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Literature / Kherishdar

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We Know you as aunera-aliens-and have always had peace and good congress with you. One day, several of you asked: How is it that your empire works so well for you, when it would work so poorly for us? And so I found a translator, an aunerai scribe. Together we make available there fil ekain, these incense stories, short but lingering...an attempt to explain what it is to have an Ai-Naidari soul.
The Aphorisms of Kherishdar, Introduction

I am the altar upon which society sacrifices its murderers, its thieves, its wayward spirits. I am their Correction... or their destruction. I serve Shame. Without me, there is no Civilization.
The Admonishments of Kherisdar, Introduction
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A series of short stories and one completed serialized web novel, all written by M.C.A. Hogarth, Kherishdar is a five planet alien empire whose people, the Ai-Naidar, are tall, feline aliens which have an insular, caste based society that emphasizes the good of the community over the individual. Hogarth explores the implications of this in a series of short "incense" stories, starting with the definition of a single word or concept, which leads into an illustration of a single aspect of life among the Ai-Naidar. These stories may be found at her website and four printed collections, The Aphorisms of Kherishdar, written from the point of view of The Calligrapher, which concentrates (mostly) on the positives of the Ai-Naidar civilization; while The Admonishments of Kherishdar focuses on the criminals and malcontents, who all give their impressions of Shame, the embodiment of justice in Ai-Naidar society and charged personally by The Emperor with Correcting individual behavior so it comes in line with Society; and the novel Black Blossom, in which Shame is dispatched to correct an entire major house, and The Calligrapher follows to keep him sane; Kherishdar's Exception follows with a new character, Haraa, who has been tasked to study the strange and dangerous "aunera" aliens (whom we would know as humans).

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Though Kherishadar is generally portrayed in a positive manner, it's definitely a Blue and Orange Morality, with the emphasis on Society over Individual striking a sometimes disturbing chord. What it mostly is, however, is logical but different from human cultures.


These stories provide examples of:

