The Dead Primordials Society
The best wisdom of the savants of Creation indicates that the Underworld is heavily tainted by the presence of Oblivion, and there are tantilizing hints (as yet unpenetrated) that the history of the Deathlords and their Abyssal servants are intimately bound to that of the Solar Exalted.
Believe none of this, for the knowledge of the savants is uncertain at best where it concerns the lands beyond the Shroud. At worst, it is completely off-base. For example, in the distant past, these learned scholars manage to confused descriptions of the Demon City Malfeas with those of the Underworld, and so the term "Malfean" came into use. It is a misnomer at best, and few in the Underworld would understand its use. The proper term for the entities that embody the lands of the dead is "Stygian".
What lies beneath is a description of the Underworld in GregorDyne's Obsidian Requiem, Aureate Chorale, and Adamant Threnody campaigns. It obviously should be considered House Material, and an alternative to the presentation of the Malfeans and the Abyssal Exalted in the game's body of canon. It may be especially useful for those who want the possibility of more diverse and sympathetic agendas from the Abyssals and the Deathlords (a lot of people refuse to allow them as PCs because of the way they are portrayed).
Why? Basically, this makes more sense to me than what Exalted has. Go read Zach Bush's Breaking Creation if that bothers you.
I wrote most of this before Exalted: The Abyssals was released, and I have had to make only minor revisions to account for various things I liked. Most of the material in Exalted: Abyssals can either stand as published (the Dual Monarchs, the Calendar of Setesh, ghostly existence and character creation, the city of Stygia, etc.), or will work with a certain degree of folding, spindling, and mutilation (e.g., keeping the canonical Deathlords). This material is really just an alternate backstory and tone for the Underworld and the Champions of Death.
The author's version of this material is posted at Niflheim.net.
Feel free to add to the list of Stygians or their respective Phantasms, if this material inspires you.
Without further ado, on to the lore of the dead...
- GregorDyne/Leviathan, The Living Lord
- GregorDyne/Cythess, The Shadowed Sleep
- GregorDyne/Labyrinth, The Folded City
- GregorDyne/Siane, The Weeping City
- GregorDyne/Kymat, The Shifting City
- GregorDyne/Umbra, The Bloodmoon
- GregorDyne/Perea, The Sunless Sea
- GregorDyne/Vane, The Night with his Courtier
The following is a summary list of the various Deathlords (canon Deathlords are in bold) in this conception of the Underworld. It also lists the Stygian and subsidiary soul that the Deathlord bows to.
- Eye and Seven Despairs. Deathlord of Leviathan: The Heart of Betrayal and Pain
- The Dowager of the Irreverent Vulgate in Unrent Veils. Deathlord of Leviathan: The Well of Udr
- The Mask of Winters. Deathlord of Cythess: Nihil, The End of All Tears
- The Lover Clad in the Raiment of Tears. Deathlord of Siane: Lucinti, That Which Dreams the City
- The Son of All Sorrows. Deathlord of Siane: Kimone, The Grieving Voices
- The Tears of the Bloodflower. Deathlord of Umbra: Jacier, He Who Holds in Thrall
- First and Forsaken Lion. Deathlord of Umbra: Jacier, He Who Holds in Thrall
- The Princess Magnificent with Lips of Coral and Robes of Black Feathers. Deathlord of Umbra: Jacier, He Who Holds in Thrall
- The Bodhisattva Anointed by Dark Waters. Deathlord of Perea: Cecanti, He Who Surmounted Her Name
- Ebony Waves' Kiss. Deathlord of Perea: Grabile, the Grinding Woman
- The Bishop of the Chalcedony Thurible. Deathlord of Vane: Malrios, The Corpulent Night
- The Walker in Darkness. Deathlord of Vane: Malrios, The Corpulent Night
- The Perfidious Vizard of Otiose Mortality. Deathlord, unspecified lineage.
The True History of the Underworld
In the time before history, the Primordials ruled over Creation, which they had caused to come into being. The Underworld did not exist during this era. Indeed, death and mortality themselves did not exist. But this would change. Gaia the World-mother was not happy at being lorded over like this, and instigated the Primordials' chief servants, the Gods, into revolt. The Gods could not fight their makers directly due to geasa, so they worked around it. Luna seduced Autochthon the Great Maker, convinced him to provide them with weapons and support the revolt, and promised that he would be spared. After much pondering and some experimentation, he taught the Gods how to make the lowliest intelligent beings of Creation, humans, into living divine weapons ... the Exalted.
Eventually the Gods were ready, and ordered their Exalted servants to rise up and take Creation from the Primordials in their name. Many of the first to fall in this pitched battle were taken by surprise, and were slain.
First and Greatest among the Stygians wasGregorDyne/Leviathan, father of the Unconquered Sun. Leviathan loved Gaia and all her living children in their myriad forms with great passion, but he was also the leader of the Primordials and fully supported their right to rule. As Leviathan felt himself die, he spread forth his thousand arms, in order to catch those of his brethren that might follow him into death, lest they be lost to the void. His deep and abiding love for Creation was transformed into an equally deep and abiding hatred, and his body was transformed into a grey and sorrowful mockery of the lands of living. The Underworld became a reality.
