Exalted: Modern – The UnderworldMay 13, 2011
The Underworld is no longer a pale reflection of the mortal plane. Once, it was a faded version of Creation, but with the waking of the Kukla and the raging torment of the Neverborn, it has become something else entirely. The Labyrinth has spread to swallow most of the Underworld, and even those parts not afflicted by the agonized chaos of the half-dead Primordials are alien and horrifying. It was never a comforting place, but now it is actively inimical to humanity.
The geography of the Underworld no longer makes any kind of sense. When Lovecraft spoke of “non-Euclidean spaces,” he could well have been referring to the dead dreams of the Neverborn. Causality and time are only casually acquainted with the ghost world. The Labyrinth spreads its clutching talons throughout the entirety of the Underworld, and builds or tears down structures and landscapes with the fluidity of nightmare.
Stygia, however, remains at the center of the Underworld. While it no longer resembles the city it once was, it still resembles a city, if a city built of torment and horrors. When the howling dreams of the Neverborn wailed up from the Mouth of the Void, Stygia was at the epicenter. Chaotic forces tore at the city and its inhabitants. Streets were reshaped, buildings torn down or flung into the sky, and commonly accepted phenomena such as gravity or spatial relationships ceased to matter.
Worse for the inhabitants, the mad dreams of the Neverborn drove themselves into every ghost in Stygia (which happened to include the majority of the Deathlords). Nephwracks and spectres suddenly outnumbered “sane” ghosts ten to one or more. Those few who resisted the initial madness were torn apart by frenzied nihilists. Stygia became a haunted city, even for the Underworld.
At the same time, literally millions, maybe hundreds of millions, of ghosts were pouring into the Underworld from every corner of the rapidly dying Creation. Caught in a tempest of madness that was spreading from Stygia like a creeping stain, the few societies that remained untainted fought to claim as many of the new souls as they could, to bolster their defenses against the armies (or, more accurately, mobs) of nephwracks. When the Deathlords rode at the heads of these mobs, all defenses failed.
Outside the walls of Stygia, the Underworld is labyrinthine and chaotic. Sometimes, a bleak, sunless sky will span for leagues, before suddenly becoming the ceiling of an oubliette, or a flying buttress hanging senselessly in midair. Strange creatures wander the landscape, things that resemble spectral animals from Earth only in the very loosest of senses. Ghosts who appear in the Underworld find themselves beset on all sides by horrific dangers, from the denizens of the Underworld, to their fellow ghosts who seek to enslave or consume them, or simply by the inhospitable nature of the Underworld itself. It is a place where humanity is rapidly stripped from ghosts, leaving them little more than animals themselves.
The Deathlords have not helped this situation. Their own humanity lost long ago, they ruthlessly spread their own insanity wherever they went. Many of them have taken well to their new state of affairs: The Bishop of the Chalcedony Thurible, for example, has only grown in fervor and zealotry with the passing centuries. Yet others find their methods and lack of humanity almost crippling. The Lover Clad in the Raiment of Tears cannot even successfully pass as human anymore, and so her one diversion, her one plan is no longer an option for her. It is said that she has attempted to cast herself into the Mouth of the Void no fewer than three times over the intervening centuries, but the Neverborn keep hurling her back up into Stygia, refusing to allow her peace until they have their own.
With the advent of the Abyssal Exalted, one Deathlord in particular promises to be a force to be reckoned with. Eye and Seven Despairs, languishing in genius idleness for centuries, has never shown a particular desire to return to Earth. He has instead spent his time inventing thousands of doomsday weapons, stockpiled in his Manse in Stygia. However, he has suddenly taken an interest in returning to Earth, turning his mad genius to designing some manner of spiritual bridge. The other Deathlords claim that he only cares for the Exaltations of his First Age circle, his hatred still burning bright for thousands of years, but in the end, they watch him anyway. Why do they care why he brings them to Earth, so long as he does so?
As for the Neverborn, they have long since given up anything resembling hope. Their lives are eternal suffering, trapped in tormented nightmares for all of time. Creation could never again grow so close to destruction as it did when the Kukla woke, and even that was stolen from them by the cursed Exalted. The only thing that keeps them bound is the echo of their hatred for Earth, their obsession for that hatred. If some brave Exalt can sever that tie, can show them how hollow their compulsion is and how pale in comparison to the rage they once felt, perhaps they could finally drop into Oblivion and know peace.