Gods of the Coutl
Coutl religion is based on sacrifice in exchange for power. Czin remains the empire’s chief god, and most Coutl offer him at least lip service and a blood sacrifice twice a year on the high holy days. But Czin sleeps; he seems not to acknowledge most of the offerings he receives, and very rarely offers anything in return. And so the people turn to the lesser gods, called talazur, for most of the daily affairs.
The talazur exist in the shadowy realms the Coutl call the “shattered planes.” These shattered planes are scattered deep within the Astral Sea. Coutl mystics and cultists reach these planes and make contact with their dark gods through meditation, hallucinogens, and ancient, blood-soaked rituals. Some visit the realms through planar travel, while others send only their consciousness across the gulfs of space and time.
Czin, God of Death
The mighty and silent Czin is the principle god of the Coutl pantheon. It was he that elevated the vryloka beyond ordinary mortal boundaries. In return for this gift, he demanded blood sacrifice. At first, the vrylocka offered their dark god their own blood, and countless vrylocka lost their lives on gore-encrusted altars. But as they grew in population and power, so did Czin’s hunger. So the vrylocka invaded the lands of those around them, capturing thousands of prisoners for sacrifice and coming to dominate the Kumee Jungle.
In recent years, Czin has grown complacent with his demands and rarely answers prayers from his priests. Where once the cities of the Coutl offered him sacrifices monthly, now most offer him a sacrifice only once or twice a year.
Czin appears as an imposing creature with the head and torso of a human but a monstrous lower body composed of onyx with four massive, chitinous legs that end in spear-like points. His fingers are long and thin and his index fingers are capped with foot-long talons that he uses to scoop up the blood of those sacrificed to him. He wears a hooded cloak sewn from the flesh of his sacrifices and a necklace of their stitched-together eyes.
The talazur demand sacrifices of worship, blood, and suffering in return for their gifts. Some wish to manifest in the physical realm in order to feast on these sacrifices directly, but wise priests are careful to keep their gods at bay. Foolish disciples who unleash a talazur are usually devoured—or worse.
Each talazur customarily has a single high priest who rules over a circle of 10 to 100 other disciples. Each disciple is assisted by any number of acolytes, and is responsible for a cabal of 20 to 200 cultists, who worship the talazur and offer sacrifice, but rely on the disciple to speak on their behalf. It is not unusual for common Coutl to pay homage to multiple talazur, but disciples may only follow one talazur.
Urcagu the Giving
Urgagu the Giving is a talazur of the harvest. She provides her followers with bountiful crops, healthy livestock, and strong slaves. She is the most popular of the talazur; her temples are found in most Coutl cities, and every plantation has at least a shrine in her honor.
For her sacrifice, Urcagu demands the lives of the first nine slaves and livestock animals born each year, and the first nine bushels of each crop harvested must be burned on her altar.
Urcagu’s shattered plane is a realm of thick, rich soil—and nothing else. The souls of the creatures sacrificed in her honor writhe blindly in the dirt: trying to breathe, trying to see, trying to dig their way to a surface that doesn’t exist. This is their existence for eternity.
Urcagu often takes the shape of an earthworm, wriggling her way through the plane, nibbling at the souls of her sacrifices and replenishing the soil with her waste.
Tloque the Mind’s Eye
Tloque gives his servants powers of the mind: they can read thoughts, control others’ minds, and even possess their enemies for a short time. Tloque commonly counts spies, assassins, and high-ranking administrators among his cultists.
For his sacrifice, Tloque demands the brains and eyes of his enemies as burnt offerings. As one rises in Tloque’s favor, the talazur’s demands become more personal. He may take a cultist’s eye, a treasured memory, or even his free will. Tloque is known to possess his servants and use their bodies to luxuriate in the pleasures of the flesh for days at a time. These “holy vessels” are revered among the talazur’s worshipers, but often burn out, dying of exhaustion after only a few years of service.
The shattered plane of Tloque is a flat, dusty wasteland littered with the bones of cities that have been dead for eons. Vaguely humanoid creatures inhabit the cities. They are neither living nor truly dead, but forever wander mindlessly through barren streets.
Xil the Blissful
Xil is a talazur of pleasure and self-destruction. Known as the “suicide god,” he offers an eternal paradise on his shattered plane in exchange for his follower’s sacrifice of their own lives. Before his disciples take that final step, however, they may serve him by offering smaller sacrifices of their own blood and suffering.
Xil’s shattered plane is a paradise. The days are warm and sunny, the nights cool and refreshing. Trees droop with ripe fruit and fresh water bubbles merrily from underground. For those who want them, there are civilized delights as well: the libraries are bursting with art, literature, and scholarly works, and the pleasure dens are always stocked with the most euphoric
drugs and spirits.
While many Coutl are skeptical of the so-called “suicide god,” he has gathered a surprising number of followers. Xil’s disciples who have seen the talazur’s home assure their followers that their loved ones are happier there than they ever were in life.
Shok the Huntress
Shok is a talazur of predators: hunters and warriors who seek out their prey, kill it, and replenish themselves by feasting on the fallen. As a goddess of predators, Shok requires that her disciples eat a still-living creature of at least Small size once per day. The creature obviously dies during the eating, but it must be alive and conscious at the beginning of the meal.
Shok’s shattered plane is a lush jungle bursting with life. Everything in the jungle is a predator, and everything is prey. The python is eaten by the panther, who is eaten by the dire wolf, which is table in a poison vine which is devoured by ravenous insects. Anyone visiting this realm runs a very good chance of being eaten. Shok has no fixed form. Instead, she prefers to assume an animal shape and hunt until she is eaten. Once eaten, she takes possession of her devourer and continues to hunt until she is eaten again. In this way, she lives through the chain of life.
Ix the All-Knowing
Ix is the talazur of knowledge. He knows all, and will share all he knows with those willing to serve him as disciples. He is commonly worshiped by scholars, wizards, and academics. Knowledge has its price, however. For disciples of Ix, that price is sanity itself.
Every three months, a disciple of Ix must offer the talazur the life of a madman. Some disciples take it upon themselves to drive their sacrifices mad. Others just keep an eye on each other; the moment one them slips into madness, he becomes a sacrifice for the other disciples.
Ix’s shattered plane is an infinite library. Books, scrolls, tablets, and other, alien recording devices are stacked in row upon row, shelf upon shelf, as far as the eye can see. The shelves are lined against the walls of labyrinthine hallways that twist and turn on themselves in defiance of all order or even physics.