The second Stygian was the Neverborn:GregorDyne/Cythess the Shadowed Sleep. He is called Neverborn because of all the Stygians, Cythess was never a living Primordial to begin with. He is the personification of Oblivion and death itself, and sprang into being in the moment of Leviathan's demise. It is Cythess that whispered in the ear of Leviathan, urging him to pronounce a terrible death curse upon the servants of the Gods, Creation, non-exalted humans, and the Gods themselves ... a curse which Cythess himself was unable to effect, having no tie to the lands of the living.
Third of the Stygians wasGregorDyne/Labyrinth, the Manifold. Labyrinth was the embodiment of space and geometry, the foundation of reality. He was not killed by any action of the gods or Exalted, but rather because the transformation of Leviathan into the Underworld required place. In the course of Labyrinth's death, his nature was twisted into the dark Folded City, and his body was stretched like a vast torn spider web briding the gap between Creation and the Underworld. Labyrinth is therefore a major means of crossing between the two worlds, to those that know how. Labyrinth's body also underlies that of Creation and the Underworld, allowing shortcuts from place to place in either world, though this method is far easier to effect in the Underworld. Labyrinth is a Stygian, after all, and his connection to Creation is tenuous at best.
GregorDyne/Siane, the Jewel of the North, wife of Leviathan, wasted away from remorse, and so that emotion became her nature in death. She came to dwell at the point in the Underworld analogous to the Elemental Pole of Air of Creation.
GregorDyne/Kymat, the Principle of Motion, was brought low by a fell weapon that the Gods gave the Exalted, which fractured his body and soul. He was driven mad by the pain and torment of his death, becoming the frentic Shifting City that Underworld inhabitants know all too well.
The Primordials by this point were well aware of the revolt and had begun to rally together. The Chosen of the Gods found surprise was no longer effective and casualties grew fewer and farther between. Many Primordials prepared their defenses too well to be slain outright. Others had natures that would not permit their deaths. When the champions of Primordials such as Dis (the Iron City) were defeated, they instead became the Yozi Demon Princes (in this case, Malfeas himself) and were sworn to exile on their own names. Still, the Gods and their Exalted were clever and managed to kill other Primordials.
One after another they fell:GregorDyne/Perea.GregorDyne/Vane. Many of these latter defeats were more out of deviousness than military might or surprise which had won the early victories.GregorDyne/Umbra (father of Luna) was betrayed by his daughter, who had pretended shock at the other Gods' betrayal up to this point. She secretly gave her Lunar Exalted a fell weapon of moonsilver, and they stabbed it into Umbra's Heart. Umbra's grief and rage at this betrayal was so strong that mere death was not enough to still the angry beating of his heart, and he had no sooner arrived in the Underworld coated in his own blood than he began to seek a way back to Creation to exact revenge. Therefore, Luna convinced her lover Autocthon to forge enormous unbreakable chains, and the Gods used these to bind the body of Umbra to that of Leviathan, trapping the bloody moon and his impotent rage in the Underworld.
Finally, the Gods' War ended, leaving the Gods victorious. In gratitude (and to rid themselves of the responsibility), the Gods granted the rulership of Creation and the Celestial Bureaucracy to their Exalted, so that the Gods might enjoy the leisure of the Games of Divinity. Autochthon, somewhat uneasy around the Gods and Luna's blatant manipulation of his emotions, possibly fearing that the Gods wouldn't tolerate his presence for long before coming to see him as a threat, sealed himself and his Alchemical Exalted away from Creation, and went to sleep. Creation was once again at peace. The First Age came to pass, a golden age of prosperity that only gradually showed the tarnish caused by Leviathan's curse. That tarnish would lead to the Usurpation, the downfall of the Solars, and the rise of the Scarlet Dynasty. The influence of the Underworld on the living would grow but gradually.
Lexicon and Points of Interest
- A Dead Primordial. Analogous to their still-living cousins, the Yozi Demon Princes. The Stygians themselves spend most of their time in nightmare slumber, and only rarely walk the Underworld in human guise.
- A Phantasm is to a Stygian what a Demon is to a Yozi. They cannot properly be considered Ghosts, because they were never truly alive. Like Demons, Phantasms are divided up into a hierarchy of Circles. Phantasms of the Third Circle are souls of the Stygians themselves (including Fetich souls). Phantasms of the Second Circles are the souls of the Third Circle Phantasms. Due to the fact that they are dead, Phantasms of the Second Circle cannot reproduce after the fashion of Second Circle Demons; therefore, there are no natural Phantasms of the First Circle (whatever natural means in this context). The ghosts of humans and animals inhabiting the underworld serve that role. It's concievable that GhostBloods also would.
- Deathlords are Phantasms of the Second Circle that have been placed in charge of one or more Abyssal Exalted. They go by various baroque titles, and carry no other names (at least none that they admit to). There are rumors this is because some of the Deathlords were once ordinary Ghosts (usually of former Solar Exalted) who gained their present status by selling their names and being "adopted", but it probably has more to do with the fact that they are aspects and reflections of beings much greater than themselves.
