Naiara and Balearus
Uruk is an island surrounded by a temporal sea – those who venture far enough into it become lost in time and never return. The only visitors are the stray shipwrecked time travelers who come bearing the future.
At the top of Uruk’s highest skyscraper lives Naiara, The Goddess. Many in Uruk worship her, and Naiarism is one of the two major religions on the island. The Naiarans have a strict moral code and are extreme ascetics. They fast once a week, never imbibe liquor and abstain from non-procreational copulation, even once married. Naiarans attend a daily mass and must read from their bibles every morning and evening, suffering corporal punishment if they lapse in their faith or religious duties.
Yet the Naiarans are led by Naiara into heaven. While The Goddess never leaves her celestial chamber, the dying are brought to her for her final blessing before entering The Kingdom. Those that heal after being near death return to their homes telling of the ageless beauty and goodness of Naiara and keep the faith alive. Those that die are believed to go to The Kingdom, the afterlife, where they live in euphoria for eternity.
On the other side of Uruk lives Balearus, The Demon. She is rarely seen, dwelling in an enormous underground labyrinth built by her acolytes. Balearans make up the other major religion on the island. They revel in the pleasures of the body, have no moral code, and are free to live as they wish.
Balearus appears very rarely, though a handful of her most devout followers claim they have met with her. She is said to be beautiful beyond belief. However, she does not ease her followers’ passage to the afterlife, and Balearans pay for their sins for eternity. The Inferno is said to be never-ending disease, torture and despair, punctuated by visits from nightmarish demons.
Unknown to the people of Uruk, the afterlife is created and maintained by Naiarans’ inner circle. Once a Naiaran dies in the Goddess’s tower, they remain there, sent to a sprawling network of laboratories in the upper floors where their brain is extracted and preserved. The scientists reawaken the brain’s consciousness, feeding it chemicals that elicit constant euphoria, and feed it sensory information creating the illusion that the faithful now lives in The Kingdom with every other dead Naiaran.
Balearans bury their dead in a cemetery in Balearus’ labyrinth. Every night, Naiara’s inner circle dig up the caskets and take the bodies to the Goddess’s tower. Balearus was long ago granted eternal life and youth by Naiara’s scientists in exchange for her followers’ corpses. Balearans’ brains are also extracted, preserved and fed sensory information. They experience The Inferno for eternity.
To keep the Naiaran faith alive, and remind Balearans of their punishment, Naiara’s inner circle manufactures a near-death experience every so often. They simulate The Kingdom or The Inferno without fully extracting a dying person’s brain, and then bring them back to life to tell their story to the island.
There are of course those non-believers who find both the Naiaran extremists and Balearan sensualists ridiculous. They live sensible lives, aren’t persecuted by either faith, and bury their dead in a cemetery on the outskirts of the city. Once buried, the Naiaran’s excavate their bodies and send them all to The Inferno.
Illustration by John Guydo