THE MEMORY OF THE CITY
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History
First Illera colony
Its decline and abandonment
The first Lilitu colony on Illera was founded in 672 lilpo, and was abandoned in 829. The period from 781 to 827 is well-known as a miserable time to live on the frosty little world, as that was when the Plague ravaged the population, but in truth the entirety of the colony's existence was one of societal dysfunction and widespread hardship. At the root of it all was the world itself: their leaders had promised they would find a world of bounty, with enough fertility to support practically unlimited population growth, and Illera fell far short of delivering on those expectations; its soil was too cold and rocky for unassisted agriculture, the sky was always dominated by the black aura of the Hava Vortex, and native life was paltry and scarce. Worst of all, the Lilitai felt trapped: while on Illera, they could not continue to search for a better home. Sending out ships to find one was often proposed, but few wished to be left behind.

Gradually, the Lilitai turned to religion to control their malaise. The Deklina (the Matriarch, Sarthía, and their inner circle) were unequipped to deal with this phenomenon, and one by one, from the outer fringes of society inward, many Lilitai found a small cell of friends, an obscure cavern in which to meet them, and a variety of Venika to fixate upon, slipping away from mainstream temples until more than three quarters of Illera's population had abandoned public worship and turned their backs on the moral core of Sarthía's narratives. Little warning and even less evidence of what was happening ever reached the ears of the Matriarch, Súa; the Venikans had learned from the confrontations and suppression of past conservative groups like the Mítrajethíasa and avoided, as much as possible, discussing their beliefs openly.

The Peseneyi and Epyesteyi were allies to the government for most of the pre-Plague portion of the first Illeran colony. They were experienced enough with social change to recognise that something was amiss. It was Súa herself, moreso than the women she was surrounded by, who struggled to comprehend the significance of these warnings, however; as the first child born to the free Lilitai and the daughter of the first Matriarch, she had been raised in the most privileged household that then existed, and was uniquely innocent of the hardships that defined the character of her people. She was aware of this disconnect, and her inquiry into the differences between her own life and those of others led to the first Lilitic treatises on psychology and psychiatry, but the idea of a hostile interview subject was foreign to her, and as such she greatly underestimated the tight-lipped Venikans and their willingness to deceive her, whom they saw as their adversary.

Yet it was apparent that public sentiment was deteriorating, and that many of the colonists blamed Reséa Chúkotía for the hardships that Illera had presented to them, both by its nature and by removing the distraction of nomadic life. When it became apparent her encyclicals on adaptation to Illera were poorly received, Reséa ultimately succumbed to exhaustion in the face of this persistent negativity; it had grown to be almost universal, quite unlike the ideological rivalry of the opposition she had previously encountered, and no matter how convincing her rhetoric was when she preached in person, the congregations would always return the next day with a renewed displeasure, fed at a distance by a Venikan clergy of whose existence she was not aware. Eventually Reséa committed hefrekía il thela ('killing of the self') to atone for her failings, a form of ritual civil suicide. Treated as equivalent to actual suicide, the individual in question is shunned and loses all right to her identity, possessions, and relationships, and her death is mourned as one who made the ultimate sacrifice to redeem her honour.

This move was not popular within the Deklina, and particularly not with Reséa's wife Haplenía, but by 697 her depression was so severe that she spoke incessantly of going through with it (or actual suicide), and Súa's still-nascent science of the mind was not adequate to the task, being as it was firmly rooted in feplemika, a framework derived from Sarthía's own writings, and the author could not suspend her disbelief in the fiction of her work to embrace the parables that so transfixed her followers.

So, starting in late 697, a person named Kyete Gendakílosa Felozuría existed instead. Kyete was an artless, unimaginative drudge who accepted regular bullying and was eventually entered into one of the larger Venikan mysteries, a countercultural temple called the Third Enclave of Succour. (This site took some time to locate, and it was initially mistaken as a gnostic temple to Neptarléa or Améa.) In 784, a Plague outbreak swept through the area, and she was cast out as a bad omen by the pastor. Thereafter, Kyete became a penitent of Neptarléa proper, spending the rest of the Plague living under the voluntary Sarthían "untouchable" classification.

