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Mortal vs Immortal Sphinxes

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Patrick-Leigh, Dec 28, 2021.

  1. Patrick-Leigh

    Patrick-Leigh Inkling

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    [​IMG]

    For my flintlock fantasy story setting, I've been toying around with the idea of there being two categories of Sphinxes - Mortal and Immortal. While the primary difference between the two is obvious enough in the name, there are some other distinctions that I'm considering and would appreciate getting feedback on from people. So, here's the basic rundown:

    Sphinxes were originally Elves who were transformed during the Divine War, when the fighting between some of the gods altered them into the First Sphinxes. (Some of the Elves that were caught in the Distortion of Reality were transformed into Catfolk and Urmahlullu - that is, the feline equivalent of Centaurs.) My current thinking is that some of the First Sphinxes would go on to become the Immortal Sphinxes, though they would do so by choice.

    Basically, as more Monsters and Abominations (and later Undead) were appearing during the Divine War, some of the gods would modify willing individuals in ways that would enable them to more effectively combat these threats. This is actually how Titans (giant humanoids,) Dragons (Wyverns, Tarasques, and Lindwyrms,) Phoenixes, and Unicorns came to be, among some others. Thus, Immortal Sphinxes are not just different from Mortal Sphinxes in terms of being immortal. They are also difference in terms of scale and the powers they possess.

    Mortal Sphinxes
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    Mortal Sphinxes are, at most, the size of large felines, such as lions and tigers. Some variants are smaller, though none are as small as domesticated felines. They have long lifespans, as they were originally Elves, but will eventually die of old age if they are not killed by something else. They are wise, intelligent, and gifted in both Arcane and Psionic Magic, in addition to having all the physical strength, agility, and prowess of large cats. However, while they do have an innate ability to use Prognostication (glimpsing potential futures through Arcane Magic, but only those that factor in known variables,) only those who are Oracles have the true gift of Foresight. (Many Mortal Sphinxes tend to get annoyed that people come to them asking to know the future, assuming all Sphinxes are Oracles.)

    Immortal Sphinxes
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    Immortal Sphinxes are, by contrast, enormous. They are usually on the same scale as the Great Sphinx of Giza. This is because when they became immortal, they did so in order to combat Monsters and Abominations in the size ranges of creatures large enough to make humpback whales look small by comparison. This is also why they are incredibly powerful when it comes to both Arcane and Psionic Magic. They possess regenerative powers, are immune to nearly all forms of disease and poison, and, thanks to the magical properties of their bodies, do not need to eat or drink very often as their bodies use Arcane Energy to convert nearly all biological waste back into compounds that help sustain them. However, while Immortal Sphinxes cannot die from old age, they can still be killed. In other words, they are immortal, but not to the extent of Full Immortality (which is when there is literally no way you can die, though that can be a problem, since free from death is not the same as free from pain.)

    Finally, all Immortal Sphinxes are Oracles. One thing about Oracles is that they can not only see forward in time but backward. The further they try to look in either direction, the more difficult it becomes to see things clearly, but Oracles of any variety can be consulted on matters of the past as much as the future. That being said, all Oracles (who have a connection to the Archon of Time) will warn those who seek their counsel on the future that knowledge of what is to come can be a curse, not to mention create a self-fulfilling prophecy. They will always give the petitioner multiple opportunities to reconsider before they reveal anything and usually offer them alternatives, such as wise counsel instead of a prophecy. If the petitioner persists, then they will tell them what the future holds, though it is often the case that the knowledge they provide ends up being a burden, not a blessing.

    In the case of Immortal Sphinxes, they use their powers as Oracles primarily to predict when and where Monsters and Abominations will cause trouble. They can reveal other information about the future, but, because they became the way they are to combat these kinds of threats, they mostly prefer to use their gift of Foresight to warn people of coming disasters so they won't be caught flat-footed. Unfortunately, their warnings are not always heeded, but if they are not, then it is not the fault of the Immortal Sphinx. They provided the information (and may even have offered to assist with the coming disaster,) but they will not intervene for those who reject what they provide. Once they issue their warning, they will turn their attention to combating other threats, as they are bound to do by their oaths. They are not obligated to pick up the slack for people who ignore their warnings unless the threat meets certain criteria.

