The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice – Exalted, the Modern Underworld

English: Artist's conception of the spiral str...

Yes, the Underworld is larger too…

Creation lay in darkness. Drawn by an ancient promise, the Sun had passed within the walls of Nachdenken-DammerungReflection on Falling Shadows – and night had fallen. With his power thus contained, other forces had shifted… Without the Unconquered Sun to define him, the Ebon Dragon had fallen into impotence*, even as the Scarlet Empress had been drawn into Malfeas. For long centuries the powers of the Yozis had broken against Creation’s imperishable reef of oaths like ocean waves dashing themselves against a mountain – but now a way was open; the Exalted Ruler of Creation had come willing into their service and possession.

*Note that mentioning this anywhere where the Ebon Dragon can find out about it is likely to result in your misery becoming one of his personal projects. These days, just to keep the peace, Orabilis watches for this information too.

As Creation’s ancient barriers fell, the powers of the Wyld, the Unshaped and the Hannya, had flooded in, unhindered by the Radiance of the Sun (and little hindered by the efforts of Creation’s Raksha) – for they too had been invited. They crossed into the Shadowlands of Creation – and, in the endless night, erupted into the Underworld, where there was little resistance. Even as the tide of Chaos lapped against the shores of the Blessed Isle in Creation, it reached Stygia and the Tombs of the Neverborn in the Underworld – and set them free, to be reborn in the fashion of the Wyld.

And Gaia had invoked the Reshaping, even as the Unconquered Sun in glory had risen from Nachdenken-Dammerung – and been reflected across the newborn cosmos as uncounted stars, shining upon a myriad worlds. The people and realms who had been swallowed up by chaos were drawn from the Wyld to become alien races and worlds as the remains of the Blessed Isle became the Earth. The surviving Fey – isolated from the Wyld by distances too great to comprehend and having already thrown their lot in with Creation – settled in isolated pockets of wyld energies and hidden wilderness. The Sidereal’s grasp on Earth was broken; the few survivors focused on maintaining the Loom of Fate and trying to rebuild their strength – attempting to locate and train the resurgent essences of their fallen comrades. The essence-stars of the Loom diverged from the actual, physical, stars. The few surviving Lunars – many stranded in the pocket-worlds left in the wake of the Great Shaping – were scattered so widely that it would require eons to gather once more. The Dragonblooded who survived were few, and widely separated. The carefully-arranged marriages and conserved bloodlines of power were no more – and so the Dragon-Blooded faded. Every so often the blood would flare up, and a mighty champion or two would arise – but they had little impact.

Oddly enough, while the Jade Prison fell at roughly the same point as the canon storyline, the number of Exaltations taken to become Abyssals and Infernals was considerably greater – closer to 150 Abyssals and 100 Infernals. Even more troublingly, the remaining Solar Exaltations did not start finding new hosts until relatively recently. Without many direct links to Earth however… most of the efforts of the new Abyssals and Infernals were scattered across distant galaxies.

In the Underworld, Stygia – and a few other locations, protected by immutability, powerful entities, or random quirks of the Wyld – endured, as did the empty tombs of the Neverborn, some portions of the Labyrinth, and the Void, the Memory of Oblivion. Creation once more cast its shadows into the darkness – but they were weak and feeble things, like shadows of the First Age had been, and were infused with the stuff of dream.

Today a myriad shadowy worlds orbit gently in the near-infinite darkness – many of them hosting few spirits and with little to disturb their peace. With the departure of the Neverborn, the Closing of Oblivion, and no access to the remains of the Labyrinth to gather the non-spiritual components of soulsteel, many of the Dark Worlds have never seen an Exalt or any major power – and remain little more than a quiet codicil to life, places where the spirits of the dead may linger until they make peace with themselves and slip gently into Lethe. With life scattered so thinly across the Cosmos… most galaxies host only a single Underworld-planet, orbiting gently around death-radiance of the underworld aspect of their central black holes. A ghost might try to cross the mighty voids between the shadow-worlds – but it would require centuries, they’d be leaving their Fetters unprotected, and they’d be risking encountering a Deathlord or Abyssal Raider. They are quite good at finding unprotected spirits within the void – and no spirit wants to fall into their hands.

