Demigods of Aztaltica
Aztaltica is host to the worship of only four deities. They play an important role in the lives of Aztalticans—indeed, they are a matter of life and death to many, if not most, of the peoples of the Aztaltica. Not only is this reflected in the sacrifices so commonly expected by some of these demigods, but also in the way that they affect the climate, food supply, and environment of the entire continent—at least, as viewed and explained by their followers.
Pyramids and Temples
The most typical platform supporting a temple to any of the Aztaltican powers is the pyramid. The pyramid is not the temple itself, however—it is the structure below the temple.
The pyramids follow a stepped design of many layers. Indeed, many of the pyramids have been erected atop earlier, smaller pyramids, in as many as five or six layers, or “shells.” Typically, a pyramid will have a stairway climbing each of its four sides, though some have steps on only two opposite sides. These stairs are always steep, in many cases climbing at an angle in excess of forty-five degrees. Some of the steepest use one foot risers for six-inch-wide steps (one foot of rise per six inches of run, in other terms).
Aztaltican pyramids are sometimes solid, but many of them are penetrated by secret passages, burial chambers, treasure troves, or hidden meeting places. The entrances to these places are well-concealed, and may be located anywhere, including on top of the pyramid, around its base, partway up one side, or—rarely—in some place removed from the pyramid, and connected to ii by an underground passageway. The temple building is erected on top of the pyramid, and can be made of wood, stone, or plastered adobe. The temple itself will generally contain a painted tiled, or carved image of the god worshipped there, and perhaps an altar or brazier such as might be required for the rites performed there.
A pyramid that is being utilized will always be kept scrupulously clean, except for signs of its rituals that are assumed to be desirable to the being in question. But the steps will be swept of dust, and dirt will not he allowed to darken the sides. Any stone that crumbles will be mortared, or replaced if it is too far gone.
Mosaics and murals, usually in bright colors, often encircle the layers of a pyramid. These will often depict the specific symbols of the powers although they may be more general in nature. Indeed, some pyramids are devoted to several powers—the Great Pyramid in Zlatan, for example, supported temples devoted to both Sotek and Tezca. As with its cleanliness, the brightness and completeness of this artwork depends upon constant upkeep—pyramids that are located far from settlements, or that have been abandoned by their followers, quickly lose their detail. Mosaic art, naturally, still lasts somewhat longer than paint.
Generally there is a significant odor associated with the pyramids in use for the darker rituals. The pyramids devoted to non-sacrificial beings are cleaner, for purification is considered a beneficent trait to these powers as a group. Often, fresh blossoms will be used as fragrance around these monuments.
Pluma, Hishna, and the Powers
The spells of feathermagic and talonmagic both represent different aspects of alignment. Pluma, naturally, tends toward the good, while hishna finds its roots in inherently evil tenets. However, unlike the restrictions on the priestly followers of gods, the use of one or the other type of magic does not brand one as good or evil. However, each power grows from the begins on either side of the spectrum. Qotal is the source of pluma, and Sotek of hishna. The more devout a follower is of one of these beings, the more likely he will be to possess the alignment of the appropriate type.
Neither type can be categorized purely in the magic sense of the rest of Grund, for they are neither purely sorcerous, nor purely clerical, in nature. True the priests of Aztaltica can gain powers of hishna or pluma, and each draws its primary symbol from a god—Sotek and Qotal, respectively. There are no true wizards in Aztaltican society, yet the practice of these forms reaches its highest levels in the works of artisans, not priests.
The spells of Aztaltican magic resemble some of the powers of typical mages and clerics, yet there are many differences. For one thing, the casting times tend to be longer with Aztaltican magic. Material components are more important—indeed, they are often the basis for the spell itself rather than mere focusing objects. The casting of a Aztaltican magic spell more often involves a ritual than a quick gesture or command. The effects can be more subtle, but at the same time more profound.
Aztaltican magic is not as extensive, nor as dominating, as the sorcery of a powerful Arik wizard. Instead it offers unique powers, tuned to the world around it, and is not intended for (nor is it capable of) mastering that environment.
By the time one masters the magic, he must be devoted the correct god—thus, one who is a skilled featherworker will be of good alignment; one who truly knows the ways of the magics of talon and fang and venom will just as certainly be a person of fundamental evil.
QOTAL: The Feathered Snake
SYMBOLS: Feathers, Butterflies, Mayz, Wind and Air, Clouds, Couatl, Macaw, Eagle
ALIGNMENT Lawful Good
PHYSICAL APPEARANCE: The Feathered Snake, also called the Plumed One, is the most beautiful and colorful of Aztaltican gods. He is generally portrayed as a huge golden dragon, although instead of scales he is covered with bright, downy plumage. These feathers are gold, except around his neck. Here Qotal has a mane, as lush and thick as any lion’s, but it is a mane of feathers in all colors.
ROLE: Qotal is generally regarded as a source of goodness and health, in many different aspects. He is a god known to abhor sacrifice. Centuries ago, he left Aztaltica because of this abhorrence, and for long years he languished in the minds of the people as a relatively forgotten, powerless god.
However, his memory lived on in a devout cadre of priests, and as the excesses of the priest of Sotek and others increased, Qotal was increasingly missed. He is particularly well-worshipped among the Itzapans.
