In all the faiths of the Twilight Sea, there is one constant.
The spirits of the dead may seek rebirth, or cling to the material world for a time. They may be bound, or they may fall under the dominion of some powerful being. A few may even be carried beyond the world – but for the dead of the Twilight Seas, there is but one path in the end.
Eventually they are drawn into the Maze.
The Maze begins as threads of light within a profound darkness. Many spirits fear to face that darkness, and resist as long as they can manage.
Those who pass through the darkness will find a multi-dimensional tangle of barriers and paths of light, sprawling across the astral, ethereal, shadow, and every other co-existent plane.
Within the Maze are pocket-realms where spirits can rest, others which offer challenges, some that entrap, some inhabited by powerful beings, and many more. As far as is known, none can hold a spirit permanently.
The spirits which traverse the Maze will find themselves forged and tempered. Some qualities burned away, others imbued.
The living may walk the threshold of the Maze, but if they pass too far, their bond with their bodies will be broken. Still, some mages and spiritualists attempt the feat as an ordeal, seeking to purify themselves or to learn to draw upon the powers of the threshold of the Maze.
Still further on, the spirit of the dead pass beyond the range of common abilities – then greater ones – and then beyond the reach of any known power.
A few tales tell of spirits who have traversed the Maze to touch the infinite and returned – but such feats are things of legend only.
Still, the Maze has an end.
No one truly knows what lies beyond the Maze.
Some things never change.
Naturally enough, there are quite a few philosophical beliefs about what lies beyond the Maze. Godhood? Unity with the cosmos? Rebirth in some greater realm? Dissolving into nothingness? Building your own extension to the Maze? Joining the entourage of one of the Old Gods?
No one really knows. That hasn’t prevented some pretty nasty arguments between the various sects of believers however – which has, at least, given many of them a good chance to find out for themselves.
Among the major races:
The Thunder Dwarves believe that their gods created the world, then held an after-the-job discussion to talk about what could have been done better, made sure that their creations could take care of themselves, and departed into the infinite to build an even better world – and better ones after that. They feel that – as one traverses the Maze – one is following after the Creator Gods, and will encounter a succession of ever-better worlds, until one who finally learns enough will reach them, have their user-feedback report heard – and be permitted to work with them on their next project.
The Ikam believe that their remote and terrible god has either abandoned them or cast them out*. In time, perhaps, those who have not fallen from the true ways will redeem themselves and their people, or reach their god through the Maze with which he/she/it tests them, and bring his/her/its aid to the people once again. They invoke his/her/its great aspects – Creation, Transformation, and Destruction – in fear and trembling. Still, it is said that THEIR god sometimes speaks from beyond the Maze.
*A modest group believes that they have been isolated and hidden for their own protection while their god fights some mighty enemy, and focuses on training to eventually become worth to stand with him and support him in his struggle.
The Shadow Elf founders apparently had many gods, who each controlled their own transcendent otherworldly realm and who drew to them the souls of their followers after their deaths. Of those, only Haerun, God of Trickery and Concealment, is still said to grant certain powers to his worshipers – and they aren’t very forthcoming about whatever those powers are or whether they enjoy some sort of special afterlife. Regardless of the exact nature of those speculative powers, they’re certainly no more potent than other sources can provide. The other old gods, the powers that were supposed to have created the world, are either out of contact or – perhaps – gone for good. No one really knows. Today the Shadow Elves have a formal system of ancestor worship, and an endless quarrel over what lies beyond the Maze.
The Veltine (oddly enough for such a species) believe (loosely) in a philosophy of self-discipline, self-development, and dedication to their ideals, holding up mighty heroes as examples of the ideal (and arguing over which one was best). Unfortunately, they don’t entirely agree on what the ideal qualities are. The Warrior Virtues – Honor, Ferocity, Duty, and Glory – are quite popular. So are things like Strength, Agility, Skill, and Tactics. Service, Compassion, Knowledge, and Peace are sometimes mentioned, but are rarely really in the running.
The Veltine often call on totemistic spirits for power, but don’t worry much about the ultimate fate of spirits. Those who truly embody their ideals will be ready to handle it. Those who aren’t ready were never really people to begin with.
Of course, even many of the Veltine don’t put much stock in their religion. They’re savage, lupine, killers, and their religion is primarily important in helping maintain a certain minimum of social order in a small, tense, society.
There are some powerful beings out there of course. Some we’ve already mentioned…
Ancestor and Totem Spirits are simply spirits which have stopped within the depths of the Maze and are relaying back a certain (modest) amount of otherworldly power in exchange for worship – and the anchor such worship provides. A well-supported Ancestor or Totem may linger for many years, but will eventually either pass onwards or be displaced. Still, when that happens, there are invariably many other spirits willing to take on the role of the departed one.
A few such spirits can help a wandering soul reincarnate before it’s drawn too deeply into the Maze, but this is usually a special favor.
The Lords of Thunder are inchoate and demanding, but they can certainly provide substantial powers to their followers. They are, however, elemental powers of the world; mighty spirits of Fire, Air, Earth, Water, and Spirit and of Life, Change, and Death – and they make no pretense of being creators, of being all-wise, or of possessing any power over the dead beyond that common to magic. The Thunder Dwarves tend to call upon the Lords of Thunder, but rarely worship them.
Some few of the Old Gods are said to linger, and to still maintain their private realms – but most theologians would simply say that, if any such places exist, they are merely pocket-realms and temporary resting places for spirits within the Maze. Most Old Gods – or creatures which claim to be Old Gods – can provide a limited range of priestly magic and powers, but no more. If such beings are true “gods”, they’re evidently lesser ones.
The Triune God of the Ikam may occasionally speak, but doesn’t normally seem to bestow powers as such – although he, she, or it occasionally bestows information. Some outsiders suspect that the Ikam are simply the keepers of some powerful bits of ritual magic, and have confused them with a religion.
There are – not surprisingly – a variety of cults dedicated to the worship of particularly powerful nature spirits, simple oddities, powers from other universes entirely (even if they don’t seem to do anything here), and – most frighteningly – a few cults dedicated to the various Great Beasts – the most powerful Monsters of the Seas. While such cults are normally stomped out as soon as they’re discovered, if they persist for long their members will indeed sometimes begin to gain certain powers. Perhaps some of the Great Beasts do indeed have the potential to grow into some sort of god – if anyone is mad enough to feed them power and worship them.
Anok-Mithan the Stormwalker is one such nightmare. He (?) is said to have come into being when a high priest of a Great Beast cult foolishly attempted to transmigrate his soul into the flesh of his god – and thus attain immortality. He succeeded in his ritual, and transformed his bestial god into a containment vessel for the souls of it’s worshipers. Now essentially indestructible, and driven more than a bit mad by the clamoring host of spirits seething within its body, Anok-Mithan occasionally rises from the deep to unleash its soulfire wrath upon the unfortunate people of the Twilight Isles.