The city of Kheol is ruled, unquestioningly, by the Thirteen Yamas, mysterious beings who seem to wander the city, silently dispensing justice as they see fit. None know their true faces, or even what race they might be, as each wears a unique mask and long robes which reach the ground and reveal nothing of their forms, other than the fact that they are seemingly slight of build and quiet tall, around ten feet or so. But even that seems mutable, as there are tales of the Yamas walking into buildings much shorter than that without having to stoop, but still feeling very tall to those they confront.
The Yamas never speak, but move among the people of Kheol and, when they discover one has committed a crime, speak directly to that person’s mind, although “speak” may not be the right word, as the person they castigate feels a crushing dread, and sees a series of images of what they have done and how they are to be punished. The Yamas are never wrong; they seem to know, if not all, then very much, and simply mete out punishment when it is needed.
Most often that punishment is a swift one, enacted then and there. Punishments range from brief, searing pain up to death, though it is rare that the Yamas kill a person. A favorite punishment of the Yamas is a geas, a magical compulsion used to ensure that the castigated leaves the city and never returns, or performs a specific action a certain number of times. Since they do not communicate directly with anyone, they rely upon those they have punished to tell others of their crime and the consequences. In this way, the city has developed a sort of patchwork legal system, in which the laws of the city are generally known and circulate quickly. It is also a city with no guard or watch, as everyone is confident that, should anyone transgress against them, the Yamas will know and see that the person is punished. It is a city in which laws are taken quite seriously.
Though most would never think to try it anyway, the Yamas have proven impossible to depose or even harm in the past, and there are stories known of those who have tried to harm them meeting with undeniably gruesome ends. They seem to reserve the worst punishments for those who would wish to harm them directly.
The Yamas have been in Kheol for as long as the city has existed, and the oldest records and tales tell of them as being much the same as they are today. To the extent that they can be distinguished, and it can be difficult without getting a good look at one’s mask, the Yamas do seem to be unique creatures, with some focusing on different kinds of crimes, or frequenting different parts of the city, though for all this they are consistent in what is illegal, and how to punish any given trespass.
Artwork: “Corpse Candles,” by Gustave Doré, from The days of chivalry, or the legend of Croquemitaine, by Ernest L’Épine, 1866