Ontorseia

The waterworld, the underworld, the afterworld

T
he Ontorseia is a vast collection of underground saltwater bodies that lurks deep beneath the surface of Excilior's continents. It is a bucket term that encompasses the repeated phenomenon that, whenever someone travels far enough below the surface, they eventually run into an impenetrable body of saltwater. Any time one of these saltwater bodies is encountered, it is referred to as another outlet of the Ontorseia, even though there is no way to confirm whether it is contiguous with any of the other bodies of the Ontorseia.

Preservative Qualities
O
ne of the sea's most striking qualities is its preservative effects. Organic matter left in its waters will last for many hundreds of years. It's not simply that the material fails to rot, it's that it is truly preserved in a way that can be unsettling for those observing a long-dead corpse, still stunningly-lifelike, in its grasp.   Prevailing wisdom indicates that the sea's extreme salinity is a key factor in this preservation. But that can't fully explain the phenomenon. Oplander cognoscenti have tried diligently to duplicate the effect above ground. Their experiments typically involve adding great amounts of salt to water, then adding more salt, then adding even more salt. But the salt alone does not replicate the Ontorseia's uncanny ability to maintain organic matter, dead for centuries, looking as though it was alive only minutes ago.

Noctern Culture
T
he Ontorseia is one of the holiest places in all Noctern society. It takes on many roles - as a portal to the afterworld, as a place to lay their loved ones to rest and to commune with them thereafter, as a source of creation mythology, and as a sacred resource that they would fight to the bitter death to protect.
 
Sea of the Dead
Nocterns don't bury or cremate their dead. They leave them to float - in pristine condition, for centuries - on the serene waters of the Ontorseia. Given the stunning preservation offered by these waters, conservative estimates indicate that there are probably millions of long-dead Nocterns floating in various outlets of this sea, under all the planet's continents, right now.   Before setting their beloved afloat, the body of the deceased is stuffed with a vibrant combination of fluorescent fungi and mosses. The glow of these cave staples can easily last for months. This means, at Ontorseia outlets supporting large Noctern populations, the vast caverns containing the sea can fluoresce, nonstop, for months on end, even if no Nocterns have recently passed away.

Geography

A
lthough its true extent has never been confirmed (and even with the latest casterway technology, there's no way that it could ever be confirmed), it's known that Ontorseia outlets exists under all of the planet's major landmasses. Every time someone has managed to venture far enough down through the Ontorlands, they always, eventually run into a body of saltwater lurking in the darkness.
 
One Sea - Or Many
It is a matter of great debate as to whether all of the observed outlets of the Ontorseia actually form a contiguous network. Some cognoscenti believe that they are just a common - yet unconnected - feature of the planet that one encounters whenever venturing far enough below ground level. Others contend that, if one could swim and breathe in this environment, and if one were small enough to navigate through the narrowest of rock channels, that it would be possible to navigate to every Ontorseia outlet without ever leaving the water. There are even some fanciful theories claiming that all of the great continents actually float on a uniform membrane of the Ontorseia's rich, viscous saltwater. This is accepted by only a fringe few, but it makes for entertaining creation myths and conspiracy theories.

Depth Below the Surface
P
art of the reason that the Ontorseia is often referred to with a single moniker, is because it's believed to be encountered at the same depth no matter which particular channel one has happened to discover. However, there's no firm consensus on exactly what that depth is. The earliest discovery of the sea claimed that it was a mere 50 meters below the surface. But a detailed analysis of the exploration party's records indicates that they had been wandering through the Ontorlands for days and were almost certainly lost. As such, their estimate as to the sea's location below the surface is thought to be highly unreliable.
 
