“The sages claim it is a simple matter to achieve eternal bliss in the afterlife. Simply repent and atone for your sins during this life, so that your soul has nothing left to account for on the other side. The rest of us know it’s not nearly that easy.”
Core Concept: Katumus is where a soul goes to learn remorse, and to atone for its crimes during life. Everything must be accounted for -- from childhood theft to cold-blooded murder.
Consequence: It is nearly impossible for any soul to pass on to the other side. If it has forgotten to atone for even a small thing while living, it will be forced to revisit the incident in the afterlife -- even if the soul had no knowledge of the harm it caused another. After true repentance is achieved, the soul is still not allowed to have eternal rest but must instead be reborn to try again.
Suru: The First Level of Katumus (Remorse)
"Remorse for what? You people have done everything in the world to me. Doesn't that give me equal right?"
-- Charles Manson
Suru is an endless labyrinth of white hallways, marked with plain wooden doors marching in a line on either side. The silence is broken only by the muffled footsteps of the party and those of the doorkeepers. Each door is marked with the name of the accused within, and their heart lies on a small set of scales above the mantle, protected by an invisible force. Though the doors are all identical at creation, they will show visible signs of aging the longer a soul has been in this stage -- the name plaque fades, the hinges rust, cobwebs accumulate, etc. Many of the doors, unfortunately, show signs of great age. Additionally, the heroes should recognize many of the names on the doors: great villains from history, certainly, but also great heroes.
The hallways are patrolled by blindfolded figures, robed in white, each weighed down with a great ring of keys and a large ledger. At each door it comes to, it will pause to weigh the heart and take notes in the ledger.
None of the doors are locked, and the party remains unmolested should they choose to enter one. Once inside, they will be able to hear and observe the torment of the soul within from a small, screened off viewing platform that bears another door (this one securely locked). The accused usually stands bound to a chair in the center of a small, dark room as each of its victims testifies against it. The accused will often jerk violently as it experiences visions from the victims’ perspectives. The full consequences of their actions on the victims’ lives are forced upon the unwilling soul, in full audio/visual/sensory detail. The audience, however, will perceive these visions as faint images coalescing around the head of the tormented. At other times, the accused’s family or friends may be seen expressing their disappointment in him.
The party may not interact with the occupant of the room in any way, unless they have the key to the inner sanctum (carried by the robed figures in the hallway outside). The soul in torment won’t even be aware of their presence, though some of the extremely paranoid ones may act as if they believe someone is always watching. If admitted to the inner room, the accused will be able to both see & hear the party. Touching the accused will draw a party member completely into any vision he may be experiencing.
A soul may only move onto the second level of Katumus when they have either repented fully for all of their earthly crimes or have received forgiveness from the accused party. When his or her heart is weighed against Remorse and found to be balanced at long last, the soul will be unbound and escorted deeper into Katumus.
Sovitus: The Second Level of Katumus (Atonement)
"There is no person so severely punished, as those who subject themselves to the whip of their own remorse."
-- Lucius Annaeus Seneca
This is a large chambered room, empty of all but a great desk with a giant man seated behind it. Behind the desk, and obscured mostly by shadows, there are three great doors. In front of the desk stands a single chair, and the soul is asked kindly to take a seat when he enters the room.
The man will consult a mammoth book for several long moments, before offering the soul a choice: who shall be in charge of determining the just punishment for their crimes? The soul can pick between the following options:
- They may decide their own punishment for the crimes that they committed
- They may allow one of their victims to choose it
- Or they may allow the Judge to choose
This is a highly personal choice, and by the time a soul gets to this chamber it is fully broken down with remorse. The harshest punishments are often the ones chosen by the soul itself, the most lenient are usually those chosen by the victims, with the Judge residing somewhere in the middle. Once they have chosen, the soul is told to walk through the door corresponding to that choice.
Behind the doors are three very different flavors of torment. Behind the first door, lies a dark, ghostly world steeped in guilt. Self-flagellation is not merely a figure of speech here. There are platforms of torture manned by ebony-skinned humanoids with burning eyes, and long lines of people waiting with willing patience for their turn. Everywhere one looks, they will see people casting themselves off of cliffs, running themselves through with swords, tearing their hair or clawing their own eyes out. Very few souls ever leave here, and no wonder. After being broken down so thoroughly by remorse, it is rare that a self-punishing soul will find the strength to forgive itself and move on to its next life.
