Heaven and Hell
Many Rasennans don’t, as a rule, spend much time thinking about the afterlife. Businesslike as they are, they feel that if the gods are doing their jobs right, it will all work out in the end. The good and hard-working will get their reward; the evil and corrupt will be punished. The average Rasennan tends to file himself or herself in the former category and rivals in the latter, of course.
The purpose of the afterlife is rarely questioned; it’s simple enough to say that Heaven is a reward for the virtuous and Hell is a punishment for the wicked. More refined metaphysickers postulate that Heaven and Hell are crucibles built to render out the good and evil from each soul, letting the impure parts stoke the infernal furnaces while the pure parts rise through the empyrean vaults. The purpose of this sorting is unclear, but many philosophers hold that the side that “wins,” accumulating a clear majority of good or evil, will build a new universe according to the principles that gave them victory.
What is expected, and to some degree known from the writings of those who have returned from the grave for a time, is that the soul of a newly dead person travels on to the Underworld, where it will be sorted by the agents of Theht and sent on to its proper reward. Of course, sometimes the animus lingers, and some forces may even bind a soul to an undead body, but most souls find judgment and then assignation to the next life. Some argue that souls that have earned neither Heaven nor Hell reincarnate, taking another turn on the wheel until they properly “belong” somewhere. This isn’t a popular belief in Rasenna, though, where most people are convinced they’re notable enough to take their place in an eternal afterlife.
Those who are virtuous in life — or, according to a more Rasennan viewpoint, “sufficiently blameless" — pass through the courts of the Underworld and are released into Heaven. The exact nature of Heaven is much debated, owing to the wide differences in personal belief of what would constitute a pleasant eternity. Some see it as a place of idleness and leisure; others, of meaningful industry. It’s difficult to find accurate accounts of Heaven, all told. Those who die and pass on to a true reward are understandably hesitant to return, and the servitors of the divine do not give revelations idly. Scholars are generally left to argue their favored passages from old books penned by men and women who claimed to summon celestial entities and question them on the hereafter.
The gods’ messengers and servants are myriad, and the most common are angels. Angels are transcendent entities tied to specific concepts or causes, given further definition by the tasks given to them. Angels are not universally benign — the sword-winged valkyrim of Goreador, for example, are angels of valor and discipline, not of mercy and justice. Some divine servants are more like mechanical constructs than anything, such as the various plutons formed from gold and jewels to serve gods of prosperity and advancement. Most divine servants are capable of manifesting in immanent flesh when dispatched or called to the material world. There are even stories of children born of liaisons between a manifested angel and a worthy mortal.
Every god has his or her own realm within the afterlife, be it Heaven, Hell or the Underworld. In Heaven, these realms serve as rewards for those dedicated to the principles of one god in particular. The shining domain of Dardekan contains workshops and libraries devoted to the knowledge of every culture; the tranquil realm of Evrel is an idyll of perfect health and comfort; the wilder lands of Alvoran teem with the spirits of animals that act as friends and companions to the souls of the blessed dead.
Hell is the domain of suffering. It’s depicted in many works of art as a place of punishment where souls pay for the wrongs they inflicted in life, often in very specific fashion. Sometimes the punishment is purely karmic, where a damned soul must endure its own evil as the centuries pass. Frequently it’s shown as more directed. Elaborate satires have often played with this deliberate model, where poets describe their rivals or the rivals of their patrons meeting ignominious and creatively gruesome torments for their deeds.
The tormentors doling out these punishments are devils. Devils are in essence the “angels” of Hell, also entities of transcendent energy and form that can be called into immanent flesh. They fall into two categories: those who serve the Lower Nine, the gods of Hell; and those who are in general service to Hell but have no divine patron in general. The loyalist devils with specific divine patronage are often remolded or created outright to serve their masters’ purposes. Xacshi commands blazing devils of fire, fever and delirium, whereas the shadowy realm of Hothos murmurs with the whispered wingbeats of his black-shrouded nightmares. The torments in the Lower Nine’s personal hells are similarly customized — damned souls starve and lie in sickly, immobile stacks in the realm of Phouth, while those given over to Aaziphon labor in chains at impossible, body-breaking tasks.
The archdevils who serve particular gods are the Lords of Hell; those who operate on their own are the Princes of Hell. Theoretically, all Princes of Hell owe fealty to Isreelve, the Queen of Punishment, but in practice some pay only lip service to the Empress of Barbs and plot to become god figures themselves.
The landscape of Hell itself is too large to fit any one description. It has alternately been painted as a series of concentric rings, each one somehow the same size; a chain of worlds like a string of pearls hung in a void; countless strata of caverns, each one below the other; or as a colossal orrery, with the orbits of the Lower Nine’s personal realms passing around the immense structure of Hell itself. As with Heaven, these realms lay claim to the souls of those who were faithful to the god’s tenets in life: murderers and misers are drawn to the darkling halls of Zamalla; warmongers endure constant violence in the splintered fields of Mal Zath; and the cruelest sadists who fall under no other god’s remit are remanded into the tortuous care of the Queen of Hell herself.