The Cosmonology of Dualve-Mirroir
The adventurers stumbled into this new room, steel and wands drawn, wary of any kind of unwanted surprise that seemed to be a mainstay of this bizarre and dangerous locale. While none of the semi-transparent automatons saw it fit to attack them this time, the party remained vigilant, as their previous encounters with the constructs didn't exactly end on a peaceful note.
This particular chamber was as strange, if not stranger, than the previous ones they had just explored, with large spheres seemingly constructed out of a queer mix of glass and metal floating lazily about a massive dome, its sides filled with metal piping and strange conduits, intersped with glass panels that flashed patterns of light or strange arcane writing -- or both. In its center stood a wide pillar, its surface dotted with more of the spheres, giving the impression of a stem with various bulbs growing from it... If one imagined a metallic stem the height of three storm giants placed on top of one another, that is.
"What is this place?" Selaqui asked, as the group made its way cautiously towards the center of the dome. The elven warrior glanced at a sphere, and saw that its clear surface seemed to be transmitting the images of a pitched battle being fought amidst the boughs of an ancient forest. She turned to her companions, who had drifted somewhat from the tight formation they had been in, and were making their own observations on the spheres that drifted near to them.
"It could be anything, but if I'd hazard a guess I think it's an observatory of some kind," Lothiel replied, as the wizard rubbed a hand against his chin in interest as he watched a wizard battle on the sphere that floated near him. "These look like scrying globes, for example, but of created of an advanced design I haven't encountered yet in my studies. Fascinating..."
Selaqui sighed, and wasn't too surprised at her wizard friend's response. "How about you, Naeel? You've been around the planes. Does this look familiar to you?" she asked another of her companions, who was off to her right observing a few spheres of his own.
The shadovar seemed to give a shrug of his armored shoulders, his glowing amber eyes betraying the same sense of puzzlement that she felt at the moment. "I've been to the Hells and to the Abyss on missions before, but I've never seen anything like this," Naeel spoke in his heavily-accented common, as he turned from his study of a duel between two generals. "This is... beyond me, I'm afraid." The warrior moved to study another drifting sphere, the strange shadowstuff that was his heritage flowing in his wake.
"I sense no evil here," she heard the paladin Malthus declare as he matched her pace, though there was a decidedly worried look on his face. "Though that doesn't comfort me in the least." Selaqui found herself a little surprised by the knight's admission, though she would be lying if she said she didn't share some of the knight's misgivings. "'Tis as if something was terribly wrong with this place, yet I can't quite say what it is."
"Maybe it has something to do with the events we're witnessing?" Jaedrel ventured, as they continued towards the center of the chamber. "Like they're familiar, yet somehow different?" The dark elf nodded in the direction of a nearby globe, and focused their attention to the images playing themselves out in it. "If I didn't know better, that looks like the capital of Vorvoc... But I don't remember it made out of black basalt, or see people being flogged in the streets."
"An interesting observation," a voice echoed in the chamber, bringing the group short just as they were about to reach the pillar. As the party came together in a protective circle around their wizard, a figure stepped into the brightness being thrown by the larger spheres that dotted the pillar. "And a surprisingly astute one, at that." He looked like an elf, but possessed nearly ash-white skin and hair in a startling dead-white hue, and stared at them with eyes that seemed like pits of darkness. He was dressed in the long dark robes of a scholar, but seemed to move with the practiced grace of a dancer... or a warrior.
"Who are you, and what is this place?" Selaqui wanted to kick herself for being the one to say those words, instead of, oh, the paladin, but she had a feeling that they were going to get the answers anyway, regardless of whether they asked or not.
The strange elf gave a quick laugh, before giving a curt reply. "Who I am is hardly important," he spoke as he walked slowly in their direction. "As for what this place is... You can say that this is an observatory of sorts." The stranger stopped in front of them, an odd sort of smile gracing his face, as if he was sharing a joke no one else seemed to understand.
"An observatory? Of what?" Lothiel wanted to know.
"Why, of the world... And of you." The elf made a sweeping gesture with his arms, which summoned five of the floating spheres to them. The globes began a lazy orbit of them, each showing an event that occured at some point in their lives. Then the images showed another set of people, who possessed features oddly similar to theirs, yet performing acts that, quite frankly, they would never even consider doing.
