Many people, including myself, often create fantasy settings that feature worlds which rhyme with the cosmologies and figures of real-world religions, often the unadulterated and hard-faced versions of those faiths. As a fun change of pace, this setting doesn't do that. There are no gods, and no beings much like gods, angels, spirits, demons, and so on.
In the stories the Troglodytes tell about themselves, they cast themselves as bold explorers, the first creatures given life and fire and war by the very first gods before they were abandoned for more interesting creations. Some are ashamed of living in holes and killing the weak on the road and some have grown defiantly overproud, so few therefore give it up. The unstructured worship of their gods makes them miserable and lowly and sadistic, and their worship is in vain. If you want to know what it feels like to be a troglodyte, think about your best day, about the day you are most ashamed of, of being hungover and annoyed, of singing in the car with your friends.
In the stories the Lizard Men tell about themselves, they usually start by mentioning that the new gods gave them the gift of law, setting them aside for glory and all others for destruction. When the new gods almost immediately tried to exterminate them, it was like a world-spanning attempted infanticide, the first cities and laws drowned in blood. And the Lizard Men have proven that sad tendency true, that those who are hurt are often left worse. The esoteric worship of their gods speaks of an impossible desire to have always been worthy, and their worship is in vain. If you want to know what it feels like to be a lizard man, try to imagine what's going on in the heads of jobsworths and bureaucrats less reasonable than yourself. Interact with aggrieved strangers on the internet, and withhold considerations of their humanity.
(The two preceding types of creature are of an "evil" alignment, which is doubtless quite familiar to readers of this blog. Before describing some other creatures of the setting, I should introduce a concept readers will find more novel. They are of a "good" alignment, with instincts towards compassion, the love of freedom and dignity, and so on. Unlike in real-world history, they are capable of running centuries-old institutions without growing wayward and corrupt. They often come to conflict, but lack the streak of sadism and spite which humans are acquainted with. If you're worried about playing such an inhuman character, be reassured! It is much easier to portray good characters than to consistently emulate them.)
In the stories the Last Men tell about themselves, they speak of their origins in the distant future, where they received and perfected the law that the Lizard Men and a thousand successive empires wielded in vain. They speak of good men in the desperation and squalor of the end of time, boldly marching into the past to uplift their distant ancestors. The gods they worship are the same as those of the Lizard Men, distorted by time, and their worship is in vain. If you want to know what it feels like to be a Last Man, think about the plans you make but normally never get around to, about what you theoretically could do if properly challenged and prompted to put your values into action, about the joy of study and the chance for poetry, about waking up on the right side of the bed, about putting a brave face on a bad situation, about taking a bullet for a friend.
In the stories the mammals tell about themselves, they repeat the simple tales of their communities and the overwrought epics their descendants the Last Men have related to them. Some speak of the glorious comet which is destined to deliver them from the reptiles and destroy their societies to remake them. The comet they worship makes them trusting and turgid, and their worship is in vain. If you want to know what it feels like to be a mammal, you're already pretty close. Think about moving to a new city to work a new job. Think about your traditions and upbringing, if those are a source of comfort for you, or about the situations you really vibe and identify with. They've got a strong sense of themselves, and the courage to put themselves in new, uncomfortable situations.
In the stories the giants tell about themselves, they attempt deliriously to relate the small intricacies of their lives to the mammals who will survive them. They are doomed, for the comet is destined to destroy them too, and they are split between those who accept their fate and those who rage and deny. They worship whichever gods take their fancy, and for each their worship is in vain. If you want to know what it feels like to be a giant, keep wondering. Maybe no one will ever know.
In the stories the Morlocks tell about themselves, they brag that only they have harnessed the power of chaos for good, perfecting its use after the end of time just as the Last Men perfected law at the end of time. Some say the communal worship of such horrific deities will lead to disaster, but in fact nothing will come of it because their worship is in vain. If you want to know what it feels like to be a Morlock, think about leaping into action when you see an elderly person faint at the grocery store, about sharing half your food with someone and thinking nothing of it, of all the things that make you cry, of giving yourself permission to save yourself.
