Who - or What - Are the Gods?
Across the planet, spawned from all manner of places and walks of life, the gods are impossibly powerful beings who look down upon the world and the mortals who reside upon it. As far as modern science has been able to discern, they seem to be something similar to a mortal soul, pushed well beyond its standard limits to something even the brightest minds can barely comprehend, let alone measure. The vast majority of gods acting on the world today originated somewhat recently, on a cosmological scale. In order to get a greater sense of how the gods function, and how they came to be, one must look further back than most records can show; back to the origins of the world itself.
Fables and myths infrequently refer to an ultimate God. The Creator in some circles, The One Before in others, but always spoken of in a tone of utter reverence. No information exists on who or what this being was, what its motives were, or where it is today, but all sources agree - twisted by time or not - that they formed Teicna and every celestial body around it, created the Four, and then dispersed, never to directly interact with the planet again. Theories abound as to what they sought to gain from these creations. Certain philosophers could speak for days straight on the supposed implications of the order of creation and the shapes formed by the stars, but the fact remains that this being simply disappeared after its job was done. Infuriating as it may be, we may never get a clear answer to any of the multitude of questions their mere existence raised.
When it comes to the Elemental Four, the Creator's sole heirs, things become a small amount clearer. They are lesser beings than the one who made them - though as they remain many orders of magnitude greater than even the strongest of mortals, this means very little to the average person. Born onto a barren rock that would eventually come to be the Teicna we know today, they took on roles as stewards of the place. They shaped the world's geography, developed lifeforms, and molded the basis of the mortal mind and soul. Unfortunately, due to failings that are all to familiar to their creations, they themselves disappeared from the world stage, one by one. These disappearances are not so mysterious and unknown as their predecessor's, but they're tawdry tales best left for a more fitting time and place.
The loss of the Four has perhaps taught us a better lesson than they ever could have when they were present in our lives. We must not seek to become as gods... We must seek to be better.
This brings us to the Mortal-born gods; A primeval accident, if some of their accounts are to be believed. When the Four first created life, they did not expect it to ever ascend to a level of power comparable to their own. And yet, as magic grew more prevalent, gods have been born not only from living beings, but also from magic itself, coalescing around powerful emotions, concepts, and the sites of major events throughout history. The gods of this world are incredibly numerous and varied, something which has granted divine attention to those who might have otherwise been overlooked, but also forms some problems of its own.
Domains and Territory
Each god has their own Domain; a subject or collection of related subjects that they attempt to personify, oversee, and encourage mortals to respect. In ancient times, when the gods were new, these concepts were quite broad. Gods of life and death - of nature, disease, society, and war - all rose as mortals proficient in these subjects grew in power, notoriety, and strength of will. For as long as these domains remained separate, all was well. This couldn't last forever, unfortunately, and steadily overlaps began to develop. Gods ascended whose primary focuses was incredibly similar, if not outright identical, to others who already existed. Conflicts between these gods grew more common as the overlaps did the same, until finally a conference of the gods was held to determine a solution to the problem before it devolved into outright violence. It took a great deal of time, even in the mortal reckoning of its passing, but a solution was eventually found. One that has stood the test of time - with a minor revision or amendment from time to time - to last well into the modern day.
When a new god ascends, their domain is assessed. Assuming it is deemed to be suitably unique, they are assigned territory. At the very least, this is the nation where they were the most impactful, relevant, or beloved. In cases where their domain is particularly uncontested, it may even encompass an entire continent. From here, it is up to the god to interact with mortals in order to grow knowledge of their existence and domain, eking out a name and place for themselves in the mortal world. This is not required, per se, but drifting along as an unknown god can cause complications, for as a god becomes better-known, they can begin to spread their word in any other region where their domain does not overlap with the territory of another god. If one is not known within their own territory, an intruding god of similar domain can elbow in on this territory with few to no consequences. Lose enough territory in this way, and a god may be forced into an early retirement.
What Do Gods Do?
When not actively vying for territory, and quite often while in the process of doing so, the gods treat the world like something of a cross between an ant farm and a global game of chess. For the most part, mortals are something to be observed for entertainment. Even though most of the current gods were once mortals themselves, there is something to an immortal life looking down upon the world as a whole that tends to shift their perspectives, steadily seeing the people down on the surface of the shattered globe less as kinsmen and more as simple pieces in an eternal game.
The entertainment value derived from attempts to predict and influence mortal behavior keeps many gods sated for decades, but for the rest, it also serves as an ample pool of pawns for more lucrative forms of enjoyment. In particular, gods frequently wager on the actions or mortals. Stakes are placed, gods take sides, rules are set, and one part of the world or another suddenly becomes the stage for matters of grave importance. Something as simple as whether or not a farmer takes revenge on their neighbor for an accident that killed several livestock could decide something as significant as the borders of a god's territory or earn one god a sizeable favor from another. It's here that the real moves are made on the divine political stage. While they're always vying for territory and bumping elbows with their neighbors in any case, it's these games of chance and manipulations of the lives of seemingly random mortals that serve to decide the largest shifts in power in the world.