Even Jaedrel, who had seen much evil in his time with his dark kin, had to look away, such was the vile nature of the images being projected.
Malthus turned from watching one scene, a mixture of horror and anger in his eyes, as a young woman in dark plate mail slaughtered a group of soldiers who had clearly surrendered. "Us? These... atrocities have nothing to do with us."
"Oh, they have everything to do with you, I'm afraid. Because these people, as far as the universe is concerned are you," the elf explained in a matter-of-factly tone of voice. "Or rather, your dark analogues. For you see, the reality you inhabit is merely one half of a greater whole. You could look at it as a mirror with one side deliberately obscured, or darkened, depending on your point of view..."
The world of Celestin, or Dualve Mirroir to sages, 'exists' in two seperate, but similar, Material Planes, separated by the one-way 'mirror' that is the Plane of Shadow. The two Material Planes (barring the unusual magical catastrophe or strange natural occurence) possess near-identical physical features, and every nation, monster, or personality has an analogue on the other. The only difference between them is that one is strongly-predisposed to Good, while the other is strongly-predisposed to Evil.
While the Material Planes themselves lack the good or evil-aligned trait, what might be good in one would be greatly evil in another, and vise versa. A traveler between the worlds might find the whole world turned upside down, so to speak, with old allies now her bitter enemies, and his former enemies now sharing her views! Those with Neutral temperaments are least affected, and act in familiar ways, no matter what world one finds themselves in.
The two Material Planes share the same kind of history as time progresses. Continent-wide events, such as the collapse of an evil empire on one plane tends to occur on another as well. In the case of the evil empire, its goodly analogue is destroyed, though its end might have been brought upon by circumstances that differ wildly from the cause of the evil empire's end. Even smaller, seemingly insignificant, events are mimicked.
While it is quite possible for a powerful personality to seek out and destroy their double on the other Material Plane, doing so would trigger all sorts of problems that might become life-threatening once she returns to her native world. Thus, the cosmonology heals itself by shifting events to resolve contradictions and move towards a balance between the realities.
Strangely enough, there are slight 'exceptions' to this rule.
The members of the Balance (one can't help but see the irony of the situation, considering the group's choice of name), being from a different reality altogether, did not begin with dark analogues, since they were not born in the cosmonology of Celestin. Their existence in one Material Plane, however, forced the creation of evil -- and imperfect -- analogues on the other. Since there was a decidedly long gap in the growth of the doubles (they had to grow up and mature, quite literally) the 'real' members had already so far outstripped their analogues in terms of power. In the example of Lothiel the Archmagus, when his double Lothlorien the Demonbinder tried to wrest control of his tower through her summoned legions of fiends, the elven Archmage displayed such a degree of epic arcane might that he was able to destroy the army of demons single-handedly as well as have enough power left to blast Lothlorien to dust in spell-battle.
Also, in a show of even greater irony, the members of the Balance seem to be immune to the 'balancing' effects of the cosmonology. In fact, a few of their evil doubles have long since died, or had been slain, without any kind of negative effect to their goodly doubles. Some argue, though, that their reputations attract enough life-threathening danger to restore the metaphysical balance, but so far Malthus, Lothiel, and Naeel are still around to argue otherwise.
Planar Relations in Dualve-Mirroir
Each of the Material Planes are enveloped by their own Ethereal Plane. Wedged in between the twin realities is the Plane of Shadow (or in this case, called the Dark Veil by planar scholars), which separates them like one-sided mirror. It serves as the main Transitive Plane between them. On their own sides of the Dark Veil, the Material Plane hovers in a mass of untamed energy -- a single Inner Plane for each reality called the Maelstrom. Depending on the location within the Maelstrom, a place might be possess one or more elemental or energy traits, with pockets of minor dominance to areas where they have major dominance.
The Astral plane -- known as the Starry Expanse -- in turn, envelopes the untamed energies of the attendant Inner Planes of the two separate Material Planes, with conduits piercing both it and the Plane of Shadows that separates the two twin realities. Pools of color tinge the silvery backdrop of the Astral at these points where the planes converge.
