Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Temple District of Eltabbar - a.k.a. "The Zoo" - and its Major Houses of Worship

Art by SnowSkadi

The temple district is not at the heart of Thay's opulent capital city, Eltabbar, just as religion is not at the center of most Thayans' lives - but there is a religious district, and everything about it is arranged with purposes that have nothing to do with faith.  

All official public places of worship must be registered with city officials and confined to a private island of their own.  It is always set off to one side, even when the various islands of the interior are magically shifted around Lake Thaylambar to allow for the city's growth.  And as usual, this arrangement is codified in law.

Some of the oldest codes in Thay are about religion and establish a few central tenants.  First, no religious entities can control the country's highest offices; zulkirs can only be wizards and cannot even possess a touch of divine magic.  This keeps the country from reverting to a theocracy like the one Thay won its independence from.  

Secondly,  worship of the gods of Mulhorand, Mystra, and Velsharoon is forbidden.  All other deities are allowed until they prove detrimental to Thay, and Mystra might be forgiven if her next incarnation proves worthier of her power.  (In practice, evil and neutral deities have buildings dedicated to them in the interior of the country; very few temples to good powers exist, and those that do are roundly ridiculed.)

Third, places of worship cannot be raised in any city's center, which is reserved for places vital to the operations of the country.  In some cities, temples are pushed to the outskirts, or they are scattered throughout and kept far away from one another.  But in Eltabbar, the first tharchion decided to round them up, "the better to keep an eye on the zoo."  And that is the common nickname for the district, except amongst the most devout.

Houses of worship in the capital are showcases for the wealth and victories of the upper crust more than anything else.  Noble houses vie with one another to donate more extravagant pieces that will also bear their names.  Minor temples might be smaller in size but can be just as rich in magical additions, artwork, trophies, and the like.  Major temples often perform functions for residents that require more space (and this is often the case elsewhere, since Thayans want their gods to prove useful in this life and not just the hereafter).

Any citizen or guest with permission to see the capital city can go to the zoo any time they should not be elsewhere.  Commoners tend to go before or after their work for the day since worship is not an acceptable excuse for being late or absent from one's duties.  Generally, the poorest citizens only dare to go late at night so their relative unsightliness can be hidden by the scheduled rain.  Nobles go when they want to be seen, if their house does not have its own private shrines, or if their god is not represented in their house.  

Slaves are not allowed to set foot on the island to worship, though they may be summoned as servants, sacrifices, and so on.  Their prayers must be in private or in tightly regulated groups within the slave quarter, which houses many makeshift shrines.  Slaves, like all within Thay, cannot be forced to serve a deity or kept from worshiping their gods at all.  But any who are found praying or making donations at the zoo are punished, their donations moved to the appropriate shrine in the slave's quarter, where such pitiful fare belongs.

Major Temples

At the center of the zoo is the temple of Kossuth, known as the Flaming Brazier*.  The giant basalt stepped pyramid is the flagship for the entire faith and a frequent stop for many when they visit the area.  Lit from within and without with fires both magical and mundane, its topmost layer erupts in fire, smoke, and even lava during high ceremonies.  Interior chambers glimmer with jeweled mosaics depicting Kossuth's salvation of Thay in the Salamander War and other victories, as well as his eternal rivalry with Istishia.  

Nearby, the looming, black marble edifice called the Black Hall stands tall as Bane's contemptuous fist in the sunshine of the city.  It is permanently limned in purple flames and encrusted with glowing purple runes imbued with various spells, both defensive and offensive in nature.  It not only runs a combat and torture training facility for the faithful but also receives prisoners for punishment from all levels of society.

If the jaded people of Thay believe in anything, they believe in bad luck, so it is no surprise that the Beshaba has a sprawling temple in Eltabbar called the House of Curses.  Many Thayans visit before important ventures and bring sacrifices to beg the Maid of Misfortune to look away from them for a while.  Others go to pray for curses on their enemies, and bribe the clerics to see that their will becomes Beshaba's.

The Shadowkeep is boasted to mimic Mask's own palace in the Plane of Shadow and is constantly obscured by a thick, dark mist except for its primary opening.  It is said that only the high cleric and the tharchioness know how many ways in and out of the structure there are, but which ones you are able to access depend on your powers and skills.  Entering by the main door is mocked, and entering without being noticed is always a goal, whether one is a rogue or not.  Many seek advice in the ways of trickery here.

Not only is Oghma's temple, the Abbey of Artifice, a favorite with bards, builders, and seafarers, but it is also popular with wizards dedicated to research and invention.  Visitors enter the central round lobby where high rituals are held.  To one side is a library wing for stories, schematics, and documented inventions deemed appropriate for other Thayans to know.  Such knowledge can be offered by anyone, including slaves.  The other wing is a workshop, training, and debating area strictly for the faithful.

The Hanging Garden of Siamorphe is a lush white palatial estate arranged in tiers.  It is beset with all manner of greenery from across Faerun (and, reputedly, the planes) and ringed with columns carved with images of zulkirs, other important nobles, and former versions of Siamorphe.  The exterior is decorated with the official symbols of all 90 recognized noble houses of Thay, arranged hierarchically according to their founding date.  It is open as a venue for all noble ceremonies, is the place to inquire about bloodlines, and houses the local records of House Delizan.

Waukeen's lavish Gilded Cathedral is a resplendent testament to Thay's adoration of wealth and has only grown in importance with the success of the enclaves.  Its sheer profusion of precious gems, metals, and fabrics is only saved from ugliness through expert designs.  The Hall of Bartering is open to the public for auctions of all kinds, including very special slaves and divorce rights (from which the church gets its cut).  Smaller rooms can be rented when seeking clergy to broker deals, which they will do regardless of who the parties are, so long as the fees are paid.  Although the church will also store items or currency, either before auction or for safekeeping, they are kept off-site in secret vaults hidden throughout the city.

* Given some detail in the novel Unclean by Richard Lee Byers.

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