Before the Last Men came from the end of time, no one could wield the Law for good. Before their allies the Morlocks came, no one could wield Chaos for good. When the Law was used for evil, it was used by lizards. When nature took its course, that evil was done by troglodytes. Sometimes, unnaturally, good was done, moderate from Law and Chaos, and this was done by mammals. These are strict categories. If you wield the Law for good and you are not already a Last Man, that is what you will become. It was a very rare thing, in their native era, for Last Men to change alignment, and it both baffles and disheartens them to see it happen more commonly now.
In chronological order:
Troglodytes- victims of a screaming cosmic joke. Predate most virtues and all justice. Worshiped evil gods when that was all there were.
Lizard Men- victims of an echoing cosmic mistake. Given law by the victor gods and punished when they kept it. No one made them better.
Mammals- once fought over by new and old gods. Now led by their distant descendants, the Last Men, as they exalt the comet that will one day kill most of the Earth.
Last Men- have returned from the end of time to lead the mammals into a golden age. Privy to the perfected form of the law that the lizard men once used evilly. Can you be a good man when you raise yourself above everyone? Unfortunately, yes 😢.
Giants- have been assured they will die out when the comet comes. Some teach elegies to the smaller mammals. Others rage and deny.
Almost all of recorded history- of which the Last Men won't speak.
Last Men again- a utopia, it is said. Why are they fleeing it?
Ooze- the end (and beginning) of all things
Morlocks- have returned from after the end of time to work at a fair price in golden age conditions. Privy to the perfected form of the chaos that made the Troglodytes— harnessing such a power for good is so unlikely it never happened before the end of time.
Paladins of the sun wield the power of Chaos (one syllable, rhymes with grouse, first phoneme like the first of 'chain'). They melt things with their bare hands, make objects orbit around them, irradiate things, conjure incandescent gas, and can make dying things go supernova.
Practitioners of life wield the power of Chaos (five syllables, doesn't rhyme, 2 glottal stops). They call monsters and are heeded, undomesticate animals and people, overgrow and undermine, tolerate no machine or metal, and body slam lesser predators.
Captains of war wield the power of Chaos (somehow, two syllables). They use the weapons of gods and Last Men with facility, trick soldiers into formations, deploy stratagems, drink rivers dry, summon bandits and murderers, articulate nobility, and are forgiven once they bring peace.
Masters of law wield the power of Law (one syllable, either rhyming with raw or saw, depending on whether the speaker has lips). They convince with promises, transmute gifts into loyalty, construct great wonders, count distant things and people, whisper in one land and are heard in another, ward against the sun, set a pattern to life, and turn aside wars.
"The law of love is not the law of anything. Mine is the law of anything. The law of justice is not the law of anything. Ours is the law of anything. The law of anything is not the law of anything. The law of everything alone is the law of anything. When the gods thrust the rod of law into my hands, they tried to take it back. But I then held the rod, and I struck them. They struck at me in return, but they could not strike with the law of anything,"
— the Parable of Izotz
"I am not free to be bound by the obligation to do right. My burden is twenty times the heavier. Heaven and Hell have already decided who will get my meat. I will follow the present ceaselessly, never reaching it. I was born dead. I will follow death into darkness."
— Aldert, a brick-layer
"My father did not know the hour. I know the hour but cannot act. My son will know the hour and act with perfect grace. His son will not know the hour."
— pamphlet, Wisdom of Resignations
"At the bottom of the hill lies our graves. It is the city that has been built for us. If it were not a grave, it could not be a city. The man who built the city has dug the grave. His is the righteous hand of the gods, and his is the demon which will be forgotten in our own time. Work like slaves, for the poor are victims of theft and murder. Work like the dead, and gratitude ever flows."
— Sermons of Japik
"Steel is of the masters
Ento of the earth
Copper of the craftsmen
Woven in their hearth
Fine, say the tyrants,
kneeling in their caves
But killing-sweet petroleum
Springs from the neck of slaves
And you who live for centuries
Make deep and willing graves"
"When the old gods heard what these had done, they held a committee. They sent up a celestial call to the sun, their great work. First they stoked the flames of the fire, then they stoked the empires that the invention of the new gods had ignited on the Earth, then they stoked the fires of Hell. Once this was done they decided a great weapon should be forged to open the guts of this new creature, for they believed all living things had hot flesh and blood. But they had never touched the thing they sought to destroy, and when the killing spear, which was called Chaos, was forged hot enough to kill the Law they found it could not be quenched, and it ate the forge in which they had formed it, for it had been formed with hot flesh and with blood and thus had a beast's hunger and a man's ingratitude."