The homes of the powers of Good and Evil are found on the Outer Planes. The homes of the pantheon of Good are located beyond the Astral of the Material Plane that leans towards goodness, while the demesnes of the powers of Evil are found beyond the Astral of the Material Plane that leans towards evil. They are either strongly good-aligned, or strongly evil-aligned. The powers of Neutrality reside on whichever side of the Plane of Shadow they prefer in regards to Good and Evil, while Mauzel, the Keeper of the System, maintains her eternal vigil in the Beacon of Equlibrium, located somewhere in the Dark Veil.
While deities of all pantheons are revered in both Material Planes, by agreement their influence and power are halved on the realities that are opposite to their innate natures. Thus, the Mithral Dragon Vorvoc might be an intermediate power on the Material that is biased to good, his power is only a little greater than that of a demipower on the Material that is disposed towards evil. The influence of the neutral-aligned powers more or less remains constant, on both sides of the Dark Veil.
Traits of Dualve-Mirroir
All of the planes described have the typical traits of their type, with some minor changes as follows:
Material Planes: There are two 'twin' Material Planes, each with similar inhabitants and inhabitants, but natives in the know think that the other Material Plane is an alternate reality altogether, and a twisted mockery of the 'real' world they are living in.
Guia Eratt, greater power of nature and growth, personification of the world of Dualve Mirroir, and patroness of druids, rangers, and those who venerate nature -- whether its savage or gentler aspects -- wanders the forests and untravelled wildernesses on both of the twin Material Planes with her entourage of fey and sylvan creatures, alternating between the worlds on each side of the Dark Veil. (Neutral)
Falis the Ancient, lesser power of knowledge and the only known interloper deity in the Dualve Mirroir pantheon, he is the god fate, and reason, patron of seers, diviners, and seekers of truth, also makes his home on the Material Plane. Called the Lost Library, a sprawling structure that seems to be part sanctuary of learning and part fortrress, it is said to be situated on top of the tallest of mountain peaks, though no two descriptions of its location ever coincide. (Lawful Neutral)
Transitive Planes: The Astral Plane -- called the Starry Expanse by planeswalkers -- envelopes and pierces the Maelstrom, while conduits pierce the Plane of Shadow into the Astral on the opposite side of the Dark Veil (the Plane of Shadow). Two Ethereal Planes exist, each connected to its own Material Plane, while the Dark Veil separates and connects the twin Material Planes, as well as serves as a gateway to other cosmonologies.
Somewhere in the Dark Veil floats the dwelling of the greater power Mauzel, goddess of magic, secrets, arcane knowledge, patroness of wizards and socrcerers, and keeper of the System, the intricate series of unseen pathways, conduits, and connections to which all magic flows through the cosmonology. Her realm resembles a wondrous floating cat's cradle of multicolored light, seemingly out of place in the darkness of the plane, from which stream an infinite network of semi-transparent filaments that stretch out and eventually meld with the shadows of the Veil. (Neutral)
Also located in the Veil is the hidden safehold of the Black Mask, lesser power of stealth, deception, and espionage, patron of rogues, spies, tricksters, con-men, and those who would seek to profit from less-than lawful means. His domain looks like, for the lack of a better description, a free-standing maze-like structure the size of a small metropolis, that mixes architecture from half a dozen races. (Chaotic Neutral)
Inner Plane: Called the 'Maelstrom' by planar scholars, it is a single Inner Plane that possesses all elemental and energy types within it. Any location within the Maelstrom has an elemental or energy trait, as well as directional subjective gravity. Elementals great and small cavort in its unstable depths, as well as many other creatures with ties to the elements, such as djinni, efreeti, marids, and dao.