- The Primary soul of a Primordial. If the Fetich Soul is slain, the Primordial is not destroyed. Instead, it is forced to change its nature. Each of the Stygians underwent this process.
- Abyssal Exalted
- The Chosen of the various dead gods of the Underworld. The Stygians know how to corrupt Solar Exalted Essences into Abyssals (a process inspired by the Yozi and perfected by Leviathan), but they have also learned after much experimentation to replicate the process that the Gods used, and can therefore Exalt mortals from scratch. Neither process is easy (due to the antithetical natures of the Essence of Creation and that of the Underworld). This accounts for the relative rarity of Abyssals. Transforming existing Solars) is marginally easier than creating Abyssals from scratch. The latter process usually requires a number of mystical conditions peculiar to a given Stygian. Although Abyssals often go by baroque titles just like their Deathlord masters, they do have names. At least, some of them claim to. Those who claim to have known them before the Black Exaltation whisper that these names are not the ones they bore in thier lives as a mortal.
- All Abyssals carry the death-essence of the Underworld, and as such, suffer certain side effects called Black Miracles when they interact too closely with the opposed essence of Creation and the living beings that draw on it.
- The Great Curse
- Abyssals, whether created from Solars or created from scratch, do not suffer fromGregorDyne/Leviathan's curse in any fashion. In the former case, transformation into an Abyssal frees the Exalt from the curse. In the latter, they never suffered it to begin with. They also are freed from that other side-effect of the Great Curse: mortality. Abyssals will never die of age or infirmity. They can be killed in battle, of course.
On Knowledge of the Hierarchy of the Dead
I should point out that it is NOT commonly known that Deathlords are aspects of the Stygians' souls (i.e., souls of Third Circle Phantasms). Indeed, it's not widely known by the ghostly masses that the Third-circles themselves are Stygian souls, or even necessarily that the Stygians are the gods of the Underworld.
Stygians are the geography of the Underworld. They spend most of their mental "time" in nightmare slumber in their hidden tombs, not walking about in human guise. Even when they do walk the Underworld, they are also the geography of the Underworld, simultaneously. When the Lady Siane haunts the streets of the Weeping City, or loves and dooms another in her bower, there is no conflict, and the Weeping City remains standing as it always has. Therefore, most would not immediately connect the sentient guise of a Stygian with its representation as part of the Underworld (thought of course soul-forging and moliating tend to make the concept a little more familiar to ghosts than it would be to living mortals).
The situation is similar with many of the Third Circle Phantasms (and some Second-circles) ... many are some landmark within the geography of their Stygian masters, such as Florios, the Beautous Tower, which stands near the heart of the Weeping City. Many have no sapient guise at all, such as Kimone, the grieving voices. Others have no guise other than human, or prefer it, such as Jacier, the Incarnadine Claviger of Umbra.
When most inhabitants of Creation and the Underworld think of such enormous beings as Stygians or Third-circle Phantasms (as named sapient entities), they are either percieved as incomprehensibly vast and alien gods, or else they are fellow inhabitants of the Underworld ... more potent than any ordinary ghost, to be sure, larger in scope than even the Deathlords or Hekatonkhire, but essentially the same in kind.
As far as most Exalted and Ghosts are concerned, the Deathlords themselves are ancient and mysterious entities ... possibly ghosts, possibly lesser gods, possibly some form of plasmic. Few ghosts have an opportunity to deal directly with Deathlords. Indeed, it seems as if some Deathlords were once ordinary (albeit powerful) Ghosts, at least in part, though they have clearly undergone some kind of transformation.
Some honored few are permitted to know a greater portion of the truth of the Hierarchy of the Dead. Usually this is the case with an Abyssal with a high rating in Whispers (and thus in a tenuous form of communion with the Stygians themselves), or particularly enlightened Nephwracks among the hordes that Cythess is pleased to spawn. This knowledge may be a glimpse of the history of the Underworld, or (especially for Abyssals) simply a revelation of the pedigree that the Exalt's Deathlord has. Such knowledge is also spoken of in ancient and rare texts that ghostly Savants can spend centuries tracking down.
Damn.... I like this... it rocks, sure... very non-canonical, but still a fun look at the underworld. I think that if I ever do run a game again, I -will- steal this setup for the underworld. ^_^;
Yeah, this is actually way more canon than canon is- makes much more sense in-setting. It's bothered me for a while now that Yozis are composite beings and Malfeans are not (were the Yozis all turned inside out?) Only minor note is that Leviathan is the name of a major Lunar. - Arafelis
I'm glad you guys like it, and I'd be very happy if it got used. Feel free to add your own Stygians/Phantasms to the list if you wish. You are right about the Living Lord's name, Arafelis, though there's also the Brass Leviathan of Creatures of the Wyld, and I seem to recall another but I'm not sure if I'm misremembering. Anyway, Leviathan's name is a bit of a nod to Hellraiser II (also the source of my mental image of Labyrinth). While I'm thinking about it, the name Machin Shin is a nod to Jordan's Wheel of Time series (or more properly the video game). I'm not a big fan, but the portrayal of that particular entity is almost exactly what I was thinking of, and I liked the name. - GregorDyne