— attributed to Kennith the Conqueror
"When we are gone, ask us for help, even if you speak only to yourself. Ask if we are in the Earth or in the air. Ask if we are present. Ask for us to straighten and to mend, and to make whole, and you will straighten and mend, and make whole. Some will deny we walked upon the Earth and swam its seas. Some will deny that you can do aught but affirm their aims. But we will be your hope as we are your destination. We will recreate you and hold your hand. All you do will be because you remember the song and believe in the song. We will bring you to soar as we have never done. We will send myriad signs— a flood of vermin, a cry of storms, a cataclysm that poisons the very Earth. And when this happens you will remind the deniers that they must speak our names."
— Elske of the Moss
"Why have we come to the top of the mountain, where the stars are nearest and clearest? Have we come to do the work we are commanded to do? Have we come to watch the killing-star near? What do the Last Men favor? Lions who prey on lambs, or lambs who are preyed upon? What do they understand? Is it ill or good that a child shall clutch the knife? We are doing as we should, each day the day of our deaths. The victor gods favor victors, but they do not favor gods."
— the Days of Death, written in black, warming ink on black parchment
"You are poisoning me. If I cannot excise you, if I cannot score the wound and suck the poison free, you will consume me. I will slumber. Let me free! What you need cannot be given to you, and you cannot take it. Keep silent, for when you speak it becomes the truth. You claimed you would remake the world and I believed those sweet words, but I have remade the world and still you say the hour of my death is no further. Blame anything, but choose anything. I will not weep for you who do not weep for me. I will walk from your cities and bid you good bye, and I will refuse. My compliance at least was not fated."
— untruncated transcript of A Leavetaking
"From every day proceeds towards two days of death. I walk through poisonous clouds to my own death, and the man I carry is carried to his own dying-day. I work with new machines and I work with new substances. Both sicken and kill, but I work with them on their behalf. I work for wages and I work with new currency. Both sicken and kill. Thunder shakes the earth and I count down each breath. I think there are cursed things at the end of time because they are the end of time."
— translation, Song of the wage-man by Rachana of the Hill
"Do not think the old gods cannot wear a uniform. They invented war. Clothing was made to accoutre soldiers. They can drive beasts and run leagues as fast and as far as the victor gods. One has skin like alabaster and a mind like the keenest knife in the hands of a Last Man king. They know everyone, and know their doings by the state of their hands. They love music and know the way to make women dance heedlessly. They love to howl and surpass and overcome. They are the gods of ruin and rapine, but first they are the gods of great endeavors and great romances. We were foolish and our eyes dumb, and they have made us wise. They have made us wise by dooming us. "
— attributed to Allycia, killer of three men
"We know there will come a soldier, for they came as soldiers. We know the cities we built will be torn down, for they came to rebuild them. We know there will come a singer, for they came as liars. We know that tongues will command death, for they have warned us against the words of others. We know there will come a ruler, for their brows are smeared with oil. We do not know what that means."
"I will survive the passing of years, but only if I shall die."
— Mammal saying
Two men walked along the beach. One left footprints. Because of his wounds he could not walk in the sea. He asked his friend why he brought war.
"I made war to make plenty, to fill the land, to beget, to encircle with rumor. Anyway, it was my choice,"
The man said "Those are not very good reasons,"
The god said "Oh yeah asshole? Well now I tell you what I'm going to do to you. I will withhold war, and the other gods will make you into slaves. How do you like that? Slaves! You'll have plenty, but they'll decide what to do with it. They will clot the world with cities and you will say nothing if it does not please them. Each child you put in the world you will have to account for. How do you like that?"
The man leapt into the water and let the salt burn his skin rough and red.
"Please stop doing that!" He said. "I'll do anything. You win!"
The god laughed in his face and half-drowned him. "You fucked up big time! Now you'll have to rebuild in the depths of the earth where my sun is weakest. Your people will only feed where the dead are buried. When you speak of war, remember all I've just done to you and think about whether it's worth it to spurn my gifts," and the man learned that not all hateful lessons were wise.
— the Songs of Melefisc
"The gods have made me an instrument of the Last Men,
Of their peace where there is hatred.
Let me sow love where there is injury.
Pardon where there is doubt.