Outer Planes: Located beyond the Starry Expanse and the Maelstrom, these are the homes of the powers of Good or Evil, and as such are either strongly good-aligned or strongly evil-aligned, depending on their inhabitants. The Outer Planes in general are divinely morphic, and individual Outer Planes possess additional traits depending on their inhabitants. Some of the Outer Planes, as well as the powers that live therein, are described below:
The Fortress Home: Seemingly springing from the side of a great mountain, this sprawling mansion is the dwelling of the intermediate power Gorm Gulthyn, patron of dwarves, paladins, and defenders of all things sacred. His realm is a sprawling manse encircled by sturdy walls and battlements, opening into increasingly defensible courtyards, with levels extending far beneath the mountain's roots, with vast barracks and armories manned and steadfastly guarded by legions of archons pledged to his cause. Here they drill constantly, to better prepare themselves for the missions the will be eventually be sent on to battle the forces of Evil. (Lawful Good)
Halcyon: Situated high up on the slopes of the mountain where Gorm's home rests, this is the home of Ahria Heine, the lesser power of justice, valor, and duty. It is a place of great sweeping plains and tended woodlands, as well as great citadels seemingly made out of the purest white marble. Angels, archons, and valkyries are common here, seen often singly or in groups, debating on the nature of good, or preparing for a mission for good. (Lawful Good)
The Cloud Eyrie: Constructed on what seems to be clouds made solid, this vast citadel is the home of the intermediate draconic power Vorvoc, exemplar of good dragons and all airborne creatures of good, as well as the patron of wandering heroes, and those who endure great trials and adversity. Built out of glass given the hardness of granite, the walls of the citadel become opaque or transparent depending on the Mithral Dragon's mood. Five great wyrms of the dominant goodly dragon species attend to him, while younger dragons venture across the planes on missions of import. (Neutral Good)
Solaria: Located on island surrounded by a great and endless expanse of ocean, this vast estate is the residence of Saulle, lesser power of the sun, renewal, mercy, and peace, patroness of healers, peacemakers, as well as those who seek to bring light to the darkness, whether literally, or figuratively. Her home is dominated by sprawling hospital complexes, fountains of healing, as well as tree-lined lawns, all illuminated by the soft light of morning. A strange sense of peace and contentment permeates the atmosphere of the entire area. (Neutral Good)
The House of Eternity: Suspended amongst the cathedral-like boughs of an ancient forest is a crystalline structure seemingly stopped midway into its fall, whose fragility and relative size belie the depths it holds within. In this strange masterpiece of architecture and magic, the intermediate elven power Labelas Enoreth dwells, patron of elves, sages, scholars, and preserver of Time. Countless eons worth of knowledge are kept within his library, while Lord of the Continuum continues to add to the volumes it holds, as the lives of elves, dwarves, and men make their marks on the ages. (Chaotic Good)
Lover's Rest: A place of secluded gardens and grand lawns filled with flower of all kinds, to peaceful hostels set amidst moonlit glades, this is the sanctuary of the silvery-haired Luna, lesser power of love, beauty, the moon, and passion consumated under the light of the moon. Here she welcomes the spirits of lovers separated in life, whether by duty or by circumstance, to realize the romance denied them, as well as the souls of husbands and their wives who remained loyal to each other despite life's hardships. (Chaotic Good)
The Adamantine Edifice: A soaring tower seemingly cut out of the same dark metal that shares its name, this is the stronghold of Ides, intermediate power of Law, Death and Judgement. A grim and foreboding atmosphere permeates the area it occupies, but surprisingly undead are virtually nonexistent on its grounds. Perhaps because of the portfolio he represents, Ides is a stalwart opponent of all kinds of unlife, seeing it as an affront to his authority as well as the rules that govern life and death. Evil and good spellcasters alike who seek to extend their lives through magic tempt the wrath of his automaton-like servants, the Inevitables. (Lawful Neutral)
Frostmourne: Beyond a windblown desert of dust and debris, lies a vast mountain range with snow covered peaks, icy glaciers, and bleak valleys swept by blizzards all year long. Resources are scant at best, and those who inhabit this frozen landscape must compete for them in order to survive. Here, the laws of civilization have no meaning, and violence and death is an everyday occurence... Herein lies the icy kingdom the intermediate power Geada, evil giant god of icy death, ferocity, wanton destruction, and patron god of frost giants, ice trolls, and other evil creatures that live in frigid climes. She would like no better than to envelope the world in an eternal ice age, but until the opportunity arrives, she contents herself with lording over the inhabitants in her domain, and dispatching any who opposes her rule. (Chaotic Evil)