Earth’s Underworld, however, is different… It’s no accident that many of the surviving bits of the Old Underworld – its center of power – were on it’s equivalent of The Blessed Isle; the power of the Elemental Pole of Earth brought stability and it was the last area where the onrushing tides of chaos reached. Even more importantly… they did not stay for long.

The remains of the Labyrinth, the Tombs of the Neverborn, Stygia, the Calender of Setesh, the Well of the Void… can all be found there, in cosmic terms a tiny spiritual step from Earth, even if it’s “physical” location is near the center of the Milky Way and the paths to it are wildly fanciful thanks to the influence of the Wyld.

The various routes from the Cosmos to the Underworld often correspond to the underworld myths of various local cultures. Whether they inspired those myths, or whether their wyld-infused essence has been shaped by them, may never be known.

Here too most of the few surviving original Deathlords – gathered around their source of Soulsteel and the remnants of past ages – endure and plot. While a few bits of the original Underworld – most notably the Well of Udr* – were somehow anchored to the Earth and remain within the solar system, Stygia still controls vast reserves of ancient artifacts and prehuman souls and (like the Earth) is far, FAR, more important than it’s mere “size” compared to the cosmos would dictate – even if most of the NEW Deathlords and younger Abyssals have no idea of that. The Silver Prince’s desire to claim the Earth is not as silly as most of the younger Abyssals assume; he is sitting on a treasure-trove and knows it.

*The Dowager of the Irreverent Vulgate long ago passed through the Well of Udr, and may yet be scheming wherever she wound up.

He’s also behind a current project centered on the Tombs of the Neverborn. A tomb showing the shape of a damaged part of the cosmos… is an Underworld-style conceptual domain of great power – and the framework for an Underworld-Kaiju Manse built Frankenstein-style of soulsteel and powerful ghosts that can bestow a variety of charms and abilities.

All of those Toho films about Alien Kaiju coming to take the earth and destroy all humanity – many starting from a “planet in close orbit about a black hole” – may indicate that the people of earth sense (somehow) that something is coming. Perhaps some day the Neverborn Kaiju Manses will erupt from the underworld to try to exterminate earthly life and use the leverage of controlling the elemental pole of earth and being at the true center of the cosmos to transform the universe into something appropriate to them. That effort will, of course, be opposed by the Humans, by THEIR Kaiju, and by their inhumanely tough, fast, and acrobatic super-martial-artists with incredible powers… (and the Raksha will cheer them on). Godzilla Final Wars may be less “entertainment” than “prophecy”.

The other Deathlords and Abyssals may not approve; while they don’t remember much about the Neverborn, they likely won’t want new ones. Who wants to be a slave when you can be master of your own destiny?

The player-characters will likely be annoyed. Just how distracted are they that Kaiju keep sneaking up on them? Skoll will not approve either; he must swallow the sun and use his power to grow to giant size and battle the Underworld Kaiju! The Neverborn must NOT be recreated!

The Silver Prince’s plans, however, have a major obstacle… With the Reshaping, Stygia has become a city-planet of the dead, the final refuge of the dead of fallen worlds, of those who die adrift in space, and of the massed souls of the Milky Way – (which is still far, FAR, more heavily populated than almost any other galaxy). There the dark Calender of Setesh controls the energies of the dying stars themselves and entropy and decadence run wild as at the very end of time.

Now that it burns with the final energies of fading stars, illuminated by the entropic radiance of dying stars falling eternally into the galactic black hole, Stygia is Stygian no longer, but bright with false life and coruscating with light – and thus bears a new name; Coruscant, which Lights the Darkness.

Here can be found its decadent nobility, shadowy understreets, and creepy mystics drawing on the energies of the Calender to create blazing weapons of celestial fire. Here too are rare attacks by secretive, ancient, ghosts with great powers – the “righteous dead”, who try to get the spirits to accept death and pass on through Lethe properly – instead of deluding themselves with the false life and gaity of the Light of Coruscant! They are loathed and hated, hunted down across the Galaxy – and yet, when the Deathlords come, they always wind up in the vanguard.

