Content Warning:

Discussion of war, social upheaval, environmental cataclysm, unwilling human transfiguration, and imprisonment.

Godless Sond and the Ancestral Sarikote

[Long Description: A ragtag detachment of funny-looking cyborgs made of bone, flesh, steel, and wood. Their long, imperious robes have been weathered by the ages. One wields something like a pistol made of bone, with many spinal columns dangling from his back as makeshift appendages. His face is obscured by a hood and a respirator, which is set with vertebrae instead of cartridges. Another wears a frayed amigasa and brandishes two singing blades. The one in the background is much larger, a humanoid construct with the body of a huge, skeletal snake from the waist down.]

Godless Sond and the Ancestral Sarikote

Or: Why the Sarikote Language Has No Word for 'Prison'

October 11, 2022

The city of Sond was built in the bones of its own ruins, which run deep beneath the Scaiuq mountain range and comprise an immense underground labyrinth. Its arteries are thought to extend throughout all of Scaiuq, greater Asthaom, and probably even as far as Basedt.

Though people generally use the word “Sond” to mean the city, there’s no real semantic distinction between the city and the ruin. In fact, what most people would call a city occupies only a small part of Old Sond. The gradations between the peopled and unpeopled parts of the ruin are not as clean as one would think, and this is only natural; most people in Scaiuq live as seasonal nomads. To them, Sond is a city as much as it is a throughway.

Despite the foot traffic, Sond has never been fully mapped. There’s just not much of a desire to. Scaiuns have a bittersweet relationship with the ruins, even if they have utility in their day-to-day lives. To them, the labyrinth is less like a monument to human ingenuity, and more like the fading scar of a self-inflicted wound.

Sond was built thousands of years ago by the first people of Asthaom, the ancestral Sarikote. They were earth-shapers without peer—an industrious culture whose god-kings commanded brutal dominion over one another, and the world around them. Though they created countless wonders in their time, Sond was a true masterwork. Nothing like it had ever been built before, and nothing like it would ever be built again.

But the ancestral Sarikote made a grave mistake, in their ruthless march towards progress. Water was power in those days, and so they sought control over Asthaom’s waterways. To shape whole rivers in their image was the ultimate endeavor, the feat that would break the last earthly tether that bound them to the whims of the natural world. The rivers had always run; even infants knew this, the same way that the sun shines and the ocean blacks. The Sarikote just never imagined that the rivers could run away.

The water vanished. The desert waned. Their meddling ended with a violent awakening. They had inadvertently caused the Thousand-Year Drought, an environmental cataclysm so great that it tore the desert apart.

The aftermath became known as ‘a ceaseless walk’, the foresummer-without-end. Most of the ancestral Sarikote scattered from Asthaom and became what we know today as the Diasporas. A despondent few refused to leave their home, and stayed behind. Their descendants still live there today as the modern Sarikote. Even though it’s been more than a thousand years since the onset of the Drought, no Sarikote suffers delusions about what kind of people their ancestors were.

Still, none deny that Sond is a part of their home. The passages that lie near the surface are safe, navigable, and welcoming, and it’s easy to come away from them believing that the ancestral Sarikote had an awfully funny definition of the word “labyrinth.” Live there long enough, and one might even start to think that they were looking out for their descendants, in their own strange way.

But the deeper you go, the weirder Sond gets. The labyrinth’s arms spiral into the dark, and their descent is as sudden as it is disorienting. Rooms open up with no ceiling and no floor. Passages seem to forget themselves. Stairwells descend into waters so clear and still, they beckon for you to follow. It gives you the impression that the labyrinth isn’t trying to keep you out, really—it’s trying to keep something else in.

This may be true. Oral tradition holds that the Drought did not discriminate between gods or men when it brought Asthaom to its knees. Both were culpable. It ultimately drove the ancestral Sarikote to do terrible things in defiance of their terrible gods, and whatever remained after the ash settled has long since been sealed away with the rest of Sond. Their secrets were meant to die with the old gods, it seems.

Few Scaiuns have any desire to find out what those secrets were, exactly, but curious outsiders are drawn in by the more benign works of the ancestral Sarikote. People say that the single greatest library in the known world belongs to the Lexarcs. If this is true, then their shadowy counterparts at Sond—the Sentinels—must preside over the single greatest library in the unknown world. It’s no secret that the ancestral Sarikote hoarded powerful knowledge. After all, they razed cities, rerouted rivers, leveled mountains, and killed gods.

The Sentinels try to shield Old Sond from prying eyes, for this reason. But despite their worst suspicions, few people actually desire that kind of power. Not all of the artifacts left behind by the ancestral Sarikote are instruments of violence; some are genuine miracle-workers that could do a lot of good in a post-Drought world. To some, it’s a grave injustice that the Sentinels keep them locked away from the outside world.

Tension over Old Sond comes from within, too—the Sentinels’ own code of restorative justice is at odds with the very existence of the labyrinth. If they truly believe that no man is beyond reform, surely they can extend the same mercy to their own gods.

Times change. Parts of Sond that haven’t seen mortal eyes in thousands of years now stand to be unsealed, with Sentin’s reluctant blessing. Even still, she knows that there are some things that were never meant for anyone’s eyes, mortal or immortal...