Following the conclusion of the disease in 827, Súa stepped down from the role of Matriarch and raised the Council of Elders to nominate a replacement. After a long and convoluted process, a weak consensus emerged that the chief educator, Atsha-Sithéa, was the best-suited of all the Lilitai to mend the rifts in society that had formed over the lifetime of the colony. Leveraging the strong rapport she still enjoyed with her many students, Atsha-Sithéa would be able to overcome the mistrust between Venikans and orthodox Sarthíans on a secular, interpersonal basis, though she had not the cachet to solve the spiritual differences of the two factions. Shortly after her election, her first major declaration was made—that Illera was to be abandoned, as any hope of a future there was now irredeemably tainted. The Lilitai would return to nomadism until they found a home that was worthy of them.

Atsha-Sithéa also banned the Illeran language, a mode of Lilitika which had been invented at the start of the colonial period to commemorate the start of a new society. Very few documents from after 829 are written in Illeran; the Sarasí dialect seems to have been the mode until the introduction of Ketalan ("Nomadic") a few years later.

The final component of Atsha-Sithéa's plan was the reinstitution of an official religious leader. Plans were drawn up to resurrect the title of Sarthía not as an individual's cognomen, but as the name of a new office that would regulate cult conduct, perform important festival rituals, and have the final say in all theological matters. This idea immediately proved popular, but it was yet to be decided who would actually inaugurate the new leader. Many felt the new Matriarch was moving too quickly if she thought she could expand her sphere of influence into religion, and so various alternatives were discussed: Súa, the Council of Elders (itself still new), one of the surviving Oracles of the major cults, or perhaps some small group of prominent preachers. The form of the ideal inauguration ceremony was also unclear, and would be highly sensitive to who was actually performing it.

The extant religious orders, both esoteric and theistic, saw this vacuum as an opportunity to obtain great prestige for themselves, and potentially cement their own legacy of authority as keepers of the mantle of supreme religious leadership. To prevent further fracturing, final approval for the procedure would be granted by the Matriarch. Some dozen competing orders set to work devising suitable ceremonial protocol for the investiture of Sarthía's legacy into a new high priestess. When the procedure of the priestesses of the nascent cult of Tsoiléa (a gradually-developing syncresis between Neptarléa, Tshayéa, and Uvíha) was presented to the Deklina for approval, the first to receive such an audience, the new Matriarch was distraught to learn that it would consist of transferring the departed soul of Reséa Chúkotía into the body of the pontiff-elect, and either expelling the old or uniting them both. This seemed to Atsha-Sithéa an unacceptable violation of Reséa's legacy and an objectification of her old, dear friend, and in a passionate speech before the Tsoiléan clergy and the Deklina, she accused them of using grave-robbing to prop up their legitimacy.

Atsha-Sithéa mulled over what was to be done. She discussed with her circle how seeing the ritual's rehearsal had stirred up feelings of great sadness within her about what had been done to Reséa, and how the Venikans had driven such a unique and talented person to the breaking point out of petty jealousy. She related the story of how Reséa had once saved her life from a mob of angry Oksete, and how Reséa and Íora (Fínanía) had saved her cousin, Kona Tuktanga, from a terrible fate on the day before the Vendashro. (Kona had gone on to become an important figure in the Mitrajethíasa and the Venikan community, and while she died during the Plague, historians now believe she was likely instrumental in organising the campaign against Sarthía, but at the time Atsha-Sithéa believed her cousin was innocent, and thought only of how indebted the Venikans were for this.) Looking at the Tsoiléans, who had started to leave the chamber with their heads low and their tails dragging, the Matriarch then declared that it was a mistake to expect masons to choose a brick to nominate as their new architect. She told them to stay, and said she would find them a worthy body to house Sarthía's soul.

