Kheol: City of the Dead

Called the Masked City, or the City of Ghosts, Kheol is a city of the living within the land of the dead. Here mortals, ghosts, and yet stranger creatures can mix and mingle, for whatever reasons. The living might come to Kheol in order to tap into the strange resources of the Underworld—like the elusive ghost lotus—or seek to unravel the very mysteries of life and death. Few wander beyond the city’s boundaries, for the shades which slip between the buildings of Kheol, preying upon the inattentive living, are quite tame compared to some denizens of the Underworld.

While the living might come from many races and cultures, the dead of Kheol come primarily in two forms: shades and phrenes. Shades are entities almost completely lacking in personality or strength, they are what remains of the souls of the dead, and drift aimlessly around the Underworld, with at best an animalistic awareness of the world around them. Shades will attack the living, hoping to feed upon their blood, which gives them a short semblance of life. They are easily confused however, and the living of Kheol make a habit of wearing masks, which confuse shades into thinking that the wearer, too, is one of the dead.

Though they are loathe to admit it, the phrenes are a sort of cousin to the shades, intelligent spirits able to manifest themselves physically in order to interact with the world around them. They are intelligent but need not feed on the blood of their living neighbors in order to be so, which has put them in the unique position of being able to not only harvest the resources of the Underworld, but trade them with mortals. This is important, as the phrenes must stay busy, in order to keep themselves from degrading to a state indistinguishable from a shade. For this reason, no small number turn to an (after)life of adventure.

Neither shades nor phrenes are undead, but such creatures are a common sight within Kheol. Access to the powerful ambient magic of the Underworld makes the city a center of magical research, while the close proximity of so many of the dead makes necromantic magic especially tempting. While many mortals would balk at the idea of dealing with a vampire, or employing undead servants, those living in Kheol accept this as an everyday occurrence.

They have little choice in the matter, for long ago the rulers of Kheol, the thirteen mysterious Yamas, made it clear that any creature, living, dead, or something in between, was welcome, so long as they followed the unspoken laws of the city. Unspoken because the Yamas, ten-foot tall robed and masked judges, never speak, but address those they judge directly, as if from inside their minds. Those that have somehow broken a law are warned, or punished, by a Yama directly. Those judged by the Yamas are usually left alive—or at the very least able to communicate—that they might speak of their experiences.

Artwork:Ranks of the Dead,” by John Tenniel, from Lalla Rookh: an Oriental Romance, 1861.

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