LQ's Mummy's Mask
Wati endures, or so the local saying goes. The people of Wati, known for their even tempers and shrewd wit, prefer understatement. They have known war and peace, poverty and prosperity, and survived decimation at the hands of a mad god’s cult. But Wati’s people answer each challenge with innovation, tenacity, and the deep bonds of community. They do not endure their hardships so much as grasp them, white-knuckled and screaming, until the world permits them to return to their quiet lives, surrounded by their honored dead.
— Priestess Ankhtah Shepses, personal writings, 3076 AR
The city of Wati sits on a sandstone shelf at the confluence of the Asp and Crook rivers, which provide it with building materials, rich farmland, and deep harbors sufficient to support a settlement three times its size. But even with its tenacious citizens, abundant fish and game, and thriving marketplaces fueled by the most important rivers in Osirion, Wati is forever a city better known for its dead than for its living. Behind sanctified walls, an entire quarter of the city quietly sits as a massive, urban tomb. Shops, schools, markets, and estates serve as eternal resting places for those lost to madness and disease. To manage such an immense project, the city’s entire economy shifted to the industry of interment.
Almost 1,800 years after the necropolis’s inception, many of Wati’s residents continue to serve the city’s funeral industry, either directly as embalmers, undertakers, and clerics of Pharasma, or indirectly by crafting the myriad grave goods all Osirians hope to carry with them into the afterlife. Death has become the city’s lifeblood, and Wati prospers from its morbid specialty.
From the tidy Midwife district to the mazelike streets of Asp, Wati’s citizens appreciate life in ways that only come from respecting the dead. Taverns, dance halls, bathhouses, and game parlors dot as many corners as shops and artisans, and Wati’s boulevards and markets teem with life under the hot Osirian sun.
This long, winding district of low buildings and twisting alleyways runs along Wati’s southern edge. Asp was built without the planning or engineering insight of Wati’s core, making navigation difficult for newcomers. Few of Asp’s residents think of themselves as members of a common community the way inhabitants of Midwife or Morning Sun might. Instead, the district is a loose alliance of dozens of blocks, neighborhoods, and streets all pursuing their own agendas. These associations hold bitter rivalries, as well, usually along economic lines, which run from the well-off estates in the west to the slums of mud-brick hovels huddling against the walls of the necropolis in the east.
Wati’s unwashed masses, heretics, and down-on-their-luck foreigners gather in this semipermanent floating district literally built atop the River Sphinx. Lashed vessels replace buildings, and narrow planks and rope railings make up Bargetown’s rickety streets. Each family maintains its own tiny barge or keelboat, and joins the community for years or for only a few days, meaning Bargetown’s layout is constantly in flux. The downtrodden bargers supply most of Wati’s fish and shellfish, drawn from the Sphinx’s sacred waters. The crocodiles and giant crayfish that prowl the river are a constant threat to the bargers, scavenging leftovers, waste, and the occasional drunk who falls into the water.
The district of Midwife is the heart of Wati, cradling most of the city’s temples, markets, and professional artisans. Along with the necropolis, Midwife is the oldest of Wati’s districts, with a history stretching back to the city’s founding, and its residents take pride in maintaining their ancient community. Midwife’s buildings, carved from stone and towering two to six stories tall, reflect the grandeur of Osirion’s First Age, and house a wide variety of apartments, shops, and workshops.
The majority of Wati’s noble estates sit on a small rise west of Midwife called Morning Sun, so named because the district enjoys the first touch of the sun’s rays at dawn. Morning Sun is Wati’s least populous district, containing a mere two dozen wealthy estates that consist of palatial homes, storage buildings, servants’ quarters, orchards, vineyards, and a handful of lavish apartments — all of which are colorful, well maintained, and surrounded with lush gardens and statuary. Morning Sun is the home of two major noble families who squabble for dominance in local politics. The older, conservative Mahfre family enjoys the support of many of Wati’s longtime residents and those who look to the past, while the Okhenti family holds the hearts of romantics, the young, and many newcomers to the city.
West of Wati, beyond the stable sandstone shelf on which the city rests, miles of silty, verdant farmland stretch along the banks of the Crook River. Barley, beans, cabbage, cucumbers, flax, garlic, melons, and millet fill Wati’s fields, but onions reign supreme on nearly every farm. Wati’s residents believe that onions are a gift from Pharasma. Beyond being a representation of the Great Beyond, the onion’s stalk represents life, while the bulb’s persistence represents the many stages of a soul’s growth before, during, and after mortal existence. Many local recipes incorporate one or more varieties of onion, and embalmers across Osirion stuff onions into the chests or eyes of the dead. Most farms also support a small stand of date palms or pomegranate trees, as well as goats and chickens. Larger livestock like oxen are considered an affectation of the rich or out-of-touch foreigners, and any farmer investing in them opens herself up for ridicule.
Livestock must be brought inside or otherwise protected for several weeks every summer when the rivers flood, making large animals more trouble than they’re worth.
Nestled between Midwife and Bargetown, Wati’s harbor district stacks block upon block with woodcarvers, tar kilns, warehouses, and whatever shanties can be crammed between them. Its myriad shallow canals breed unabating clouds of insects, the bites of which spot the bodies of the locals, who stain their hands and cheeks with pitch to repel the pests.