    Anyway, that is all I have come up with for Mortal and Immortal Sphinxes. Let me know what you think of my ideas! I appreciate any feedback you have to offer!
     
    kalencap likes this.
  2. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Been looking into something like this from a different angle. Sphinxes are one subcategory of a much larger subset dating back to ancient Sumer.

    Edimmu - spirits that are part animal, part human.

    Lamassu were spirits with human and bull traits, sort of a spiritual version of the minotaur, though of a benign nature. Usually depicted as human-headed bulls.

    Apasu were human/feline spirits, also of a benign nature, depicted as giant cats with human heads and sometimes wings. These entities became 'Cherubs' in the ancient Hebrew tradition and 'Sphinxes' in the Egyptian mythos - rather widespread throughout the entire middle east.

    Mixed in with all this were the Utukko, (usually) malevolent spirits escaped from the afterworld, sort of spiritual vampires.
     
    Patrick-Leigh likes this.
  3. Patrick-Leigh

    Patrick-Leigh Inkling

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    I’m thinking of including Lamassu in my story setting as well, actually. My current concept is they were originally Dwarves who were transformed during the Divine War. They’ll probably have powerful Arcane Abilities related to controlling and Transmutation of solid matter.
     
    kalencap likes this.
  4. kalencap

    kalencap Acolyte

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    Sounds like you could do a lot with foresight and hindsight. I have one deity of invented pantheon that specializes in that. Not sure who protagonists would be in your story, but certainly you have enough to build on here.
     
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  5. Patrick-Leigh

    Patrick-Leigh Inkling

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    I haven't read any stories where characters used Hindsight to look into the past and get information that they needed, so this is something I definitely want to explore.
     
  6. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    'object reading' - the ability to psionically/magically determine an objects history by handling it.
     
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  7. Patrick-Leigh

    Patrick-Leigh Inkling

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    Oh, now that is a very interesting idea! Of course, such a power would undermine any murder mysteries I want to write if it's in widespread use, not to mention it could be abused to invade other people's privacy. The concept is something I think has a ton of potential, but that's actually a bit of a problem, too. The ramifications of a power like that, at least if it's something that is widely known and used, would be world-breaking, so it needs to have lots of limitations in place. I think that the only people who could do it reliably would have to be Oracles (who use Divine Power to accomplish the task) or Mages and Psions who have to be masters of Spells and Technics that are related to Time. Unless...

    Perhaps the only people who can do it and look at a specific point in time in the object's past are Oracles while Mages and Psions will only get a general idea of the object's history and maybe a few "snapshots" of various events in the object's past, but these are randomly determined. That said, the snapshots would always be of events where the object was actively used and played a role of some significance. The Mage or Psion won't get a snapshot of the object just sitting in a drawer, in other words. So, if it's a pen, they'll get snapshots of events where the pen was used to write something or sign a document that had a meaningful impact on later events, but they may not see how the pen was used to commit a murder or by whom unless they randomly get that particular snapshot. The only person who could look into the pen's history and see not only how it was used as a murder weapon but who was holding it at the time would be an Oracle, but only if the Archon of Time allows the Oracle to do so, which he may not, especially if the way in which the truth is uncovered is more important than the truth itself. (For instance, not having the Oracle identify the murder may lead to a new forensic technique being developed which will, in turn, play important roles in future investigations, so the Oracle won't be able to see that point in the past.)
     
  8. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    If an object, say a knife, was used to commit murder or the favored weapon of a bloodthirsty soldier or mass murderer, that aura would be obvious to the Object Reader straight off - it'd give them the creeps or a chill or bad vibes. Actually 'reading' the object to determine the 'why' would be a challenge. Likely, the 'Reader' would get only a very close, very tight 'snapshot' of the event in question, or one of them. Same for the pen, or say, a broken door in an abandoned cottage.

    Best limitation would be the technic's subjectivity - aka would it count as 'evidence' in a conventional investigation? And barring an unusual object, you don't see who was using it (tightly limited POV), just what that person was seeing/thinking, and just for a moment or two. So, the reader, along with the detective, would know the knife was the murder weapon, but maybe not a great deal else.
     