Coruscant is ruled by a triad – the Dual Monarchs and the Emperor, a figure who arose when the Tides of Chaos swept into Stygia – and held back the Tide as none other could, shaping the wyld energies to transform Stygia into a fair simulation of a living world defended by the Fires of Stars. A great master of Artifice, the Emperor also worked with the Dual Monarchs to adjust the great Calender of Setesh to maintain Coruscant – and so rose naturally enough to share the rulership of the world that he had just preserved. His identity of the Emperor remains a mystery however; across thirty thousand years he has never been seen without his mask of ice.

Yes, Coruscant has a council that supposedly advises the Triad – but now that there are tens of thousands of district representatives, each insisting on speaking on everything, it virtually never accomplishes anything. (Well, they DID once manage a ceremonial vote recognizing a debt of gratitude to the Emperor – but that was the first and last effective vote they took after the expansion). Currently the Council serves as a place to channel people that the Emperor or the Dual Monarchs want to reward, but not to place in positions where they can challenge them.

There is, of course, one gate, a dark mirror of the Axis Mundi. Oblivion proper is gone; after all it was merely an inverted reflection of the torment of the neverborn – trapped in moments of annihilation and unable to re-imagine themselves in the absence of the Wyld. Still, a certain… gap… in existence still remains – and the paths through it are perilous in the extreme, but can lead to many other shattered reflections of the void scattered across the worlds in the reshaping. There too, can be seen the momentary presence of starships leaping through the darkness driven by the dark charms of the Abyssal Exalts and their spawn. It should be no surprise that the Emperor and the Dual Monarchs carefully monitor and guard the Pit of the Void. It is, after all, a vital strategic point and a point from which he might meddle with – or launch his vast legions against – any portion of the Underworld as well as allowing him to meddle with the current travel charms of the Abyssal Exalts.

Oddly enough, the Emperor intervened in WWII against the Silver Prince; no one is entirely sure why. Perhaps it was to prevent him from completing the Underworld Kaiju, since he has anonymously passed on a tips about that project to a few Chosen of Endings, to Lunars who deal with the Underworld, and even to an Infernal or two (the Yozis’ Neverborn allies may not exist as they did any more, but they aren’t happy about their siblings’ remains being used in that manner).

Somewhere in the universe the First and Forsaken Lion is still hanging on to existence just to show these upstart Abyssals who are now calling themselves Deathlords who the real conqueror is. Other than that… Deathlordhood is an elder Abyssal’s game these days.

5 Responses

  1. THings really are starting to get interesting now, aren’t they? Though I have to say, a machine that just eats up Solars and makes escape impossible does seem rather unfair to players.

    • Skoll? Actually not that bad a machine for Kiko; he’s been useful in sessions that haven’t been edited and posted yet. She’d take him over a warstrider any day.

      And there’s more. Considering how advanced computers are compared to the Second Age, or even the First, Skoll would be easy to hack. The only question is, does she want to become Skoll’s boss, or have him be her assigned robo assistant? The computer Charms from the Modern Charm supplement on this blog would work well for that.

    • Well, it was rather unwise of Aikiko (at base Essence 3) to set herself up as a target for a machine that had already captured the Unconquered Sun once. Sadly, she just didn’t happen to have a defense that would work ready.

      Skoll is hardly inescapable though; the Sun would have a hard time – but it was never really intended to contain a Solar in the first place, and Aikiko will probably be able to find several ways given a little time.

      I don’t think she really wants to escape though… At the moment she seems more interested in figuring out how to gain full control and keep Skoll as her personal battle armor.

  2. […] Nachdenken-Dammerung– Reflection on Falling Shadows: A sun-stalling manse (notes only). […]

  3. […] Nachdenken-Dammerung– Reflection on Falling Shadows: A sun-stalling manse (notes only). […]

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