The Prisoner's Dilemma

The Sentinels made a concerted effort to hide the existence of Sond from greater Asthaom, until it was discovered by Motu’s Lexarcs a hundred years ago. Still today, the Sentinels face the ethical dilemma of figuring out what the hell to do with it. It’s not something that they have the luxury of choice in, a lot of the time.

Old Sond is filled with powerful tools that their ancestors left behind for them, both to safeguard and to be safeguarded by. But to use them would not only reveal their existence to their enemies—and open them to exploitation— but also violate the very vows their ancestors swore in the aftermath of the Thousand-Year Drought. Old Sond is a weapon that for many is too terrible to use, even when war came to their doorstep.

Further, Sond’s purpose is chiefly carceral. The surface passages may be safe enough to house a city, but beyond the deep lies the very worst of the ancestral Sarikote’s works, interred with the mutilated bodies of their old gods.

Many of these gods have been imprisoned inside of great, mechanized beasts, which are compelled to patrol the depths of Sond until it all finally crumbles under its own weight. Within each machine, the gods are mangled into a state of perpetual bloodletting, their bodies reduced to glorified batteries. It’s a profoundly cruel punishment for crimes that are, ironically, all but forgotten to the modern Sarikote. To this day, these machine-gods are locked in a bitter stalemate with themselves, narrowly constraining their own rage.

Others haven’t handled the ages so well. Some gods have co-opted a degree of control over their malfunctioning bodies, while others have escaped theirs entirely. Others still are clawing at the walls of much different prisons, bizarre puzzle-contraptions that defy understanding. A few have retreated to the darkest reaches of Sond, and gone silent.

Those who resign themselves don’t do so without reason, as the more wrathful escapees come to realize. Any good prison needs wardens to keep the night watch. It’s just as well that Sond was built by such talented artificers.

The ancestral Sarikote recognized the need to furnish Sond with guardians who could go toe-to-toe with the gods—and outlast them all. In a rare show of personal sacrifice, some of the old earth-shapers answered the call with morbid acts of self-experimentation. They used the last of their reserves to transform themselves into undying, unliving half-machines, and sealed themselves away with the old gods.

Most of Sond's wardens weren’t created so willingly. The unluckiest ones were pariahs, exiles, and political detainees whose minds and bodies were cannibalized for a so-called higher purpose. These were the last of the ancestral Sarikote’s ‘great works’—the bodies of their own people, which the artificers converted into shambling, mechanized husks of themselves. They were the last to be interred in the tombs of their former masters.

The old Sarikote had a history of trading the future for short-term gains. But this time, the bargaining was calculated. If they couldn’t create a united front against the Powers That Were, they could at least turn them against one other, and pray that the infighting keeps them too busy to escape. Being that today’s Sentinels have inherited their dilemma, thousands of years later, it seems the gamble is paying off.

Lost in Time, Lost in Translation

Countless microsocieties have emerged in the thousand years since Sond was sealed away. Today there are two major groups: those who keep watch over Sond as its wardens, and those who were interred there as captives. The line between them is becoming increasingly blurry, as time goes on.

The Thousand-Year Vigil

Sond’s wardens lead a lonely existence of watching and waiting, broken only by the dread-salvos of desperate gods. This has left them with a lot of free time to explore the labyrinth, tell stories, and mythologize about what’s going on in the world above. Some retain vivid memories of their former lives, particularly those who were “repurposed” before the onset of the Drought. Others woke up in the black depths of Sond, and it is the only thing they’ve ever known. None have seen the sky in a thousand years or more.

Sond is big enough that splinter factions of these wardens can form, and patrol for years without ever becoming aware of one another’s existence. They each have their own cultures, their own ways of doing things, and their own ideas about why they need to keep the vigil, exactly. Most get along well enough, but some don’t. Infighting is frowned upon for eroding trust between units— on which their very survival and the survival of the surface world depends—but that doesn’t stop it from happening. It’s easy for feelings of grief, loneliness, and resentment to fester in the absence of companionship, and there are some days when the labyrinth just gets to you. Most units are tight-knit and fiercely protective of each other, for this reason.

When comfort can’t be found in each other, it can usually be found above-ground. Most crave nearness to the surface at some point or another. There, they can hear the murmurings of life, see the works of their descendants, and even catch glimpses of those bold enough to journey into Old Sond.

Despite the magnetic pull that the surface has on them, few will admit to visiting it out of loneliness. At least–not without preparing a cover story, first.

It isn’t hard to. It behooves the vigil to keep an ear on what’s going on above their heads, and there will always be wayward outsiders that need to be guided back to safety. But being purposeful about their visits also keeps them from trespassing in the surface world. They are forgiving with one another for most transgressions; Sond is a small world, and they have to be cooperative if they want to keep the Thousand-Year Vigil. But there are some acts that are dangerous to their fragile brotherhood and therefore intolerable. Breaching the surface is number one, and revealing themselves to outsiders is a close second.

