Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Gazetteer of the Wasted Lands 8: Atlantis

Atlantis was once the shining jewel of the ten continents, the pinnacle of civilization and progress. Its alabaster columns, domes and towers shone brightly in the morning sun, a beacon of hope to the rest of the world that yes, in the wake of the Old Ones, humankind could pave a new path to the future.

That all changed when war erupted with the far continent of Thule.

Thule, once very like Atlantis, rotted from within, turned to worship of the Old Ones--specifically the Old Ones Yog-Sothoth, Shub-Niggurath, Dagon and Hydra. These evil creatures, speaking to their sorcerer-priests in dreams dark and unholy, showed them the way to open portals through time and space, and with these portals they invaded Atlantis.

The early stages of the war went very badly for Atlantis. Its cities were devastated by fire from the skies and mind bombs, ravaged by creatures of darkness like Byakhee, Shantaks, Deep Ones, and the subterranean Spawn of Cthulhu who tore the very brains from the heads of their victims with their vicious tentacles.

Desperate, their gods suddenly distant and unwilling or unable to help, the people of Atlantis turned to their own dark mystery cults to fight back, embracing the ways of black sorcery. And with their newly-gained power, they were able to drive back the minions of Thule and even mount their own counterattack, taking the battle to the very shores of their new enemy.

The war continues to this day, but is now fought in the shadows, each side mounting assassination attempts against councilors and senators, even against the emperor of Atlantis and the Witch-King of Thule. Terrorist attacks are common and the people of both sides live in fear that at any moment their lives could end. But the people of Atlantis are stoic, always in control, and make an effort to go about their lives as always. But now Atlantis is a civilization in decline, striving to reclaim the glory days of old, but forever tainted by the black magics upon which they called to battle Thule. Ruins of buildings and temple complexes are ubiquitous, a stark reminder of the loss they suffered at the hands of the Enemy. Where once the dead were buried outside of the cities in honor of an ancient taboo that says the living and dead must remain separate at all times, the death tolls were so high and so fast during the war that catacombs were dug beneath the cities themselves to quickly dispose of bodies.

On the surface, however, life in Atlantis now seems much as before. People go about their daily lives, slaves toil in the marketplace or serve as advisers and pets for their masters and mistresses, women hold court at their homes, hosting lavish parties for the affluent members of society, poor and middle-class workers borrow money from patrons to keep their businesses afloat in a constant cycle of debt and repayment, philosophers and scholars debate the meaning of life in great colleges, performances and gladiatorial games take place in the amphitheaters, and the Imperial Senate maintains the status quo...but this is all actually nothing but a shadow of the empire's former glory (some would say a mockery).

Middle-class and affluent Atlantean women are never seen walking the streets save for two reasons--when there is a religious festival (which occurs for approximately one week out of every month) or when they decide to create a scandal just by being in the streets (which happens more frequently than the men would like). Rather, it is their place to administrate the home, which involves far more than being a mere "housewife." Women in Atlantis maintain and administrate all matters of finance, they run the stable of slaves, keep the books and accounts, and ensure that the proper appearance of propriety is always maintained. Many women have stables of spies amongst their slaves, which they use to engage in domestic and industrial espionage against their rivals and those of their husbands, and build significant power bases, the true power behind the apparent rule of men. It is whispered that the only women who have only one sexual partner are those women who are too poor to have slaves, but too free to be slaves.

Men in Atlantis engage in military matters, lawmaking, law enforcement, the running of businesses, and in scholarly pursuits. Their days are spent debating philosophical matters, engaging in diplomatic congress (both sexual and spoken) with their allies and enemies, in the training of young men to follow in their elders' footsteps, and in political maneuvering and back stabbing. Ostensibly men have absolute control over their household and family, and their word is final. However, more than a few men have found themselves ruined by the political or literal blade of a scorned female of the house when an unpopular household edict is passed.

The concept of a patron is endemic to Atlantean culture--few have the funds to start or run a business on their own, so they need to acquire investors who fund their startup, float loans when needed, and generally finance the running of the business. Often, these debts can never be repaid, and those that are repaid often are replaced by new loans very quickly, leading to an economy that functions on the principle of a constant cycle of debt and repayment. This means that even the wealthiest members of Atlantean society are often taking loans from their own patrons to fund the loans they float to their own borrowers. Only the emperor is above this cycle, living off of state funds.

Paradoxically, perhaps the section of Atlantean population that has the most real freedom and power are the slaves. Contrary to the popular (modern) conception of slaves, slaves in Atlantis, while they are property, are not considered subhuman. They are trusted with duties of great importance to their mistresses, and as such are often treated exceptionally well. Intelligent, talented, diligent, and loyal slaves can even rise to become valuable advisers to their mistresses, and their absolute freedom of movement in society allows them to trade information and gossip, and overhear many important pieces of information. While they gain no wages, slaves are kept, housed, fed, clothed, and even sometimes showered with gifts by their owners. Being a slave in Atlantis is not a bad life, and many slaves eventually earn their freedom, only to stay on with their mistresses in the same capacity, only now with a small salary to boot. That they all-too-often function as sexual playthings of their owners is a fact of life that some slaves relish and others simply endure.

For all this, there is still the absolute certainty that on any given day, in any hour, an entire building could be consumed by a rotting spell or explosion conjured by the sorcerers of Thule, or that a new attack could be mounted through the now-permanent portals between the two realms, or that a high-level senator or even the Emperor could be assassinated, throwing society in chaos. The people know that they are desperately clinging to a dying civilization and that it is only a matter of time before everything falls away, and yet like good citizens they hold to their ways and lives with confident, controlled, repressed stoicism...at least on the surface.

Desperate for solace in what seems the inevitable entropy of their civilization, the people have turned to secretive mystery cults that promise personal power and eternal life, be it in this world or the next. While these cults are publicly outlawed and condemned, they flourish in the catacombs beneath the cities, and in the pagan forests surrounding the cultural centers. Rumors of debauchery, substance abuse and bizarre sexual rites with unnatural creatures such as imps and satyrs in honor of mad gods abound. Of these cults, the most prominent are those of Bacchus, Demeter, Cybele, Nyarlathotep, Isis, and Gloon. More on the mystery cults will be discussed under "Religion in Atlantis," and "Gods of Atlantis."

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