Kelicho: World Primer
Kelicho is a difficult place to thrive; the tyranny of the mortal coil conspires against its temporary inhabitants. Most struggle through their lives. Break beneath the cruel world's oppressive weight.
If you want to make it any better for them you'll have to embrace a bit of that madness.
Kelicho's reality has less divergence than other multi-planar worlds, but it is far from one single realm. As in classical myth its multiple layers are directly tethered, be it by physical routes or far stranger forces beside.
The sad truth of that reality is that the worst places to roam are often the easiest to stumble into accidentally.
The Mortal World
It was too late to hide the truth from us any longer. This was it. The sum of our inheritance.
A mountain of ruin built on the ashes of an old, dead world.
Caught in orbit around the solitary star Surat, Kelicho is a temperate world slightly greater in both proportion and intensity than our more familiar Earth. In a general sense this means that a number of physical features are equal or otherwise similarly comparable. For instance the two planets have effectively identical gravity, as well as an equally broad range of climates, temperatures, and material compositions. Naturally Kelicho only has space for so many similarities. Kelicho boasts more days in every year. Seasons strike on a global basis, free of separation between its hemispheres. The End of the Old World flung debris beyond the sky with its impact and now a silver ring fills the distance between the land and the moon above.
Unfortunately while these can undeniably make Kelicho more punishing they aren't its harshest features.
Across Kelicho's three continents the material world has drifted toward manifest chaos. Many of the vacant lands left untouched by modern settlers still suffer the aftershocks of the world's untimely end, leaving them disjointed from time and rational thought alike. The lands flex, weave, and change when left unsupervised. While certain features such as mountains are too large to be left unobserved by at least some individual, finer details even in local regions may warp wildly without warning. One day a woodland clearing is open and pristine, and the next consumed by some fetid bog unsuited for the local clime. Notable ruins repopulate with ancient wares and similarly old horrors or transform into the charred remnants of a city that was never built. Civility brings order, and in the heartlands of prominent nations these events are rare... but at times, when the laws of physics themselves might turn and twist as the land does, it can be difficult to find certainty in that.
The Blackwoods Forest
That was the start of it. We woke up, and suddenly all of our turns on the path seemed wrong.
It didn't make sense. Nothing did. We'd been there before. Everyone has!
No map in the known world has a concrete location that contains the Blackwoods. It seems some intangible constant, existing simultaneously in every known corner of the world and yet lurking somewhere beneath the surface of mortal perception. Without a clear means of entry or a consistent location, many believe that the realm is simply beyond modern understanding of physical space. Alternatively, the worse idea, it can move. The Blackwood itself is strangled with its own unnatural density and the strange appearance of its local flora, most of it often appearing sickly or dead or otherwise unnatural. What little open space exists is often choked with resilient brambles, and the gnarled trees grow black as pitch with dying or visibly gray-stained leaves. The sheer woodland density of the Blackwoods paired with the malformed flora and landscape means that in most cases the sky may be entirely obscured. In some rare instances the canopy opens up but the sky remains concealed by dark rain clouds and fog that make determining time or any presence of the sun impossible. In some rare instances one may stumble upon sparse signs of mortal life. A tattered, crumbling windmill in a clearing or the charred remnants of an old firepit. Perhaps, with the right amount of good fortune or the lack thereof, a wayward soul could even find themselves staggering into a small town, bizarrely thriving on the backs of people who failed to make their escape or simply decided they had no desire to try. At its center stands The Old Ironheart, a bizarrely immaculate inn and tavern that serves as a haven to the destitute and unwanted alike. The Innkeeper Gallows purveys a seemingly limitless supply of hot food and strong drink to her patrons, and while its unknown source seems suspicious to some none dare ask.
There are always going to be worse things waiting out in the woods.
The First Grave
Every man that has ever feared death has tried to find ways to cheat it.
They don't understand that all they're doing is trading one hell for another.
The First Grave is inextricably tethered to the mortal world. Taking one step in the primeval realm requires taking one step in the physical realm, and the two are so closely mirrored that someone capable of navigating Kelicho's environments will still generally recognize landmarks and geography. This makes putting One Foot in the Grave akin to opening your mind to perceiving the fourth dimension rather than fully departing reality. Before the End of the Old World the First Grave was the intermediary realm between the worlds of the living and the dead, serving as both the waystation in which souls were judged and organized and the first home of the original God of Death themself. As They grew mad and violent the other Gods rapidly deprecated its use in order to apply a more direct solution for the passing of souls. It has gone untouched by divine hands since.
Except in the wake of the end of the world something else burrowed its way back in.
The pale sky of the Grave now bleeds a foul ichorous black from the ragged hole that was gnawed in its sky, pooling at the edge of the horizon and flooding ever-closer to its inhabitants. A baleful void-black sun howls and tears at whatever poor wayward soul might dare enter its ceaselessly voracious unlight. The mortal soul bleeds from its physical form as wisps of smoke, pulled inexorably to the maddening gap in that alien sky. Accessing the Grave is at best desperate and at its worst entirely accidental. While occupying the Grave is capable of staving off death it still requires a man to be dying to access it, allowing individuals full function in spite of mortal wounds but doing nothing to repair or reinforce the wounds themselves. Then it worsens. Should one enter the Grave then survive both their wounds and the forces within they will be permanently, physically marked as something wholly unnatural. The place is cursed and all that enter must share its mark.