It’s hard to fault one another for craving the attention of their charges, though. In the absence of the old gods, the world has had time to heal. The lives that their descendants lead today are beyond anything that the ancestral Sarikote could have hoped for at the onset of the Drought. Speculating about the surface world has become a beloved pastime, especially among those who remember it.

Architects, Earth-Shapers, and Artificers

It may seem strange that the very architects of the Thousand-Year Drought would willingly seal themselves away with the old gods—who surely hate them for their treachery—and the vigil—who also hate them for their treachery.

In truth, this was a calculated move. Some did not want to lose the privileges afforded to them in life, others were reluctant to let go of their craft, and others yet would rather throw themselves down in the grave than let their work be buried without them. Most simply realized that there was no place for them anymore, not in Asthaom or anywhere else in the world. They would rather risk eternal combat with the old gods than be held accountable for their crimes.

These shapers are regarded by the rest of the vigil as a necessary evil. They’re not as bad as the old gods, but that isn’t saying much— in fact, most of them were agents of the old gods before the Thousand-Year Drought struck. Interactions between gods and shapers are therefore subject to close scrutiny, as the rekindling of old alliances could be bad news for the rest of Sond. Luckily, most shapers are happy to pursue their own interests without a god breathing down their neck.

To this end, they serve a utilitarian function as Sond’s keepers. They alone hold the expertise needed to keep core components of Sond’s infrastructure functioning, and they are happy to hoard this knowledge if it means that it will keep the rest of the vigil dependent on them. Many of these shapers are the very same ones who created the vigil—that is, they “repurposed” their peers to serve, willingly or unwillingly, as Sond’s guardians. This means that they also have critical self-maintenance and remedial skills that are necessary to keep the vigil going, through deep time.

The relationship between the vigil and its shapers is fragile, to say the least. Most shapers share a common interest in keeping the vigil, if only to avoid suffering the same fate as the old gods. But they have their own interests, too. They flex their bargaining power with age-old political cunning, and push the necessity of their evil as far as it can go. The vigil begrudgingly indulges them; most shapers are free to work their crafts in their downtime… Under close observation, of course.

Not all of Sond’s architects are so self-serving. Some genuinely consider service to be their higher purpose, and they take great pride in doing this “one good thing” for the vigil and their descendants. Shapers who have humbled themselves and sought reconciliation are rare, but highly respected.

After all, they are the only ones who are willing to instruct their peers in the art of mending. Other artificers might have jealousy hoarded their secrets for the past thousand-odd years, but it seems the slow art of maintenance is finally starting to percolate down to the rest of the vigil.

The Old Gods

It is unlucky to be a god. Most people would not recognize the shambling beasts of Sond as human or divine; the past thousand years have been unspeakably cruel to them, and their very being has shifted to match.

Where their wardens are societal, and can seek out one another for comfort and companionship, there is little hope of finding such connection for the old gods. Those who have been driven to violence by years of isolation seem to hate their fellow gods almost as much as they hate their captors. Others are withdrawn to the point of catatonic, answering all attempts at communication with silence. Some are amicable enough to exchange a few, terse words with the vigil, but they are regarded with suspicion. Very few have earned the vigil’s trust and managed to keep it through the years.

These days, conflict with the old gods is rare, but bloody and desperate. It used to be that the vigil was forged in the white-hot fires of rage. Violence was the only answer to the injustice they had experienced, and it was easy to be punitive when the wounds of the Thousand-Year Drought were still fresh, when the gods still laughed at their suffering. It is much harder now, when all of Sond seems to have resigned itself to its fate. The few who haven’t are less like the arrogant god-kings of old, and more like fearful, cornered animals.

A shift has occurred in recent years, among the younger members of the vigil. The formation of the Sentinels has left a strong impression on them, it seems. Some question whether the vigil should continue, or if it even can; others question whether they can afford to waver at all. In dark places there are even whispers of trespassing in the surface world– of breaking the vigil, and asking their descendants for help.

Quite possibly the funniest fucking thing I could do to moribund since reverend jesse cauldwell. Release your inhibitions feel the rain on your skin etc.

I was 10000% secure in the fact that there was no chance for interchange between Moribund and the warhammy ripoff. Fundamentally incompatible from the ground up. They barely even have the concept of war in morb. But then A series of surreal edits of a deadpan emoji. It says 'I Realized.' And then in the next panel, the emoji grows a third eye and says 'And then I couldn't stop realizing.' In the third panel, more eyes pop up all over the emoji's face, and it says 'I want to stop realizing.'

It’s been a while since I had the chance to sit down and write articles about things that will probably never show up in a mainline Moribund story. I want to make more room for that on this website, but time has been on a premium lately. Fingers crossed I get around to it.

I’m ehhhhhh middling my hand about accompanying this with art, but I spent an inordinate amount of time on this for something so goofy. Been trying to figure out a workflow that will make Rebelle less intimidating to open. I /am/ unreasonably tickled that slapping Moribund aesthetics onto the decidedly anti-Moribund framework of warhamster 40k resulted in “Morrowind, but make it a fucked up bone cyborg.” Morrowind had a formative influence on Asthaom and particularly the ancestral Sarikote.

so like… those endlings, huh