Mysterious Deep
Subsequent expeditions have consistently estimated that the sea is much farther below the surface. A rough average of credible estimates indicates that it is at least a kilometer underground. Of course, traveling to it, at nearly any location, would be a much longer journey, because there's no shaft that would allow anyone to simply drop straight to the water. Rather, every path to the Ontorseia follows natural cave formations. This means that a journey only one kilometer below the surface could actually requires ten, fifteen, or more kilometers of trail before reaching the goal. This would seem to be confirmed from anecdotal accounts of Noctern burial ceremonies. When they take their beloved to the sea, it often takes them the better part of a day to make the journey - and they are the ultimate experts in traversing every crevice of the Ontorlands.   Of course, these travel times are also affected by the subterranean paths available in a given region. Nocterns under southern Islemanoton may have discovered more-direct routes to the Ontorseia, and thus their path may take far less time to complete. But the most direct path available to their cousins in northern Isleprimoton may be much more winding and would thus require a longer trek.   From the cognoscenti's perspective, the problem really comes down to a lack of data. In all of recorded history, there may be no more than a dozen reliable accounts of an oplander's path to the great underground sea far below. And even those handful of accounts can, at times, offer contradictory data.

Flora & Fauna

T
here are no known plants or animals that survive in or directly around the Ontorseia. This stems from the fact that it is not merely a "body of saltwater". It is a deposit of epic salinity. The viscosity is so great that otherwise-unseaworthy objects float effortlessly on its surface. A simple plank is all that's needed to navigate its waters.   Fantastic and unclassified subterranean creatures have occasionally been reported flitting through the edge of a lantern's range on a far shore. But those creatures never drink from the sea. Nor have they ever been reported entering it. No fish wash upon its still shores. It even seems to be utterly devoid of insect life. The flowing mosses, fungi, and algae that are so prevalent throughout the rest of the Ontorlands are rarely seen at these depths, and never near the water.
 
Wisps in the Water
The scant oplander parties to reach the sea - and to make it back alive - have reported occasional specks of pastel lights turning on-then-immediately-off from somewhere deep in the saltwater. But these lights last less than a second, happen only once ever hour-or-so, and can't be positively attributed to any kind of organic phenomenon. At least one party had the strong impression that it was nothing more than a shared delusion, most likely fostered by foreign gases resting just above the water's placid surface.

Natural Resources

When we finally found that great, black, silent sea, I struck a fresh lamp and held it high. The resulting shimmer of iridescent exoticism stole the resolve from my knees and rose a salty tear in my remaining eye.
Alnod Hordnard, Sceraisian tomb raider, 2781 AoR
M
any potential minerals are presumed to be resting at the floor of the Ontorseia, floating in its waters, or clinging to the cavern walls that contain it. But it's not known if anyone has ever made an earnest attempt to prospect for such resources.   The sea resides solely in the Ontorlands and that is the ancestral home of the Nocterns. But it's not believed that Nocterns have ever tried to exploit the sea for minerals (or anything else). The primary reason for this is that they use the entire sea (or network of seas) as part of a vast and sacred burial rite. Expecting Nocterns to go prospecting into the Ontorseia for any kind of natural resources would be like expecting an oplander to excavate an ancient graveyard containing all of their beloved ancestors.
 
Mining for Trouble
Of course, this doesn't, theoretically, stop oplanders from trying to exploit whatever riches might be waiting for them in the dark waters below. But there are no oplander civilizations making any known plans to attempt such an expedition.   First, they would have to navigate their own way down to one of the Ontorseia's channels. But no one above ground has any reliable maps for the vast Ontorlands system below their feet. Without a Noctern guide, it's doubtful that most oplanders would even survive long enough to reach the sea. And given that Nocterns and oplanders generally endure an icy and hostile relationship, it's hard to imagine a motivation that would inspire Nocterns to lead oplanders to their sacred burial chambers - all so that the oplanders could presumably exploit (read: destroy) the resource.   Even under the assumption that oplanders could find their own way to some outlet of the sea, any successful extraction of minerals, or other resources, would be nearly impossible to accomplish without, at some point, alerting the Nocterns to what they're trying to accomplish. Once the purpose became known, it would almost certainly lead to an immediate outbreak of war. Oplanders have had a hard enough time dealing with Noctern military tactics above ground. The last thing that most surface-dwellers would want to do is engage the Nocterns in large-scale battle on their own underground, labyrinthine turf. It's not hard to imagine several dozen Nocterns killing hundreds of oplanders if those same surface-dwellers were foolish enough to engage them in the vast network of caves and tunnels that they call their home.
Pronunciation ONN-terr-say
Type
Sea
Location under
Ontorlands

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