The Lore

The Age of Astrals

As I have traveled far beyond the reaches of Knownspace and plumbed the depths of worlds unimaginable, I have come to know this simple, ineffable truth: Every living thing has a Soul; a sentient spark that is every bit as divine as the Hrozic decreed it to be and just as mysterious and unknowable as the Krii’jyx Idra supposed it should be. There have been many words across countless worlds used to describe and define the indisputable truth of Soul, but no one word can ever fully grasp in the palm of their hand or with any plain language just what this beautiful living thing is or how it came to be.

To the living, this may sound somewhat abstract (or possibly absurd), but the universe is neither as predictable as we’d imagine, nor as tame as we may want to believe it to be. But what then is a soul? And what are we then, as the living, if not mere casings for these ethereal constructs?

The Immortal Omnibus, by Pilgrim U'sol

It is quite difficult to accurately compile a history of what came before because such contextual backstory is often penned by the victors. Surely, dear reader, you must know that what is contained within these pages and may surmise outside of them is but an amalgamation of rumor, hyperbolic revisionist history, and mere whispers of truth entangled in a great mass of misdirection and outright lies. And so it is with this account of what came before the Ethereal Transit Authority’s total control and market dominance on the business of Death.

For the uninitiated, the Ethereal Transit Authority is solely responsible for one very specific but universally critical task: the transportation of recently severed Souls from their native universe to their new eternal home in the Ethereal Plane (colloquially referred to as the Hereafter). It’s big business, and just like any other business endeavor, the ETA won the exclusive contract to become the ferrymen of the dearly departed from Nazuul — God of Death himself.

The timeline before the formation of the Ethereal Transit Authority is about as spotty as you’d imagine it to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s been completely lost to the Abyss. However, I should warn you, dear reader, to consider these musings as conjecture, oral legend, possible fiction, and (in some cases) indictable heresy.

There are whispers of a cruel universe only in its infancy, where Gods, wrought from the cosmic ether, ruled from their celestial kingdoms; interfering and directing the affairs of this new life as it awakened into pioneering existence. While little is known of the origins or forerunners of these divine beings, each God was given authority over an aspect of reality; a Sacred Purpose to carry out their celestial duties, from whom it’s unclear. The gods (or Astrals as they’re described by the Pilgrim U'sol), as we understand them, were not the direct summoners of life itself — that is a Magick far more primordial and mysterious. But they did believe themselves to be the rightful rulers of that life. And so the Astrals saw themselves less as caretakers of existence, but as conquerors.

But the universe can be a harsh place—even for a God.

While we may never know the specifics or what became of the other Astrals, we do know that they were not nearly as infinite as their power may have made them out to be. In the tattered and ravaged corners of the Infinitum, far from the reach of Knownspace, we see celestial entrails; signaling that the Age of Gods was an age that had both a beginning and an end to the epoch. But while most of their myths are lost to the ever-fragmenting sands of time eternal, we do know that Nazuul, the God of Death charged with the Sacred Purpose of shepherding severed Souls to the Ethereal Plane, expanded his empire as famine, war, and pestilence continued to spread across the Infinitum. Cruel, hungry planes of existence call for sacrifices in bulk. Eventually, the burden became too much for Nazuul and he, in his omnipotence, created what could almost be considered new life, fusing untethered Souls and his own divine energy. Thus the Heralds (or Angels of Death), powerful divine beings with that same Sacred Purpose, were created to assist Nazuul in his work as shepherds of the dead.

But as Nazuul’s ranks grew, great beings, known as Ancients, began to emerge and take root in the universe. They were unlike any life that had before them: massive in stature and studied in the mechanics and arithmetic of the stars. Their cause was simple: to advance their species to the furthest reaches of both technology and innovation — and, even in the midst of what could be considered the celestial dark ages, they were doing it. They soon gave birth to Ancient Runic Technology, a fusion of science, magick, and mysticism that allowed them to pierce the veil of reality itself with what is commonly referred to as The Jump; the ability to travel between the very planes of existence—or, at least, many of them.

While the Ancient Runic Technology did indeed catapult the Ancients into a new technological revolution, it did not come without its price to be paid. New technology will always pose new risks and open its newly minted wielders to grave dangers and ruinous consequences such as aberrations; tears in the fabric of reality that would distort and corrupt Ancients into abominations. And new horrors would soon greet these intrepid pioneers of the unknown.

Beasts that lay in wait in the void planes between the universes, in the Abyss, began to creep their way in, bringing with them cosmic horrors — the likes of which had never been seen before. Like a fetid cancer, the Abyss crept into our Knownspace, bringing untold terrors both hostile and alien to our worlds with it. Here be monsters — and those monsters were Daemons, clawing their way inside the doors of reality.

While the Ancients’ dabbling in the very fabric of reality was creating new monsters, it was their own fascination (and rejection) of death itself that compelled them to find a path beyond the boundaries of existence; in search of immortality.