When A God Ceases to Be
Gods are immortal, but this does not necessarily mean that they are eternal. In the long history of Teicna, gods have died, faded away, and stepped down from their positions in a number of ways. Many were killed in the events leading up to the Elemental Goddess Ignis being stricken down by her own kin. Malephesh died attempting to fix the cataclysm he himself began in attempting to split the world in two. A few gods, in moments of profound weakness, have even been slain by mere mortals. It is not a complicated thing to kill a god, relatively speaking. In terms of approach, it is not particularly dissimilar from killing a ghost or any other spirit. The only significant difference is the scale of it.
Beyond unexpected death, gods have two additional ways of disappearing from the world. The first is fairly straightforward; they simply choose to stop existing. A grim fate, in the eyes of some, but a number of particularly old gods have simply tired of existence to the degree that they have let go of themselves, dissipating back into the base magic of the world much like the souls of the forgotten. The alternative to this - one which is generally more popular amongst gods who have not yet tired of their eternal lives - is to become an Immortal.
The name is not the most creative, particularly seeing as gods are already immortal, but the state is simple enough. An immortal is an unaging, semidivine mortal shell, crafted by the god in question to their exact specifications. When the god's affairs are in order, they take a small fraction of their power and use it to create a powerful immortal soul. Once this soul is in place, the remainder of their essence dissipates, leaving them significantly weakened compared to their divine state, but still a powerful being on the face of the planet. From this point, they live as a mortal, free to do whatever they please, unshackled from the responsibilities of godhood while still retaining a few of the perks.
When a god dies, dissolves, or retires, they will almost always have an heir in place. Whether this is a demigod training to inherit their place or a mortal the god had their eye on, the being will ascend in the former god's final moments to fill their place. This new god will take on a number of aspects from the prior incarnation, most notably their name, domains, and major aspects of their appearance. Because of this inheritance, the heir is better able to integrate themselves into the position their forebear once held, with the existing follower-base already knowing the general thrust of their god's ideals and purpose. This is not to say the heir becomes some sort of clone of the prior god - though in some cases, they have been similar enough to the prior incarnation that they very nearly were - but gods are generally careful enough in choosing heirs that the differences in mindset and behavior are minimal at worst and a progression towards more modern interpretations of their domain at best.
In the rare case that a god has not selected an heir at their time of death, which generally only occurs when it comes suddenly and unexpectedly, the god's role in the world will generally end completely. Unless the next god to hold a similar domain to them is willing to take up their mantle and revive the name of the dead god, they will be relegated to history, their domain and territory split up amongst those who earn it.
The space between the average mortal beings and the gods may be a vast chasm, but that doesn't make it empty. There are a significant number of divinities who may not wield the power of the gods, but they can still outstrip all but the most motivated of mortals. This is a wildly fluctuating space, as every few years another species or classification of being or form of magic given will comes to light and expands upon an already-burgeoning list. For the time being, however, these are some of the most common and best-known of the so-called Lesser Divinities:
As one might expect, Demigods are essentially half-deities. Whether they're the result of a lackluster ascension or a mortal who has gained enough strength in life to transcend mortality while still linked to their fragile shell, these beings check nearly every box required for being considered a god but one: They lack power.
Because of their status as lower-tier divinities, demigods must prove their worth and unique place in the world, or risk getting pressured out by existing gods of similar domains. Unlike between fully-fledged gods, there is nothing forcing them to differ from an already-established god, but as most of those are rather jealous beings, and since most demigods hope to one day become such beings in the future, many try to find their niche early and protect it jealously from others. Should a demigod draw the eye of a god whose domain they overlap, their choices are limited. In an unfortunate number of cases, the god will see them killed, or else shackled in such a way that they can never hope to attain full-god status. For the rest, opportunities exist to become vassals of the gods, allowing them to serve almost like understudies, performing minor tasks in their god's name and spreading their influence. From this position, a number have found their way into attaining what they sought all along, either by splitting off into an adjacent, unclaimed domain once they'd gathered enough power, or else by being selected as the god's replacement when they died or stepped down.
Living up to their name, Elementals are naturally-occurring spirits of the elements. There are various levels of Elemental power, ranging from minor wisps on par with most animals all the way up to some of the gods themselves. Once, as with the Elemental Four who served as their collective ancestors, all elementals came in only the four major varieties of Earth, Air, Water, and Fire, but as time has gone on, strange and hyperspecialized variants have steadily appeared. Magma elementals with some grasp of both fire and stone, lightning elementals that are constantly in motion, obliterating most things they come across, and even some that have adapted to modern scientific discovers of more pure elements, such as the liquid quicksilver or corrosive chlorine elementals.
The World Trees
Planted in the wake of the Rending that nearly destroyed the planet, the World Trees are a singular entity split between several divine growths across the world. Their intertwining roots help to hold the two disjointed halves of the world together, along with ancient god-magic.