Here’s some of what I’ve been working on for Dryden Nightmares. Keep in mind, this isn’t meant to be a complete story–it’s more like an article I’ve written describing one of the elements of the universe, so that other authors and artists will have this information if they want it.
Please feel free to share this with anyone you think might be interested in Dryden Nightmares. And remember, this is all published under Creative Commons 4.0 BY-SA. If you’ve got comments/questions, please feel free!
The god of blood, power, and discipline; Izuntu’s influence stretches far throughout the multiverse, and his followers number in the billions. His true age is unknown, though stories about him often say that he is older than his current form suggests.
He was once a mortal, part of a protohuman species descended from massive primates that developed on a low-gravity world. These giant creatures resembled hairless gorillas, hulking specimens with barrel chests, powerful lean muscle, and notable for their extra pair of arms; they typically grew to be between ten to fifteen meters tall, with arm spans of up to twice that length. The protohumans that evolved from them lost some of their massive size and gained many of the characteristic human traits (upright posture, larger brains, etc.), while still having an extra set of arms. Izuntu belonged to one of the earliest generations of this new protohuman, but his intelligence quickly separated him from the rest of his people. When he saw their relative ignorance and learned that he could outwit them, Izuntu used his superiority to control others and destroy anyone that opposed him.
A cosmic event of unknown origin, a storm of intense energy that ripped through Izuntu’s world, destroyed nearly all life on the planet. Most of his people died during the storm or succumbed to fatal changes to their environment, but Izuntu was somehow transformed, his entire being changed on a molecular level. He grew to the height of his ancient ancestors, his skin stretched and hardened to become living armor, and he developed an incredible appetite for blood. None of the other surviving members of his species changed in such a fashion, and so they became the first to worship him, believing that he had been chosen from them by some force even greater. Izuntu discovered that his thirst for blood also came with the ability to sense the life energy inherent in the blood, and in time he found a way to convert this energy, using it as fuel for a form of magic. Once he discovered a method of travel to other universes, Izuntu began to increase his power exponentially.
For eons, Izuntu has been trapped by a group of his rivals. When these rival gods were unable to destroy him, they combined their essences into a stake of pure energy and used this to pin Izuntu in place inside of a nebula. They hoped to keep him trapped there until such a time when someone or something would arise with enough power to destroy him forever. While their trap worked, they underestimated the extent of his power, and Izuntu focused his will to begin pulling objects from space toward him—and finally absorbing them, increasing both his size and power. Eventually, his most devoted followers discovered his imprisonment and began the tradition of siphoning their own power to Izuntu. These offerings multiplied, until Izuntu’s only limitation was his inability to free himself from the gods’ trap. Over time, Izuntu’s body has grown obscenely large due to his never-ending supply of power, now taking up as much space as a entire galaxy. He has absorbed and consumed much of the local universe within his reach, including whole planets and stars, which have become a part of his engorged mass. While he can no longer directly impact events outside of his immediate surrounding, Izuntu’s faithful continue to advance his causes across space and time, growing to new levels of power and eliminating the weak in their path.
The Cult of Izuntu
The cult of Izuntu exists on many worlds, and includes a vast multitude of worshipers with varying degrees of devotion. There are no prohibitions regarding who can or cannot worship Izuntu, the only requirement being a desire to gain power, in any form, and use that power to assert dominance over those less powerful. An obsession or fascination with blood and other bodily fluids is common among his worshipers, and practically a must for those seeking to join the ranks of his priestly caste—but there are many for whom these physical aspects of the cult hold no appeal. A follower of Izuntu need not be anything aside from strong, capable, and driven, so long as she or he values might above all. Some in his service act as individuals, preferring to hoard as much power for their own use as possible, while others form sects in an effort to unify their collective power for mutual gains.
Izuntu praises humility in thought and speech, but also favors bold and ambitious actions. He has never been known to seek out followers, instead waiting for those worthy enough to find him and, for a select few, gain passage to his realm.
There are many magic users among the followers of Izuntu. While the practice is not required by the god, he does approve of its use as a means to acquire more power. Since it normally involves the use of energy to affect change, magic is a form of power itself. Those who can learn to wield their own energy, take it from others, or use the ambient energy in their environment, show an aptitude for building a power base—which is most praiseworthy in the eyes of Izuntu. Using magic for its own sake is considered showmanship or trickery, at best, or a waste of power, at worst. Izuntu does not hold one form of magic above others, even the blood magic which has been a staple of his godhood, and does not actively encourage his followers to learn it or not. Even without a set of rules or guidelines regarding the use of magic, cultists tend to favor certain magical traditions more than others, including blood magic, death magic, curses, conjuring, and enchanting. Priests of Izuntu are almost always skilled in at least one form of magic, since it allows them to more fully utilize the energy at their disposal.