TENETS and PRIESTLY PRACTICES: Lives, even of small animals, are never offered to Qotal. Instead, his rituals often include the freeing of caged creatures—butterflies and birds, in particular.
SOTEK: Bringer of War and Eater of Hearts
SYMBOLS: Hearts, Skulls, Macas, Knives, Bloody Hand, Talons, Fangs, Jaguars, Rattlesnakes
ALIGNMENT Chaotic Evil
PHYSICAL APPEARANCE: Sotek usually appears as as a humanoid lizardman, beastlike and savage, with widespread jaws revealing a mouth filled with curved teeth and two very long, sharp fangs like those of a rattlesnake. Sotek is almost always visualized as a hungry, angry god. His face is perpetually scowling or snarling, and his hands are ready to clasp around any weapon, to drive home any blade. He also appears as a fearsome jaguar, in particular to humans, who find his lizard form abhorrent.
ROLE: Sotek is the god of war, and as such most violence is worked in his name. He is known to all the peoples of Aztaltica, though none have raised him to such as height as did the Zlatan. They attributed the patronage of Sotek as directly responsible for their success at war, and they tried to reward him by carrying the cult of sacrifice to appallingly excessive levels. The Feathered Wars, ironically named after a symbol of Sotek’s chief rival, were waged in Sotek’s name, in an effort to procure sufficient sacrifices during times of peace.
TENETS and PRIESTLY PRACTICES: Sotek demands blood and hearts, and his priests struggle to keep up with his essentially insatiable hunger. Hearts offered on the altar are deemed the most satisfying, though slaying on the field of battle is also gratifying to him. He is thought to favor the fortunes of those who wage war in his name. Sotek’s priests fast constantly, and often mark themselves with ritual wounds. Their characteristic garb is a black, soiled robe. They cake their hair with the blood of their victims, and twirl it into sharp points jutting out in all directions from the head.
AZUL: Giver of Rain, Plants, and Love
SYMBOLS: Rain, flower buds, fish, frog
PHYSICAL APPEARANCE: Azul is generally pictured as a vibrantly beautiful woman, with clear, smooth skin and hair that would trail behind her on the ground if it fell freely. That hair is used to clothe her full, feminine body—a body that is often, but not always, portrayed as very pregnant. Her eyes are like deep, placid pools, and it is rumored that one can lose his mind by staring into them even for a second—so beautiful are they!
ROLE: As god of rain, and all forms of moisture, Azul is a tremendously important god to the people of Aztaltica. In that inherently dry continent, those places favored by Azul are the lands that are worth living in, so one of the first things people did when they populated a new valley was to build a new temple and consecrate it to Azul.
Azul is a benign goddess who offers only happiness, health, and contentment when she is properly worshipped. Her name is most commonly invoked at weddings, during pregnancies, and after childbirth. She is the favored god among the Axopans, who live on the border of the House of Tezca desert and value her rains.
Though not intimately involved in human affairs, Azul occasionally answers the joint plea of a man and woman in love, though their relationship cannot be hidden or illicit in any manner. Omens from Azul include the unexpected appearance of a blooming flower, the sudden withering of a flower already in bloom, and the uncontrollable urge to dance.
TENETS and PRIESTLY PRACTICES: The priests of Azul keep themselves scrupulously clean in deference to their deity’s nature. They are the most effective healers among the peoples native to Aztaltica. No sacrifice is ever offered in Azul’s name, though sometimes a shock of mayz or bag of seeds is burned at her altar. The more common form of devotion to Azul is performed privately between a man and a woman.
Priests of Azul can have major access to spells of the Elemental, Healing, Guardian and Weather spheres; they can have minor access to the spheres of pluma, Protection, Plant, and Charm spells.
Tezca: Goddess of the Sun and Animals
SYMBOLS: Flame, the Sun, Cactus, Fireflies
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic Evil
PHYSICAL APPEARANCE: Tezca, like her sister Azul, is portrayed as a human female of lush sensuality and ample womanhood, bathed in a nimbus of living flames. Her skin is orange, and anything that it touches instantly bursts into flame. Her hair is like a thick column of smoke floating upward, solid and opaque, and trailing after her as she moves.
ROLES: Tezca is the lifegiving force of heat and sunlight, and her hunger for hearts is second only to Sotek. Tezca is particularly well-worshipped among the Huatepecs, raised to even higher status than Sotek there, though all Aztalticans acknowledge her importance and his might. She is hailed as the one who brings life to the world, and in more minor aspects, the provider of warmth. She also inhabits the spirits of beasts, the savagery of the animal kingdom so different from the plants of Azul. In this animalistic vein, she symbolizes lust and is the patron of the alcholic octal drink.
TENETS and PRIESTLY PRACTICES: The priests of Tezca are committed to performing a sacrifice each sunset, in order to insure that that sun-god returns to the world on the following day. These rites are similar to Sotek’s—the heart of the unfortunate victim is torn out and offered to a stone image of the god.
Priests of Tezca gain major access to the Elemental, Sun, and Combat spheres. They can also employ major access to the Weather Sphere, but only under the light of the sun. Priests can gain minor access to the spheres of Hishna, Animals, Divination, and Guardian spells.
Go to Aztaltica Background Report Part IV. Economy and Equipment