renowned warriors, and powerful healers. Food is served to empty seats as Unathi believe the spirits of those lost sit with them on this spiritually-charged occasion.

In preparation for the day, Unathi will often decorate their bodies with paint, though with what often depends on the religion. Th’akh (and, by extension, Aut’akh) often choose symbols or names of those in their clan that no longer walk the lands they do. Children usually receive paintings of fables and stories of old that represent virtues they aspire for. Sk’akh and Si’akh are more uniform; emblematic and larger symbols are drawn along the back, chest, or most of their body. These can represent aspects of the Great Spirit, common prayers, or blessings, all things the receiving Unathi hope to gain by showing favor with Sk’akh. Si’akh recently will specifically show somewhat violent depictions of how they view reincarnation and often go for flames as body paintings.

Celebrations themselves can vary widely from city to city, clan to clan. Parades themselves often include lively music as a centerpiece, with dancing and song from attendees being commonplace. Unathi tend to do this with other observed holidays outside of Hegemony space, which leads to weird looks and strange gazes from other species. Customs of a clan regarding the Keeping of Memories rarely change, though, and it is a chance for the clan elders to remind and teach the young of their own clan’s history and the significance of their traditions.

The holy men of the day remain extraordinarily busy, as one can imagine. Th’akh shamans often anoint clan elders with a blessing of spiritual power so that, in their stead, these Unathi may perform ceremonies and even reach out to the spirit world. Keeping of Memories celebrations lead to the spirit world’s boundaries weakening, Unathi say, and so reaching out to specific ancestors becomes easier to do, with the right offerings and preparation. However, Sk’akh priests do not believe the power they wield can be ‘lent’ as Th’akh does. As a result, these priests are needed in the flesh to perform ceremonies, and to prevent being overworked, a handsome tithe from the entire clan is required to be given to the Sk’akh Church.

Despite this, all Unathi share one concrete aspect of the holiday: the retelling of stories. Whether Sk’akh parables, notable memories of ancestors, or ancient fables of healer-shamans and warrior-heroes, Unathi take the occasion to tell stories with one another. It is appropriate for Unathi to share these stories with those they know and people they have never met, for a person never truly dies if their memories live on.

Final Judgment

In a sort of twisted means of reverence, those that follow Si’akh make a grand display and festival of the day the first atomic weapons were used in the Contact War. On September 5th of each year, Si’akh’s followers make a grand display of thanking Sk’akh for the war. Those outside of the faith will view it as a disturbing celebration of one of the worst modern catastrophes in Unathi history; those of Si’akh’s devout know it is celebrating the Unathi that were deemed worthy by Sk’akh and went to join them in eternal paradise. Originally intended to be a day of religious importance on Moghes and in the Wasteland, people who cannot make the pilgrimage to the Wasteland can do it wherever they are. These practices were gleaned from Si’akh’s routine and instructions to his first followers on this day.

The start of the day is a rigorous one. When celebrating the holiday, someone must be awake before the sun rises— this is being mentally awake, too, so typically, this is very early in the morning, even by autumn standards. The day begins with rigorous prayer to Sk’akh and an admission of guilt and sin. A verbal recognition is made that the worshiper is unworthy of Sk’akh’s generous gifts and even the fraction of a chance to be redeemed offered by Si’akh. After completing this and whatever other rituals and prayers a devotee personalizes, they gather their daily things: a bag of jerky and two gallons of water. The day and subsequent week is one of fasting, without even water barring specific times every other day. Even then, Si’akh’s followers are permitted only two gallons of water for the week, regardless of individual need. The jerky and the water at the end of the week are burned and dumped, respectively, were one successful in not consuming them.

Typically, followers meet up with others for celebration. At this “celebration,” there is no food, no drink, no usual luxuries found at other parties, and this meeting resembles more of a Sk’akh day of summons than anything else. However, even by any religion’s standards, this mass is remarkably grim. The firebrand sermon is given, though only after being preluded by a romanticization of the events of the Contact War. A sense of longing is made clear by the priest and those listening to them; particularly dark speeches will openly pine for the death so many were granted when faced with atomic annihilation.

When the sermon is over, things begin to liven up marginally. There are performances of “flaming foxtrots,” elaborate dances between two fighters with their weapons ignited. They can be Reavers of the Flame or other warriors, but Reavers are accustomed with this method of fighting. They do this in the Wasteland by drenching their blades in oil, then getting friction with the hot sand with a couple of stabbing motions into the gravel to ignite it. Nonetheless, the displays are brilliant and terrifying, with some of them ending in light to moderate burns for either performer. Such simple displays of energy and passion for the religion are seen not as luxuries, but as proof of one’s vigor, belief, and hope in purifying the Sinta species. Other exchanges are made between casual attendees, whether confessions to those close to them or encouraging each other to continue down the path Si’akh has trotted before them.

The Fire Priests are stolen away for much of the event to attend to the individual confessions and help encourage people down the path of salvation. Should someone’s sins in a confession prove to be great, the Fire Priests will begin a ritual: the Purifying Immolation. The specifics of the event are shrouded in mystery due to all Si’akh followers being sworn to secrecy on it. Despite this, rumors have begun to circulate that it includes scarification or mutilation of some kind, or even flogging. None of this has been proven true by any authority due to the niche cult’s insular behaviors outside of proselytizing.

At the day’s end, the ritual of sunset looks similar to the one performed at sunrise, with one major detail: the end is a question of asking for Sk’akh’s forgiveness, so one may join them in the Beastlands after the ordeal is done. Some have said they received prophetic dreams the night of from Sk’akh’s xzarak and have been redeemed. However, the only true way of knowing will be in death.

Credit to ShutUpBecca for the painting of High Priest Unzi.