The Old Dreamland
Wake up. Wake up. You don't understand, you have to wake up.
When you do, I need you to run. Run. Hide. There isn't any fighting this now.
The Dreamlands were not created with purely physical entities in mind. At the height of their prominence the Dreamlands played host to all manner of fantastically powerful entities: immortals, old spirits, demigods and Deities alike. It was a realm where thought alone was enough to reshape pockets of reality as it was founded. For the majority of Kelicho's long life these Dreamlands were literal. Mortals were only capable of traversing the realm indirectly, as their minds and spirits wandered in the deep of a night's rest. They drifted, visiting the homes of vast powers so they too might be woven into tales of intrigue, delight, love... and sometimes terror.
The assumption that every power in that realm was benevolent may be the oldest mistake in the world.
While the dreams of mortals have long since been delegated to a new host, the Old Dreamlands failed to fade away completely. Even now it remains active, occasionally plucking mortal minds from their fleshy, sleeping shells... Only now its creators are long gone, and the realm can only remember the last tale it was ever told.
There is no more joy. There is no more wonder. There is only The Hunt.
In ancient times one could escape the Hunt by simply eluding them to the break of dawn but an unending midnight has consumed these lands. Tireless iron riders and horrendous baying hounds thunder through the warped mirror of reality in pursuit of unwilling prey, only ceasing with the death of the prey or their leader. Men slain by the hunt are found dead in their beds come morning. Miraculously talented warriors capable of besting their pursuers in combat find themselves waking not far from where they struck the final blow, even continents away. And some desperate few may run where even the Hunt will not pursue... vanishing entirely.
The Depths Below
Do you think you really understand grief? Regret?
Are those feelings for what you did, or are they just because you're down here too?
Most men that claim to have earned their path to the afterlife are liars. Even if they only lie to themselves.
Deep below the surface of Kelicho, reaching inexorably down towards the seizing heart of a dead world, is a boundless expanse of manifest chaos. Directly linked to physical reality but not wholly bound to its laws, the Depths are comprised of a series of tunnels, caverns, and ancient ruins long since torn from the living world. This is where the lost and the damned dead suffer for their crimes, indebted and interred in the Underworld. To the dead and living alike the mere thought of the Depths is a nightmarish prospect. The Underworld has no purpose beyond punishment and is insidious in doing so. Its gnaws into the grief, doubts, and regrets of its victims, tormenting them physically and mentally as they aimlessly wander the ever-changing labyrinth far beyond the reach of the sun. Nothing in that deepest dark can be trusted. Especially other wayward souls. But an unworthy death is not the only road to hell. In the mortal realm above doors and gates have opened; most deep underground, but some harrowingly close to the surface. To the brave and foolhardy alike this can be a boon, a calling. Even the shallows of the Depths contain priceless artifacts, and those willing to brave its reaches can travel vast distances with little effort. Then the trouble is leaving at all... or in their own time. The only world worse than a hell of manifest chaos is a hell of deliberate intents. Abominable horrors skulk in the murk in forms unsuitable for any other realm. There are ruinous forces adrift in the primordial madness that is the heart of Kelicho, restrained only by their incompatibility with the mortal world's physical laws. Even among those forces, only four bear a mantle of power sufficient to bend the Depths to their will.
And then, at the bottom of that endless pit, something thrashes furiously against its cage.
The Void Beyond
Do you see?
Do͉̎ ̿͟you͙̅ ̨̈́s̈ͅee?͎̊
Do you see?
Do you see the shadow that tortured you so, that made you fear the earth at your feet without a wary thought to cast beyond the sky?
Resting at the furthest reaches of Kelicho's sky and past its sun, ring, and moon is a vast expanse of nothing that no living being may survive unprepared.
But beyond that deathly expanse of nothing is something else entirely; the black that fills the space between stars, beyond time and space and understanding.
Peer deep within that starless black. Find nothing left and no road back.
There are things in the cosmos that have evolved past conventional being, watching from behind the black veil dividing the cosmos and the unreality outside it. At times these Outsiders might peer out from the starless black into the universe, be it in pursuit of an individual goal or simply to entertain themselves for a time. They slip out through the cracks in reality's foundations, exerting their will as best they can without otherwise antagonizing forces that may otherwise wish to contest them.
A god is a God within the bounds of their own realms. Even the horrors beyond the veil might avoid testing the patience of celestial powers within their own home.
The Laughing Prophet is Kelicho's most frequent Outsider, an alien entity that has crudely shaped itself into the approximation of a human form. The Prophet fashions itself as some manner of dark, occult power for unclear purposes. As a result some few Cultists occasionally call upon their pagan God directly in pursuit of its perceived benevolence. They trade pieces of themselves—segments of body, soul, or mind—in exchange for the unpredictable gifts of bizarre, unnatural capabilities.
Most cultists realize their mistake before long. They only recall that others consider the Prophet a God of Malice after their bizarre powers fail when truly needed.
Assuming their extended exposure to the Void does not leave them horrendously, brutally maimed or shorn clean from existence.