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  9. Patrick-Leigh

    Patrick-Leigh Inkling

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    In other words, the best they could do is determine that it was, indeed, the murder weapon and get some indication of the emotions and motivations of the murderer, but nothing specific enough to help identify the murderer based on that information alone. Yes, that'd certainly work as a limiting factor, and whether the Reader is being truthful or not would be something that could be challenged in court, since it's not as difficult to refute as physical evidence or the testimony of multiple, credible witnesses. Heck, even the testimony of an Immortal Sphinx could be challenged in a court setting if the lawyer was audacious enough. Immortal Sphinxes aren't without their faults. Unlike a Deity, Angel, or Demon, their morality isn't absolute, so it is possible (albeit implausible in most cases) that one could be bribed to give a false testimony. Of course, with how old and experienced they are, finding a bribe that would be tempting enough to get an Immortal Sphinx to lie would be incredibly difficult. They're immortal, so money or luxuries, in and of themselves, don't actually interest them all that much. I think the only way you could bribe one would be with a favor-for-a-favor kind of deal. If they bear false witness, you'll do something for them to combat some kind of threat that affects the "Big Picture." I just don't see them being swayed by riches, since they've lived so long that such things have probably lost their charm.

    That actually leads me to a new conclusion: I don't see Elves, Faeries, Draconians, or other beings who have lived to be close to 1,000 years retaining much interest in most luxury items that younger beings covet. If you've lived that long and experienced so much, then luxuries probably start to get, well, boring after a while. That doesn't mean nice things and comfortable living is viewed as bad, but if you've lived for centuries, chances are that you've been able to sample nearly all of the luxuries life has to offer, or at least nearly all the categories of luxuries. With age comes the knowledge, wisdom, and skill needed to obtain such things, but with age also comes weariness of them. Oh, look, another ring with a priceless gemstone on it. Yawn.

    This would especially be the case with the Immortal Sphinxes. I don't think they'd live Spartan lifestyles, necessarily, but I see them treating luxuries as means to various ends, particularly creating meeting places with specific atmospheres that enhance their capabilities as negotiators and the like. They wouldn't seek out silk tapestries because they want the tapestries themselves but because they serve as an effective backdrop that conveys both wealth, influence, and sophistication, thereby allowing them to present themselves as more authoritative and giving their words a little more weight, at least to the younger beings who lack their insight into just how little material things matter in the grand scheme. Visitors to their temples are awed by the trappings of the chambers while the Immortal Sphinx barely notices them or simply uses them as props while explaining some concept, like using the scenes on a tapestry to tell a story that has some kind of moral the petitioner needs to learn. I'm going to mull this over a little more, because it has some really interesting story potential.
     
  10. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Some luxury items, yes. Others...'well that picture on the wall was painted by my good friend Apollonius - yes, that Apollonius - three hundred years ago at the Celebration of Tin. He captured the moment perfectly, don't you think?' Or 'these rather tacky golden goblets are from the Greenbriar Inn, where Whitehall's elite congregated before the city was destroyed. The proprietor assigned a specific cup to each of his favored customers. This one was mine, that one belonged to Lady Violet - yes, her scandalous reputation is well deserved, this one was the favorite of the philosopher-magus Martin - I enjoyed many a spirited debate with him, while this piece was used by Richard the Third when he wasn't in the field.'
     
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  11. Patrick-Leigh

    Patrick-Leigh Inkling

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    Oh, I really like this! After all, an Immortal Sphinx wouldn't value just any old object. They'd need to be things that hold some kind of significance, and I can see those things being items connected with people they've known. It could be that the objects don't hold much material value, either. You could find a very plain walking stick made from a tree branch sitting next to an ornate crown only to find out that the crown was actually a forgery of some kind and is pretty much worthless while the walking stick belonged to some famous philosopher or Alchemist who totally changed the world with his ideas, but to the Immortal Sphinx, it's the personal connections those objects represent that gives them their value. It could be their collections are highly eclectic at first glance but if you actually take the time to learn about the object, you get a clear picture of what the life of the Immortal Sphinx has actually entailed. There are myriads of stories in their galleries, with every object positively dripping with fascinating detail. Heck, this would be a really good framing device for a collection of short stories, I think, with someone visiting an Immortal Sphinx and learning the stories behind the seemingly random collection of "junk" it keeps.
     
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