But what is a God if not an arbiter of their own Sacred Purpose? Nazuul and his Heralds feared that the Ancients’ own meddling would imbalance the living Infinitum. All life must end. It was a sacred aspect of reality that was to be upheld by the God of Death himself. And so it was that Nazuul sought to broker a deal with the Ancients, dispatching his Angels as his heavenly ambassadors. The treaty was simple: the Ancients would cease their search for immortality, destroy their sacred arithmetic, and Nazuul would bestow upon them Ancestral sight; the power to harness visions from Souls, and granting safe passage to the Hereafter. In this way, Ancients could become both emissaries and caretakers of the untethered.

But the treaty never came to be — the Daemons had found their way into the Ancients’ reality. They had obliterated the Ancients, and the once-great civilization of Nycroptis now lay in ruins. Nazuul’s Heralds took up the fight, waging an all-out war against the Daemons and ultimately pushing them back into the Abyssal Plane. But in order to seal the breach and wipe out any last trace of the Daemon scourge, the Heralds set off their own mass extinction event. To win the war against the hordes of the Abyss, the Angels of Death setting loose upon the universe a power that not even Nazuul could have predicted: this “God Bomb” may have saved our universe from total annihilation, but this final act of desperation fueled by Sacred Purpose forever marred all planes of reality for all time thereafter.

The Age of Annihilation

Life is not beautiful solely because it is fragile, but it is indeed fragile because it is beautiful. We struggle to cling to knowable life with clenched fists and gritted teeth, only to watch it slip away before us; overpowering our grit, our strength, our anger, and even our desperation. The mysteries of purpose and prolonging reclaimed by the infinite sea, making its hasty recession to crash on some other distant shore — perplexing those there as it has done with those of us left here.

But revelation of purpose is not what gives life beauty or value or meaning. To be sure, these have eluded the scholars of every world in each and every age. We are weathered by our grappling with purpose; marked by our dance with divine appointment. And in this, we settle for mythology and the hope for a world abundant in “more”. We yearn for a glimpse behind the great curtain, only to ever be rewarded with none.

But all is not lost.

The Soul understands that life cannot be contained in mere statefulness. It is both pilot and passenger — in life and beyond it. And its purpose, however unknowable, does not require our comprehension.

The Immortal Omnibus, by Pilgrim U'sol

Life is indeed a fragile thing. It’s more delicate than anyone can possibly realize. And it’s a miracle that any of it (and, by that token, we) exists. This facet of presence faces most of us on either the precipice of great tragedy or staring down our own precious mortality.

After the war, pieces of the Infinitum lay in shambles as whole branches of mortal life were seemingly snuffed out of existence in a mere moment to combat a threat so ravenous at such a cosmic scale that nothing could be saved. The only way to prevent prolonged catastrophe was to become the calamity to prevent it from taking root across all planes of existence; trapping the Daemonic infection to halt the defilement of the entire body.

The complete obliteration through the God Bomb upon the many legions of the Abyss tore Soul asunder from the body, fragmenting it into mere shreds then lost to the cosmic winds. It was the first known record of a Soul being annihilated with the flesh. Those Daemons that escaped to crawl back into their infernal burrows were forever sealed from the Infinitum to rot in the Voidspace between—or to patiently lay in wait, sulking in the darkness. Nazuul felt the crushing weight of these decisions. What had he wrought upon the Infinitum?

Without the power to affect creation anew and not willing to once again recycle Souls as he had once done to create his Angels of Death, Nazuul and the Heralds watched and waited for any signs of life to begin within the wasteland of this great catastrophe. Still, for eons, it stood vacant and hauntingly abandoned; as if extinction carried with it an echo that cast a shadow on all seeds that tried to grow, strangling out life before anything could take root.

In the wake of this cataclysm, a scar had been branded on the Infinitum; a lasting wound that seemed as if it would never heal. And from this eternal gash, it seeped an inky stain; Voidmatter. A kind of cosmic hemorrhaging that would choke out all life, light, and hope. Forever, a weeping blemish and reminder of ruin.

But annihilation, it seems, did not have the final word.

Life began as a whisper in this deadspace; delicate and frail as it emerged from what seemed like an eternity in slumber. Like a new sprout straining to find any trace of sunlight. And then, a torrent as the feeble seedling became a miracle—stretching its eager tendrils towards the heavens. What was dead and thought to be lost forever to the sins of the past, now found and alive with want and purpose. This new life began to take shape in the least likely of places, amidst the vacuum of despair, long since discarded and thought to be mere ruins. Matter springing up amidst the Voidmatter. Defying tragedy and extinction, and restoring the world of the living, just as nature reclaims what’s left in its bosom—not through decay, but through renewal and growth.

This new life was unlike anything that had been before. And perhaps “life” is not such an apt qualifier for this uncertain and curious consciousness. These were Grims and they were like nothing that had walked these cosmic shores. Somehow, devoid of Soul, they seemed a remarkable mistake. By all estimations and arithmetic, Grims should no, could not, exist. And yet, here they flourished. And most curious of all, the Voidmatter, thought to be a blight to all it touched became their very lifeblood. The very poison given animation and autonomy, perhaps in place of the Soul. Or perhaps the Soul was what fed the Voidmatter?

Grims are what shouldn’t be. They’re an impossibility made real. And their very existence cast a shadow of confusion across the whole of existence, both mortal and Astral.

Artwork: @ragous_