Then she stood, and to the surprise of all, announced that Íora Chúkotía, Fínanía, who was not present, would be temporarily serving an even more exalted role, that of Lergalsa, a poetic title meaning "Saviour," which was sometimes given to Moiléa Tévopía in liturgical texts. Upon receipt of this news, Íora was overcome with laughter, and said it was the greatest blasphemy she had ever heard: but Atsha-Sithéa's declaration was sincere.

Together they sought out the revenant, Kyete Felozuría, and set about the task of deprogramming her from a hundred and thirty-four years of self-denial. To their horror, Kyete acted as though she had never met either of them before, and they knew that restoring her mind would not be a simple feat. Atsha-Sithéa's plan was to have Íora retread centuries of debunked criticism and misinterpretations of Sarthía's works, with the expectation that Kyete would eventually stir to a passionate defence of the author's original intentions, which she alone was uniquely privileged to remember. This worked, partly; Kyete retorted with correct readings, but more often than not she was also able to cite some commentary to justify her position. Occasionally, Íora was able to prove that Kyete's citations were erroneous, and that her interpretations could only be proof of some deeper understanding of the material, but the penitent remained convinced that she had none of Reséa's memories, and claimed that this was, at best, residue of who she had once been.

Months passed with little progress, and the Council of Elders began to grow impatient. They took umbrage with Atsha-Sithéa's unexplained and possibly illegitimate appointment of a new Lergalsa, which in the time since her decree they had decided was a title of immense importance but of unclear purpose or obligation. They also did not understand why she had gone silent on the matter of choosing a pontiff, and the delay was increasingly seen as a crisis. Finally, they demanded that Íora appear before them and account for what she had been doing with the Deklina, a group she had historically been excluded from.

With the time pressure of this impending hearing mounting, Íora decided to attempt a riskier strategy. She obtained and showed Kyete a letter which Haplenía Korakta, the zelamezría (spouse) of Reséa, had written as she was dying from the Plague. She had been one of the greatest physicians of the Lilitai, called Poaléanivía (Oracle of the Healer) for her gifts as a medical practitioner, and one of the Plague's last victims, infected as she distributed the vaccine to others. The letter was addressed to Sarthía, and was one of love and longing for their lost time together. Hitherto, Kyete had only been dimly aware of Haplenía's absence, and either did not know or did not recall that Poaléanivía's passing had occurred. With a piteous, horrible moan, the revenant collapsed, and for a day and a night, Reséa Chúkotía wept, wracked with terrible, broken sobs.

The day after, her hair freshly dyed and her vestments retrieved from the garden shrine aboard the Rokéa (where they had been stored on a statue in her likeness), Reséa Chúkotía Sarthía addressed the Council of Elders. Patient but stunned, they listened in silence as she explained her resurrection, and how Dútéa had ripped her from the Final Dream as though she were not but a character in her own fables. Then she spoke at length about the breakdown in society that Kyete had witnessed in her absence. She declared that she had failed the Lilitina, and was responsible for what had happened, and had deserved all that had happened to her. But, now, it was time to heal and to look forward. The stillinarai that the people had discovered in the caverns of Illera—Kedosithéa, Alzessa, Mokaspéa, Múretría—were to be brought to heel by giving them places within the Sarthían canon and thereby the pantheon. These would provide new anchors to ensure society never again became untethered: as with the cult of Múrekíha, which was largely defunct by the time of Illera's colonization, the official temples would be held accountable for the societal ills falling within their spheres, and their sermons were expected to function as support groups for those so afflicted.

As Sarthía's address drew to a close, the Council spontaneously erupted in cheers and jubilation. With the holy night of Ketabazainí Akofama soon approaching—which had been scarcely commemorated in the last years of the Plague—it was declared that the date that year would instead be a celebration of Sarthía herself, to give the people a chance to reacquaint themselves with a religious leader who had been absent for a century and a half. The policy changes affected by Atsha-Sithéa and Reséa Chúkotía after the end of the first colony were highly successful, and created a lasting social stability that endured for three centuries, until the actual passing of Sarthía in 1029 lilpo prompted a new panic, the Blossom Crisis.