  • Arc Words: "Thank you for the grace of my Correction."
  • Angst Coma: Kor falls into this during the events of Black Blossom when he realizes the Noble he and the noble he's investigating are Not So Different.
  • Author Appeal: Hogarth loves long hair that goes "Fwoosh!" To the point that the Ai-Naidar have a specific word for the effect.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Bitterly subverted when one Noble goes into deep depression after his cheerful suggestion that one couple should have children at their marriage ceremony leads to the wife dying in childbirth and the husband wasting away shortly thereafter. Shame literally has to knock some sense into him.
    • Played with in Kherishdar's Exception as Haraa's decision to have a child marks her letting go of her old fathrikedi caste (who aren't allowed to procreate) and fully embracing her role as osulkedi.
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  • Big Good: The Emperor, who also functions as a very literal God-Emperor.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: As noted above.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: A mild example can be found in Hogarth's LiveJournal, where The Calligrapher and Shame sometimes appear in Hogarth's world for a moment to help her understand the definition of a particular Ai-Naidar word or aspect their culture.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Much of The Calligrapher and Shame's work involves reinforcing noble caste leaders who become stressed as they try to balance the needs of the people under them with the demands of society in general.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Though it's certainly part of Shame's arsenal, Corrections generally don't involve this. The more usual method involves...
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: ...finding a way of pointing out to the individual the damage they're doing to others or themselves. Such as having someone who wants to stop harming themselves wear bandages signed by their friends and family.
  • The Emperor: A near divine being who despite the nominally science-fictional nature of the setting is said to be the reincarnation of the previous Emperors. Kherishdar's Exception retcons him to be an immortal Emperor Scientist who invented the Gates and can use them to rejuvenate himself.
  • Epiphany Therapy: Shame's default method of Correcting individuals. The Calligrapher often manages the same thing through providing a notably appropriate aphorism.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": While The Calligrapher and Shame do have namesnote  that are mentioned in their stories, they're easy to miss until Black Blossom. Given the very stratified nature of Ai-Naidar society, almost everyone goes by their title first, using their name only among close associates.
  • Everyone Is Bi: While Ai-Naidar have completely different terms for heterosexual and homosexual relationships most of them seem open to forming either variety.
  • Exalted Torturer: Averted. Kor/Shame takes pleasure in easing people back onto the path of right thinking, but not in engaging in physical harm.
  • Family of Choice: Ai-Naidar Houses are not necessarily composed of blood relatives and their spouses. As seen with the House Shame and the Calligrapher found at the end of Black Blossom with several other characters they met before.
  • Fantastic Caste System: Regals, Nobles, Public Servants (osulked, the caste of all the books' protagonists thus far), Guardians, Merchants, Land-Workers, Servants, and a sort of concubine or living decoration known as fathriked in order of status, with several sub-castes to each. Ai-Naidar are born into their parents' caste but they are evaluated twice in childhood to determine the caste they hold in adulthood. Though the Noble and Regal castes lie above "the Wall of Birth" and lower caste Ai-Naidar can only rise above it through extremely rare marriages that have to be approved by the Emperor.
    • It is also not unknown for an adult to be reassigned when their caste no longer suits them, as seen when House Qenain's fathrikedi is reassigned as osulkedi.
  • Fantastic Naming Convention: Ai-Naidar names are [given name] Nai'[House]-[caste], except fathriked who lose their names when selected for the caste. These may change as they join or found a new House or change castes, as Farren Nai'Sheviet-osulkedi became Farren Nai'Qevellen-osulkedi when he founded House Qevellen with Kor, and House Qenain's fathrikedi became Haraa Nai'Qevallen-osulkedi after her re-evaluation.
  • Good Is Not Nice: That's Shame in a nutshell.
  • Heroic BSoD: Shame experiences this in Black Blossom when he realizes he and the noble he was assigned to investigate are Not So Different.
  • Language Equals Thought: A major theme. The narrators frequently comment on the difficulty of translating Ai-Naidar concepts into Aunera words. One of the easier concepts to get across is that they think of the community first and the individual last, hence why the basic forms of their nouns are plural (i.e. those Ai-Naidar, that Ai-Naidari).
  • Loners Are Freaks: Goes double among the Ai-Naidar, given its emphasis on community and family.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: Not Using the H Word: Cloaked aliens who turn out to be humans are seen several times in the stories, but are never referred to by their species name, but the more general term Aunera. They're generally portrayed as either ignorant or outright disruptive to the smoothly running Ai-Naidar society.
  • One-Word Title: The series is named after the Empire that the stories take place in.
  • A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: One amusing passage in Kherishdar's Exception has poor Haraa trying to explain that the Winter Tryst, a masquerade festival where the Ai-Naidar have anonymous sex with strangers as a safeguard against caste inbreeding, is not an "orgy" as we aunera would understand it.
  • Portal Network: The three main planets and two colonies of the Kherishdar Empire are connected by gates. Said to be much faster than the ships used by the aunera.
  • Purple Prose: Well, definitely shaded lavender with an occasional side order of Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness. The Calligrapher is frequently guilty of this, given it's part of his job, but many other characters indulge in it to emphase the Ai-Naidar's formalized styles of speech.
  • Questionable Consent: It's not a very good idea to take advantage of your subordinates in this world. It attracts Shame's attention.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The default nature of the Noble and Regal Castes. When they don't live up to it, that's when the Emperor calls Shame in.
  • Rousseau Was Right: Pretty much the setting default. While there are (very rare) monsters in the Ai-Naidar world, the assumption is most people just need a gentle nudge back on the path when they end up doing wrong.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something
  • Schizo Tech: The Ai-Naidar tend to prefer doing things the old-fashioned way. Practically the only places you even see electronics are research labs and the Gates. They communicate with hand-written letters carried by beasts of burden through stargates.
  • Subordinate Excuse: In one story, the Calligrapher encounters a servant whose artistic skill is equal to his own, but who chooses not to pursue it to stay close to her lady.
  • Tattoo Sharpie: Ai-naidar nobles mark their subjects with a dye that lasts roughly a year in an annual ceremony. The emperor marks his personal servants with a more concentrated permanent version of the dye which is also mildly toxic.
  • Too Kinky to Torture: As part of his training to take the post of Shame, Kor must experience specific tortures under the hand of the Emperor before being permitted to use them on anyone else. It's several weeks before he finally breaks down.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: "People" in the Ai-Naidar language refers strictly to their own species and culture. Aunera refers to anything not Ai-Naidar, on the level of animals or furniture.
  • Whip It Good: A common tool for Correction, with truly heinous offences followed by being "Bathed in wine" (ie: Alcohol poured immediately onto the open wounds.)
  • Who Watches the Watchmen?: How does the Emperor make sure he himself doesn't abuse his own power? He assigns a casteless servant to the post of The Exception, whose job it is to tell him when his actions might be harmful to his people.
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