Thursday, 15 October 2015

Monsters from Central Asian Mythology 4: Balbals

Just beyond the Burana Tower site are "balbals", or stone monuments to fallen warriors and to ancient gods and goddesses.:

I've mentioned Balbals before: they're the stone statues set to guard the tombs of dead kings and warriors, into which the souls of the foes slain by that person in life, or sacrificed to him in death, are bound in order to ensure the protection of his tomb. In any Central Asian fantasy setting, I think it's pretty safe to assume that they come to life and beat would-be tomb robbers to death with their big stone hands at the drop of a hat.

Here's how it works: first, someone has to die. As they die, their killer openly and publicly declares that they (or the person to whom they are being sacrificed) is taking possession of their soul: in a human sacrifice this might be formal and ritualistic, but in the middle of a pitched battle it's more likely to take the form of a blood-splattered warrior screaming 'I own your soul, dog!' as their just-slain adversary topples to the ground. Then, when you die - and you must be dead, because until then the soul just hangs around waiting for you - a stone statue needs to be built to house the soul of the victim. This statue must be specific: you can't just say, 'Oh, Uncle Aybek said he'd killed six men in various battles, so we'll put up six statues of generic warriors and that'll do the trick.' They don't have to be lifelike, but you do need to have some kind of distinguishing mark that links each statue to one specific soul. (Maybe Uncle Aybek remembers that the man he killed at the Three Hills battlefield was wearing a bearskin, and the man who he killed by the banks of the Red River had a long beard; carving one statue with a big beard and another with a bearskin cloak would be quite sufficient.) Finally, a friendly shaman needs to perform a brief ceremony on each statue, calling that specific soul down into it and binding it in place. That done, you can rest in your grave in peace, secure in the knowledge that the souls of your vanquished enemies are watching over your bones.

Balbals only serve as tomb guardians, and the souls that inhabit them exist in a state of sleep or suspended animation, waking only when there is an intruder to be slain. If anyone looks like they might be about to disturb the grave they're bound to, they come to life and attack until the would-be desecrater is dead or driven off; then they return to their normal, inanimate state. It would be rash to assume, however, that only tomb-robbers have cause to clash with them; clans have been known to 'game the system' by burying lines of dead warriors and their attendant balbals to block off places where, for whatever reason, they don't want anyone to go, knowing that if anyone attempts to pass that way the balbals will believe their tombs to be threatened and rise up to defend them. There is also the fact that, unsurprisingly, the relatives of those whose souls are bound into balbals are seldom thrilled by the idea of their loved ones slumbering through the centuries guarding the tombs of their killers, rather than progressing to the afterlife or to their next incarnation; if they discover that this has happened, they often seek to have the balbal in question destroyed, in order to allow the soul of their relative to go free. Whenever there's been a recent war on the steppe, it's common for newly-unemployed mercenaries to seek work as freelance balbal demolitionists, hiring themselves out to any family who wants the souls of their recently-dead loved ones liberated from their stony servitude. It's dangerous work, though: attacking one of a tomb's balbals will rouse them all. In the case of great kings and conquerors, who may have hundreds or thousands of balbals defending their graves, the best idea is probably to identify the correct target from as far away as possible, destroy it as quickly as possible, and then turn and flee from the resulting stone army that rises up to protect and avenge it, secure in the knowledge that they will never go far from the tomb to which they are bound...

Turkic balbal image, Altai Mongolia:

Most balbals are man-sized, because that's all that a regular soul has the strength to animate. Occasionally giant balbals are built to house the souls of particularly mighty heroes. Would-be demolitionists might want to invest in several barrels of gunpowder before taking one on.
  • Warrior Balbal (man-sized): AC 18 (made of stone), 4 HD, AB +2, stone fists (1d6 damage), FORT 8, REF 15, WILL 12, morale 12. Immune to poison, disease, and anything else that only affects creatures of flesh and blood. Takes half damage from everything except crushing attacks (hammers, maces, cannonballs, etc) and explosions. Bullets do only 1 HP of damage per hit, and piercing weapons (arrows, knives, etc) do no damage at all. Can never travel more than a mile from the tomb it is bound to.
  • Heroic Balbal (10'-12' tall): AC 20 (made of stone), 8 HD, AB +4, giant stone fists (1d12 damage), FORT 4, REF 10, WILL 8, morale 12. Resistances and immunities as above.
It is speculated that the statue network of the Wicked City may have been created through some modified (possibly inverted) balbal creation rite. Most of the balbals in the city's old cemeteries were smashed years ago, and their creation has fallen out of fashion amongst the families of the Cobweb; but a few functional ones might still be found out in the Rubble, or down in the lightless burial chambers of the Maze...

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