BRCS:Chapter four/Gods and religion/Cosmology of Aebrynis
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The cosmology of Aebrynis differs significantly from the "standard" cosmologies presented in the Manual of the Planes. Aebrynis connects directly to one, and only one, other plane. This plane, originally called the spirit world, but more recently referred to as the shadow world, is a coexistent plane with the Material plane of Aebrynis. There is no "ethereal plane" or "shadow plane" coexistent to Aebrynis; for the purposes of spell effects, the shadow world fills the roles of both. If a path exists between Aebrynis and any other planes of existence, the path passes through the Shadow World.
The Shadow World
Before Deismaar, the Shadow World was a realm of faerie that paralleled Cerilia. This was the home of the halflings, who frequently traveled between the two worlds—hence the name halfling, since they were half of this world and half of another.
When Azrai's physical form was destroyed at Deismaar, some small part of his soul survived in the ethereal realm of spirit which the halflings inhabited. This was at first no more than an evil taint; Azrai was not conscious, and for all intents and purposes did not exist as a self-aware entity at this time. He was only the memory of evil, but that proved to be enough to corrupt the halfling's idyllic realm.
Over the course of the three or four centuries immediately after Deismaar, Azrai's corrupt spirit spread throughout the spirit world, much like a drop of oil spreading a sheen over the surface of a lake. His increasing presence twisted the spirit world into the Shadow World, and the halflings left. This evil grows more and more powerful and is rumored to have finally gained the ability to manifest a physical form once again.
The shadow world reflects the mortal world, but in strange facsimile. Everything is dark and an air of emptiness hangs heavily, as if everything has been long abandoned. Details change between one glance to the next; a building might remain the same, but a wagon parked beside it might be in a slightly different place, or gone, and a door that stood open might close. The more ephemeral a thing is in the real world, the more its position or condition might change – the less firm its reflection. Ancient relics, long since torn down, may still stand in the spirit world. A savage storm stills ravages the seas south of Aerele in response to the cataclysm of the Godswar.
Everything in the shadow world has a faded look, like clothes washed too often or and left too long in the sun. There are no normal insects, birds, or other animals. No normal animals rustle in the grass, swim in the waters, or sing in the trees. The water is cool and drinkable, but tastes flat, as if it had been boiled. Worst of all, the land seems to twist the eye.
Everything about the Shadow World is unreal. While the Shadow World remains a parallel to Aebrynis, the laws of nature do not always apply there. There, illusions live and shadows walk of their own volition. Powered by the magic of the Seeming, things unreal come to life. Thus anything, and everything, is possible within the Shadow World for someone skilled in the Seeming, but these changes are largely illusionary; most fade immediately upon returning to the waking world.
Distances are largely a matter of focus in the shadow world. What is close at hand looks all right, and what is seen straight ahead in the distance, but whenever one turns their head, things that appear distant when seen from the corner of the eye seem to rush forward, to be nearer when looked at head on. Although this effect makes for dizziness, it is also indicative of a truth in the Shadow World; time and distances are deceiving.
Moving to/from the Shadow World: The barrier between Aebrynis and the Shadow World varies based upon the difference between the two planes at any give time and location. The middle of a crowded city at high noon differs significantly from the coexistent point in the Shadow World, whereas there may be little or no difference between the two in the dark depths of an ancient deserted monument. In areas of near exact similarity, beings can occasionally pass between the two planes unknowing. In general, however, travel to or from the Shadow World requires powerful magic or divine intervention. Some native beings of the Shadow World, including some halflings, have sensitivity to areas of high similarity and can recognize and cross the planar barrier without the use of magical aids.
To every location in Aebrynis, a corresponding parallel location exists in the Shadow World, but the reverse is not true. The shifting and desire-based nature of the Shadow World allow for the existence of vast regions that have no parallel in Aebrynis. Furthermore, these "deep" regions are not fixed in location; the point at which one leaves coexistent space and enters into one of these regions may vary over time. These areas are far more mutable than areas that parallel Aebrynis and they are as vibrant and rich as the Shadow World is bleached and dull. Such pockets are homes to the most powerful entities that inhabit the Shadow World. Most major divine powers have claimed (or perhaps created) their seats of power in such pockets.
When a mortal being dies, its soul "wakes" in the Shadow World and begins its journey towards the home of its patron god. Each spirit instinctively feels the direction in which it must travel to reach the end of its journey; the strength and accuracy of this pull is proportional to the soul's devotion to the ideas of its patron deity. Spirits that have little or no association with a patron are believed to be doomed to wander the Shadow World until they forget their sense of self and fade into oblivion. Powers of the Shadow World actively seek out spirits of the newly dead and attempt to bind them to ill purposes.
It is believed that Nesirie is gradually assuming responsibility for guarding the dead. The dangers that the Shadow World holds for spirits and the evil uses the Cold Rider and other powers make of them deeply offend Nesirie's nature. As she grows more powerful, perhaps she will be able to prevent the powers of the Shadow World from luring spirits to their dark domains.