Behind the second door lies a vast, grey garden, thick with weeping trees, still pools and benches. The souls here invariably suffer from an incurable longing for forgiveness, and may wander the endless paths in silent introspection for centuries on end. Their only desire is to meet again with the souls of their victims and seek atonement from them, an event which can only be arranged once that victim has died again. If the victim cannot pardon him, a soul in the second room will plead for a punishment or a trial that it can undergo in the long years before they meet again, and will religiously carry out that practice until then. Some are even granted permission to visit the earth as spirits to try and aid the victim or its descendants in their time of need. Compared to the first room, tenure here is relatively short, as most victims are capable of forgiveness after a lifetime or two of separation from the event.
The last door opens into a sort of still, white void. Only the souls who enter the door of the Judge are allowed to suffer in private, in a space that no one else may normally enter. His punishments are both efficient and brutally fair, dealing blow for blow what the soul did to his victims in real life. An ex-torturer may find himself tied to the rack as his body is visited with each cut, each bruise or indignity he inflicted on others in life. A rapist will find himself transformed into a female and thrown into a room full of ravaging demons. An adulteress will be forced to live an illusory life in which the person she loved most betrays her. One punishment will follow another in unrelenting succession, until the Judge has been satisfied.
Finding the Entrance:
The living may enter Katumus in one of two ways. In a few, extraordinary cases, a living person’s presence is requested to help the soul of one who has harmed them in the past. In this case, the assistance is entirely voluntary, and the person will be safely escorted back to the mortal plane when their job is done. Usually, however, the soul in judgement must wait until all of its victims have died before it can hear their testimony and/or receive their forgiveness.
Otherwise, a person can undertake a spiritual quest on behalf of one already dead. Those involved must first fast for a week to help loosen the bonds between their souls and their bodies. Then they must burn an offering at the Temple of Penitence and state both their intentions and the name of the dead clearly. As a test of sincerity, the offerings must be of significant value to the living -- either emotional or monetary (usually gauged in percentage of total wealth). This method poses significant risk, however. The stating of intentions is, in effect, a contract with the Gods. Until those intentions are fulfilled (say, “Help my brother repent of his sins”), the soul is not allowed to return to the mortal plane. If the living cannot return to their bodies within seven days, they will die.
Upon arriving in Katumus, each party member will be assigned a guide (basically an animated ball of light with a voice) that will escort them safely through the different levels of Katumus in search of the target soul. The guide will not prevent them from doing anything, but it will warn them if they are about to break a rule and the consequences for the transgression.
NPCs & Plothooks:
The Eternal Rival:
Upon entering the first level of Katumus, a party member is informed by their guide that their presence is being requested by a soul that identifies himself as “Cainon.” If asked for information, the guide will say only that the soul has been here longer than most, so his request for the party member’s attention is automatically placed at the top of the queue, as it were. If the member accepts the request, he/she will be shown to Cainon’s door and given the key to the inner sanctum. Cainon will greet him/her by the name “Saul,” and may sneer a bit if the party member is female (“A woman this time, eh, Saul? Suits you, I suppose”). He will then inform the party member that it has been well over a century since the last time they crossed his path, and that he still feels no remorse for killing Saul in a previous life (“Your death was the crowning moment of my life.”). He will, however, ask “Saul” for forgiveness, as it is the only way he’ll ever be able to move on from here.
Backstory: Cainon and Saul were childhood friends, but Saul soon outstripped Cainon in everything they did. No matter what Cainon did, Saul could do it better, faster or more efficiently than he could. Cainon began to hate Saul after awhile, and spent his life trying to finally get the better of his perceived rival. Eventually, he snapped and killed Saul in his sleep after he married the woman whom Cainon secretly loved. Cainon took her for his wife after Saul’s funeral, and abused her horribly for choosing Saul over himself. It is for her sake that Saul never forgave Cainon for killing him.
The Hero of Ancient Times:
A great hero has been trapped in Suru for centuries. During his life, the hero made the choice to sacrifice the few (his friends or family) for the sake of the many, and is being held until he feels remorse for his actions on that day. The hero is so strong in his convictions, however, that he is incapable of feeling remorse for any act he committed in the name of the greater good, and is being tormented again and again with watching their deaths.