“A number of cosmology models have graced scholar’s tables and students’ textbooks alike, ranging from the incomplete to the absurd. Each is a renewed attempt to better understand the world around us, thanks either to new information, or the meddling of the gods themselves. (After all, it is difficult to closely study a topic when that topic continues to change.)
“In each model proposed however, there has remained a consistent underlying flaw: the complete lack of attention to the sentient soul. Where do they spring from? Why do souls emerge in only some planes but not others? And why do they ‘naturally’ flow from one location to another?
“Thanks to my years of personal research, I have proposed a new world cosmology model that seeks to answer these new questions while still remaining consistent with truths already established. I call this model ‘Orazio’s Expansive Model of World Cosmology Organized About the Birth, Life, and Death of Souls.’ You may simply call it the ‘Cascade of Souls‘ for short. If it aids your study, conceive of it as an amalgamation of the World Tree and World Axis models.
“We shall begin in the expansive heavens themselves, the interstitious emptiness that makes up the space between all spaces. This description might already sound familiar; indeed, this would be the Astral Sea. But this ’empty’ vacuum is not truly empty. Here the gods themselves wring out demiplanes of existence…but the thought of every living sentient being too has its hold.
“Mercurial vistas, like towering clouds, travel along invisible currents at entirely their own whim. Inside these minor planes, thought can be given physical form. Much as one might discern the shape of a horse in a floating column of cumulonimbus mists, so too might one’s thoughts literally spring forth into action. We call such a place Dream.
“And now we turn to the first forms of emergent life in our universe. The sun’s light dances through the firmament with spritely life all their own. On these rays come the first inklings of passion – love, hate, fear, joy, sorrow, envy – in all its purest forms. If you have ever visited such a realm, then you would know at once of the land of which I speak. It is the Feywild, where we find not creatures of logical thought, but creatures of concentrated and eternal emotion.
“And yet, for their sheer unadulterated love of life, the fey do not possess souls. Scholars have frowned and debated: why might this be? I offer a simple and perhaps litigious proposal: the fey possess only one half of a whole.
“For where the Feywild and the Dream border, a new offspring is born. Where sun meets cloud, rainbows spring to life. And where thought meets intent, and passion meets action, there we might find a complete soul.
“In all our travels upon all the planes, no researcher has ever reported finding such a place. But I am convinced one must exist, and it must be one of the few places where the Ethereal borders the Feywild. I would call it the ‘Wellspring‘…and I think I understand why Lord Ao might hold it as the most protected of secrets. For here would be the most holy and sacred land in all the universe, the ultimate source of all life and power…perhaps even of Ao’s himself.
“And where does this soul travel, once it has formed? Why, it falls. It falls as naturally as the rain from the firmament, spawned in its bosom but yet still a stranger. It strikes, as anyone might anticipate, on the canopy of our tree: its first stop on the Prime Material Plane.
“Now let us consider this great Tree I have described. Directly opposing the sky is the ground, or the inner planes of the Elemental Chaos as most now call it. It is here that we find stone, water, fire, metal…all of the fundamental building blocks needed for reality. If Dream is the realm of all possible conception, the Elemental Chaos is the realm of all possible creation.
“It is deep within these rocks that the roots of our great Tree form, the physical arrangement of all permanent, non-transitive planes. Such an arboreal concept is hardly new; it was called ‘Yggdrasil’ to students of the Great Wheel, and the ‘World Tree’ to those who came after. Its form connects the non-transitive planes…and is, in fact, what bodily constitutes such planes.
“Once they have reached the Prime Material, souls combine with bodies through a conjoiner known as an ‘animating spirit.’ (Those with backgrounds in necromancy will understand this process; it is the animating spirit that moves the body, but it is the soul that gives it purpose.) The full, complete sentient creature counts down its allotted number of days like an automaton slowly winds down its spring, until its body, spirit, or soul are depleted. Then the creature breaks apart again into its constituents, and the soul continues its natural ‘downward’ journey.
“The soul continues its trickling down the bark that makes up the outer skin of the tree (that is, the Ethereal that borders most planes, and the natural pathway of the disembodied soul). Eventually the tiny droplet makes its way into the dark, fetid loam. This place of Shadow is the natural destination of all things that have been depleted or used up, and you will find no plane more hollow. All colors are muted, all emotions dampened. And yet, it is as vital a plane as that of the sun-touched Feywild, for it retains within it the memories of all living things that have passed through. And it directs the souls towards their final destinations.
“The great trunk of our Tree branches outwards again at the splitting of the Fugue Plane, where souls are assigned their final destinations by Kelemvor himself. There are any number of ‘Outer Planes’ that may await our tiny soul drop; some scholars quote seventeen, others list as many as fifty-three. These destinations are positioned in what you may envision as a ring of roots, mirroring the canopy of the Material Plane above in its breath and complexity, but in a far more orderly and regimented manner. Their structure and arrangement around the tree trunk axis of Sigil are decreed by the gods themselves – one of the few aspects of creation over which they maintain complete control.
“Once the drop has proceeded to its awaiting ‘root,’ it is absorbed back directly into the Tree that guided it since inception. Whether it is accepted as a petitioner by the choirs of Arcadia, transformed into a lemure in the Nine Hells, or even ultimately discorporated in Limbo, its addition is vital for the continued health of the Tree and all its parts.
“And here we have our final metaphor: the entire shape of the universe, from the largest realm in the Material Plane, to the tiniest forgotten corner inhabited by forgotten gods, lives and breathes only through the passage of souls. Without them, our entire cosmos would shrivel. Indeed, while it is theorized and documented that multiple worlds exist, all return to this very simple fact: without the birth and termination of sentient creatures, the universe as we know it would die.
“You have have noticed I neglected to mention one very important region. Other great minds have have said that given an infinite universe, all possibilities will eventually occur. If our universe can be described as the summation of everything that has been, is now, or ever could be, then the dimension of all impossibility would be the Far Realm.
“Any description of the Far Realm that lies outside our universe would be a falsehood, for it is impossible to hold within a sentient mind. Our world operates on reliable, consistent laws of space, time, and distance. Not so for the Far Realm; all paradoxes are equally true and false. There you can have a flower that is a bluish-yellow. There you can have a bowl that fits neatly within itself. And there you can find an almighty god who makes a stone too heavy to lift.
“And that is why any breach between our universe and that which lies without it is so dangerous. It leaks impossibility into a universe that follows the rules of empirical measurement and causality. Infected flesh no longer follows the laws of biology. Logic no longer follows formal arguments.
“But take heart, you who take up the Shining Blade of Torm. Just as the Far Realm brings a little of its universe to ours, we bring a little of ours to it. As soon as any breach enters our universe, it becomes subject to our rules. Impossible thoughts are suddenly constrained within three dimensions. If it can be seen; it can be felt; and if it can bleed, it can die.”