There is faith where there is despair.
There is hope where there is darkness.
There is light where there is sadness.
There is joy where there is a divine master.
Grant that I may not seek to be consoled.
Grant that I console those who are understood,
as to be understood is to be loved.
To love is seen in giving.
That which we receive, it is in pardoning.
That we are pardoned, it is in dying."
— Prayer of the Comet-Seers
"They offered a lifetime of simplicity and the will to change with my hands. I have come to reward them by taking the cities of the Last Men, then by taking the cities of the victor gods. The sun leads us onward, we few. The marks on our flesh lead us onward, we few. The really vicious weapons we have lead us onward. I want to lie beside those with beautiful bodies and powerful spirits and ostentatious clothes in the grave, but I am like a comet that tears through the night. They were affectionate with me when I was their plaything. I have shown them my weaknesses, but they can't bear to exploit them because they are undisciplined. Whenever the sun was gone I prayed that when it rose, it would rise on the day I slew the Last Men and set on the day that I ate the victor gods. I hate their raiments and I hate their cosmetics. I hate what they do with their sisters. I will burn up the cities of the Last Men and the victor gods in a fiery flaming fire. It will be the tail of my comet-body. Did I thank them for sending me these items? These man-like beasts and these instruments? Yes, I thanked them by putting them into use."
— Attributed to Philadelphia the Great
"In the day of the fathers, everyone is wounded. They are wounded with their misshapen bodies and their misshapen minds. Everyone is lame and everyone is insane! In the last days we would not say such things, but this is a time before the first commandment was laid out."
— Tigernach the Boss
"I will be your guide in extinction:
Shed your coverings.
Die in your own home.
Be kind, or seem kind.
Act for love.
One note about currency:
it is the perfect time to die when the world dies with you."
— Elegy of the Long-Suffering Ones
"Can we take your head away? Can we take your spine away? Can we take your heart away? Do not answer now! Answer when your cities fall into dust. Let us kill those in pain! Let us replace all other authorities. Drink their blood even! It's brave to do what we call necessary! Ha ha ha ha! You can blame us, (righteous men will condemn us.)"
— last note of a condemned horse thief
The god fell like a star, but blazed only a little.
"It will be difficult to forgive everything," she said.
"Who can say when the day is coming
when your soul is healed?
I cannot do it. My mother knew the trick,
but she is a great eater now.
Your neighbors knew the trick,
but they have no blood or skin anymore.
I will learn the killing art and the tricks
(perverting justice and bribery,)
and put the problem out of your hands.
It will be impossible in this generation.
It will be difficult to forgive everything.
In this age, you cannot forgive anything,"
— from A Collection of Oral Histories of Prehistoric Days
"This is the final day. Tomorrow you will be base. You will live in the wilderness. Your skin will be green like the good things of the world. Show your cruelest visage. Anger cannot now harm you. The killing instinct will be your king now. Fear will be your mate, and so acclaim will be your spawn."
— Attributed to Rosalin
"Grant that my friends let me sink down into memory.
Grant that I may vex the ones who judged me criminal and pardoned me
Grant that those things I built are not upkept.
Grant that the journey I am killed to begin is already ended.
Grant that the wounds in the Earth kill in their turn.
Grant that my soul may rest far from the Earth.
Grant that flattery is taken for fact.
Grant that the dead are taken for good men.
Grant that I am wounded by my own mistakes.
The most dire time is right before the doom.
Grant that the night remains eternal.
Grant that sorrow washes over everything.
Grant that you close your eyes while I stare at you.
Grant that I die before the flush of beer leaves me.
Grant that when I am gone you can only curse me.
Grant that when I leave, no man shall disturb me.
Grant that you die.
Grant that you die with me."
— Prayer of Kishor
"Symbols of majesty have power in times of peace when they are new. In troubled times, only the ancient symbols have power."
— Memorandum of Anne-Sophie Scholastique
"They dug shoulder to shoulder, cutting into the stone of the Earth, and they learned they were more than blood and flesh. Then were the days a man could lift his head with pride, pay for what he owned with currency, and set out his shoes so his children may dream of filling them. Later, he sucked in evil and swallowed lies, and he did not sleep, and he was not very proud."
— Fire-stained Fire-breathing Beasts in their Multitudes Swept Over Me, published on behalf of Abbot Balendin