The Field of Slaughter: A constant and maddening gust of wind blows constantly through the ruins of this realm, masking the sound of clashing weapons, war cries, and the tortured shrieks of the dying. In this place, combatants -- humanoids and monsters alike -- skulk in the shadows of the alleyways, searching out opponents, while pitched battles rage in the streets, as warriors fight it out with steel, teeth, and claw. It is a place of eternal carnage, but to the lesser power Vathis, god of carnage, madness, and seething hate, patron of murderous madmen, greedy opportunists, orcs, and those who revel in the bloodlust that battle brings, it is home, and his hunting ground. (Chaotic Evil)
Palais de Désespoir: Cloaked in a thick gray mist that bend and swirl around groves of sickly trees and gloomy cliffs, where the very nature of the place seems to snuff out any spark of life in an individual, leaving in its place apathy and increasing despair... This is the domain of the intermediate power Muhi, the Death Dragon, dragon goddess of undeath, decay, nightmares, and pestilence, patroness of necromancers, intelligent undead, and those who see undeath as a path to power. In the expansive necropolis-castle that is her abode, she and her attendants research on the nature of death, immortality, and existence, often experimenting on hapless mortals and outsiders to gain the answers they seek. (Neutral Evil)
The Bleak Furnace: Set against a hellish landscape of erupting volcanoes, lava falls, blinding clouds of ash, and pyroclastic ejecta, a great palace of ash and obsidian rises from the side of the tallest peak, seemingly immune to the heat and conflagtration occuring around it. This is the stronghold of the lesser power Pyrenius of the Flame, god of fire, destruction, and murder, patron of arsonists, evil wizards and sorcerers drawn to the destructive power of fire, and those who use fire to cause death and ruin. In its halls, the god schemes and plots, though his motives are sure to center on exquisite death and immolation. (Neutral Evil)
Dominion: Occupying an area the size of a small continent, this monstrocity of steel walls, barbed battlements, imposing barracks the size of Material Plane cities, smoke-spewing furnaces, smithies churning out vast numbers of armor and wicked weaponry, and sprawling marshalling fields is the domain of Courvin, the Queen of Blades, intermediate power of war, tyranny, intimidation, and might, patroness of evil fighters, blackguards, tyrants, and domineering power mongers. She seeks no less than the domination of the pantheon and, by extension, the peoples of Dualve Mirroir. As such she works ceaselessly to muster, train, and equip the forces she needs to succeed at the task, and woe to any that get in her way. (Lawful Evil)
Rattlecage: Located somewhere to the west of Dominion and occupying a decidedly smaller area is the cleverly-camouflaged prison-realm of Rattlecage, the home of the lesser goblin deity Khurgorbaeyag the Overmaster, god of oppresion, slavery, and patron of the goblinoid races. Here his 'guests' toil in misery, expanding already-vast underground the prison complex, shoring up the defenses, mining and quarrying resources held deep in the earth, and basically enriching their master and his numerous minions. (Lawful Evil)
The Festering Pit: Said to exist somewhere between the Bleak Furnace and Muhi's realm of Palais de Désespoir, lay a place that sages claim to be beyond the power of the gods themselves. An alien landscape of fiery plains and acid seas, of stinging cold and blazing hellfire, and ultimately crushing despair... Where fiend lords claiming powers equal to or even greater than the gods scheme in their ancient strongholds, devilish dukes and barons work to raise their station in their fiendish hierarchy, demon princes pursue their vendettas and seek to undermine their rivals... And hordes of demons march against disciplined ranks of devils, while yugoloth mercenaries aid one side or the other, all the while following the dictates of their mysterious masters, the Baernoloths... This is the Festering Pit, where morality has no place and Evil reigns supreme. (Lawful Evil, Neutral Evil, Chaotic Evil)
Several portals existed before that could have been used to travel from one Material Plane to another, though it is very likely that most of these were either destroyed or long-forgotten by history. The few that remain are either mouldering in some ancient ruin, inaccessible to all but the most-determined of explorers, or sealed and guarded by groups who would rather not have people from the opposite reality invade their world.
The only plausible way to travel between Material Planes is through the Dark Veil. However, this brings its own risks, as the Watchers, a flight of great wyrm shadow dragons in the service of Mauzel, patrol the plane. They relentlessly seek out and, if possible, destroy any interloper from one Material Plane trying to penetrate the Veil into the other. If that wasn't dangerous enough, there is also the chance that any traveler traversing the deeper recesses of the Dark Veil might stray into a different cosmonology altogether!
Theoretically, one might utilize the various conduits of the Starry Expanse that penetrate into both sides of the Dark Veil to travel from one Material to another, but knowing the nature of the astral conduits, the chance at success is small, at best. Still, this might explain why people are shifted to the Material that is opposite their alignment whenever an accident involving portable holes and bags of holding occur...