The path to priesthood is open to all of Izuntu’s followers, but the challenges inherent in achieving this rank are sufficient to deter all but the most worthy. To begin this process, a follower must seek all available sources of external power within their local range, and use whatever methods they can to take control of as much of said power as possible. Often this involves mass murder, insurrection, and/or nigh-unspeakable acts committed for the sake of empowerment. In addition, offerings to Izuntu are made over time, usually as a sign of faith that he will later repay these gifts. Once a follower has attracted Izuntu’s attention through deeds and offerings, Izuntu may decide to send them a dream-image depicting his mark: the wounded heart.
If the follower receives the message and intuits its meaning, they can then make a new offering to Izuntu using the mark. This signifies a pact with Izuntu, and officially binds the user to him as a member of his priestly caste. Using Izuntu’s mark is a privilege which he grants to those in whom he senses true potential, and they are encouraged to apply the mark whenever and wherever it would aid their acquisition of power. The mark’s use in rituals, magical or otherwise, acts as a kind of amplifier through which Izuntu lends a portion of his own energy to the cause. This allows his priests to perform incredible feats that they would usually be unable to accomplish otherwise. For maximum effect, the mark must be made in blood.
A priest that has gained a significant amount of power will sometimes receive another dream-image from Izuntu, showing the path they must travel to reach his realm. If the priest receives this second message and again intuits its meaning, she or he may decide to embark on a journey to Izuntu’s realm for the purpose of becoming one of the Blooded.
The Blooded of Izuntu
The Blooded are Izuntu’s high priests, they have reached his heart and drank of its blood. To be granted this gift, a priest must overcome a series of challenges. Many candidates are destroyed in their attempts to become one of the Blooded, and often their pilgrimages last for years. The first challenge is to reach the nebula where Izuntu resides, still pinned in by the trap. Using the dream-image given by the god, the priest then needs to discover the location on their own. Izuntu will not offer any further guidance until the candidate reaches the nebula. Once there, the candidate must communicate with Izuntu, who may then provide instructions for completing the next challenge.
The candidate’s next challenge is to collect a series of items as part of their fee to enter the god’s realm. In no particular order, the candidate must gather the following:
I. Blood of a Thousand Foes: The candidate must harvest the blood of one thousand enemies, and store it in a suitable container for use during the rite of entrance. This does not need to be a large volume of blood; as little as one drop from each individual will do.
II. Hair of a Thousand Beasts: The candidate must gather a body part from one thousand beasts; they do not necessarily need to be hairs, any part is acceptable. Hair is a common, and wise, choice, because it can easily be integrated into an item of clothing worn by the priest. Using these parts to make weapons and armor is also a fairly common practice.
III. Memory of a Thousand Lives: The candidate must find a way to take the memories of one thousand lives, and seal them in a suitable container for use during the rite of entrance. Use of a ritual or magical tool is essential for this task, except in those few cases where the candidate has an innate ability to take the memories of another.
When the candidate has collected all of these items, she or he must return to Izuntu and present them to the god. In addition, the candidate becomes a supplicant—offering all of their power as a gift to Izuntu. To transfer their power, the supplicant must release their blood upon the living wall of Izuntu’s flesh. If the offering is acceptable, the supplicant is granted passage and the wall of flesh parts, pulling aside unnaturally large sections of muscle and bone to form a gateway leading to the worlds that Izuntu harbors within himself. After crossing into this realm, the supplicant receives some of their power back from Izuntu. The last stage of the pilgrimage tests the candidate’s adaptability, by sending them into an extremely dangerous situation with only a fraction of their abilities at hand.
The third, and final, challenge is to find the heart. Buried somewhere in the galaxy-sized contents of Izuntu’s overgrown body, his heart is still beating strong: a planet-sized organ swollen with the corrupt blood that fuels his power. The candidate is left to traverse the weird landscape in search of the heart, fighting their way through the masses of nightmarish creatures living inside Izuntu. Among these denizens are other priests on the pilgrimage, some of whom have been lost in the god’s realm for centuries, or longer. This is the most difficult part of the candidate’s journey, and the one which most effectively culls the unworthy. There is no way out of this realm without Izuntu’s permission, and all candidates will serve Izuntu whether they complete their pilgrimage or not.