Sunday, 24 July 2016

The gods of the godless city

There are no gods in the traditional sense in Chirica: but there are sects and cults: there are mystics and prophets: there are holy texts and icons. There are numerous places of worship, some of them obvious, some of them not.

It is possible that there was, once, a true religion in Chirica. There are temple-like buildings – some derelict, some repurposed – across the city that seem to share certain characteristics, but truly reconstructing this religion seems to be impossible, unless you believe one of the many petty messiahs or starry-eyed antiquarians who think they have solved it. The city's real religion is its vast ecosystem of sects, which changes rapidly but retains one loose organising principle, being divided between those who worship and embrace the city's essential, negative qualities, and those who venerate anything that seems to push against that negativity.

Of the former, there is, for instance, a group of worshippers who meet in one of the city's great, disused cisterns, half-flooded, where they solemnly submerge themselves in the stagnant, algal water, in total silence, washing themselves of the life of the city above: and there is a mystic in the Bajan who promotes, and claims to practise, the eating of the ashes of the cremated, which his emaciated followers steal from the city's crematoria.

And of the latter, there are the courtly ladies whose fascination with baubles of coloured and gilded glass is more than fashion: there are the fishermen who cast back into the sea, with a motion of the first and little fingers they have learned without understanding, the rare and brilliant sharp-toothed salmon that they sometimes catch: there are those who abduct the city's children, to set them on thrones and honour them. They refuse, in their awe, to touch the child, and therefore refuse to nourish or care for it.

None of this seems to change the fact that when adventurer clerics are brought, through the dark and icy water, to the city's streets, their patronage holds good. But it does raise the question of why.