The nature of the realms of the gods is apocryphal, at best. Their nature may be as is commonly believed, or may differ significantly from the preaching of the church. Is the nature of these realms determined by the gods that rule them, or by the desires of the spirits that have found their way there? Only the dead know the answer to this final mystery. However, common dogma describes the gods of the realms as follows.
Avani (The Gleaming Spire): Avani's realm is a great city in the Khinasi style, built amidst a peaceful oasis. Avani's palace, which is the city's centerpiece, is a tall spire of gold in the center of the oasis; built around it are plazas, libraries, bathhouses and all the luxuries afforded to the richest sultans of the Khinasi. Those honored worshippers who follow the light of reason during their lives and never stray from the path set out by Avani are permitted access to an eternity of luxury. It is a land of warmth and peace where no battle occurs and nothing is out of place.
Belinik (The Striving): The Striving is a gloomy and desolate place where warriors that served Belinik in life now contest against each other eternally. Here the strongest battle the weak to gain their lord's notice. Belinik allows all who wish to enter access to his realm, but they must fight for their survival. Those who do not succeed are cast out and forever doomed. Here, warriors must battle their way up the rungs of power. For those who are at the top there are luxuries and wealth beyond imagining while those at the bottom are condemned to make do with the meager comforts that can be found in the cold hills that cover this realm.
Cuiraécen (Cuiraécen’s Feasthall): Cuiraécen’s realm is a gigantic hall that sits atop of a steep sided hill, surrounded by storm clouds. Here great warriors celebrate their success in battle and forever recount the great events of their lives. The hall is home to a continuous feast where warriors may forever enjoy the spoils of the victory.
Eloéle (The Endless Maze): A dark and chaotic realm, the Eloéle's realm is similar to Sera's Marketplace Eternal. The endless maze, however, includes the seamy side of the marketplace, and is a vast maze of streets, alleys and squares. Here the worthy dead are allowed to indulge in all of their fantasies, at the cost of forgetting their previous lives. The Endless Maze is a city of taverns, brothels, gambling halls, and other similar establishments. The most successful and devoted of Eloéle’s worshippers live in large palaces and the rest seek to steal from them to gain the prestige necessary to gain such luxury themselves.
Erik (Nature's Rest): Erik's domain is almost an exact copy of Cerilia, except as it would have been without any intelligent beings living on it. Food is easy to come by and the worshippers of Erik lucky enough to make it here travel the lands marveling at its natural wonders.
Haelyn (Honor's Glory): Honor's Glory is a land of rolling hills and grassland, dotted with castles and manors for the greatest of Haelyn's heroes. It represents Anuire as Haelyn would like to see it; a vision of idyllic peace where all know their place in society and the importance of their place to the working of the whole. Haelyn spends his time here challenging the greatest and most noble generals of Anuire and other lands to battles in which the rules of honor are always followed and the losers of each conflict surrender gracefully to the winners so that none are seriously injured.
Kriesha (The Steadfast Chill): Kriesha's realm is a place of breathtaking beauty. It brings together all the best parts of a snow-covered, icy landscape and combines them into pristine, crystalline glory. Palaces of ice lie scattered across the landscape and are home to the Kriesha's favored, while outside a cold wind blows, and packs of wolves and other monster roam.
Laerme (Songsheight): The realm of Laerme is a large college that contains copies of all books, songs, and artwork ever completed. Scholars, painters, sculptors, and other artists roam the ground of the college enjoying the garden of fruit trees and flowerbeds. The sun never fully sets and the inhabitants are forever free to love and work as they desire.
Moradin ( Soulforger’s Haven): The resting place of worthy dwarves is a miraculous wonder deep beneath the earth. Waterfalls, cavernous geodes, and other wonders of the earth are commonplace in the Soulforger's Haven. More importantly, Moradin sets the soul of each dwarf to a task in his grand scheme. Together, the dwarves discover ever-new wonders and pave the way for Moradin to provide new gifts to his people.
Nesirie (The Waves of Grief): The domain of the goddess of the sea is a small group of islands that rise up out of the ocean like jagged spikes. Each spike is carved into fantastic towers and castles. These buildings are home to Nesirie's faithful, who are surrounded by all the wealth the sea can provide.
Ruornil (The Silver Lands): Ruornil's domain constantly reflects the glory of the silvery moon. By its light, Ruornil's faithful devote eternity to studying the true mysteries of the universe. Great wizards of the past each shape their own regions of the domain into the forms that bring them pleasure, and share their art with those who wish to study with them.
Sera (The Marketplace Eternal): Sera's domain is a vast city that stretches for miles in each direction. Therein, Sera's faithful continue the fondest pursuits of their lives eternally. Craftsmen work alongside the great masters that have come before them and have access to the finest materials to create works of profound craftsmanship. Traders and merchants barter for their goods for the simple prestige of besting their opponents and sharpening their skill. It is said that the most skillful are asked to dice against Sera herself, and that those who best her are allowed to "cast the dice of their lives again" – reincarnated to perform some great task in her service.