War in the Heavens
NOTE: If you play at Fading Suns MUSH, and you don't like spoilers, read no further.
For everything, there is a season: Existence is cyclic in nature. To the unenlightened it might seem that life has an end. It begins with birth, and appears to conclude with death. Yet energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed: Nothing that lives ever truly dies. Summer follows Spring, just as Winter follows Autumn, yet with the passing of Winter, Spring returns and the world is born anew for those who survive the chill embrace of entropy. In the same manner is a universe born, to cycle through its seasons toward decay and destruction. Yet even as the last light fades to darkness, a new universe is born.
At the heart of that rebirth, the source of all that exists, there burns a fire that never dies. It is the crucible of creation from which each new universe emerges. Zebulon glimpsed that crucible in his vision on Yathrib: He called it the Celestial Sun, the Holy Flame of the Pancreator. Yet creation is a perpetual process, for it never truly ends. Even as the oldest universes fade and die, expanding outward toward their ultimate decline, new universes grow and flourish, expanding through their own seasons of Spring, Summer, and Autumn, all the way back to the fires of creation at the heart of everything that is.
Eskatonic sages have seen a portion of this truth. The "Emanations" within their cosmogony are an analogy for the process of birth, death, and rebirth that defines existence. The outer Emanations, which they label Qlippoth, are the old, dying universes, fading into final darkness. The inner Emanations, those they call the Empyrean, are new universes expanding outward from the Holy Flame of creation. Wedged between the old and the new is the universe in which we live. Our universe has reached maturity, the Summer of its seasons. Yet one day, it too will die, yielding to the universes abirthing.
The lifespan of a universe is measured in billions of years, and the material existence of a sentient being is less than the blink of an eye in comparison. That life might, at first glance, seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Yet a sentient's physical existence is but one small step in the spiritual journey of a soul that lives on beyond the death of the body. Souls are forged in the crucible of creation, the Holy Flame, and it is their destiny to return there one day. It is a journey that might be accomplished in a single lifetime, yet for some it might require many lifetimes to achieve.
What is the nature of God? That which Zebulon called the Pancreator is nothing less than the collective will of creation, the universes that were, that which is, and those that are yet to be. Just as the Eskatonics have surmised, a spark of the divine dwells in the heart of every sentient, and every sentient is thus part of God. The souls of sentients are birthed in the Holy Flame, cleaved off from the fires of creation to eventually animate bodies of flesh and bone. Yet each new soul retains its share of divinity, even if material concerns serve to distract the sentient from the place it occupies in the greater Godhood.
Since all things are part of God, the Pancreator is neither good nor evil: Nothing in creation is inherently evil by nature. Yet sentients have free will, and evil is the fruit of their power to choose. Choices that elevate an individual at the expense of others alienate a sentient from the divinity it shares with them. Selfishness is the root of all evil. By contrast, selfless acts tend to affirm the Godhood each sentient shares with others, and within which all souls are equal. Selflessness enhances a soul's connection to the divine and draws it closer to the Empyrean and the Holy Flame of creation at its heart.
The soul's journey back to creation, that which the Universal Church calls the Luminous Return, is in truth a process of self-discovery. The Orthodoxy would have one believe that humility, piety and obedience are required in order to re-enter the Empyrean. Yet that which is truly needed is enlightenment: Before returning to creation, a sentient must first realize it is part of God, and thus belongs there in the first place. Some sentients achieve this realization within the span of a single lifetime, and when they die, they are able to transcend this universe and draw themselves closer to the Holy Flame.
Yet for most sentients, preoccupied by such worldly concerns as survival and reproduction (all too often corrupted into fixations with personal enrichment and the pursuit of pleasure), discovering the spark of the divine within them is more difficult to accomplish. They might die and be reincarnated countless times until they see the truth of their own nature. If they are too attached to material things, they might never see that truth at all. Those who blind themselves to their own divinity may seal their own doom, as their souls remain trapped in a dying universe that slowly grows cold and dark.
What happens to a universe as it dies? Entropy is the enemy of all the lives. Each universe is a closed system, infused with a finite amount of energy at the moment of its inception. Each universe is inherently chaotic, yet order emerges from that chaos as matter and energy interact, forming complex systems that become stars, worlds, and living things. Yet in the end, chaos always wins. The very energy that fuels life within a universe also spells its doom, for as it expands outward, its energy becomes dispersed by those same chaotic interactions that once gave rise to order within it.
As a universe expands, the knots of chaos-fueled order within it, those precious, ordered systems that sustain light and heat--and thus life--slowly break down. New orders evolve, last-ditch adaptations to stave off dissolution, yet eventually even these pass away. Over time, the matter and energy within a universe tend toward even dispersion throughout its expanse, approaching a uniform temperature of absolute zero. Darkness and cold reign unchallenged in a dying universe, a penumbral gloom that deepens with each passing aeon until nothing resembling life as we know it can even exist there.
What, then, becomes of the souls that fail to transcend materiality? The sentients that fail to attain spiritual transcendence remain trapped in a dying universe, for the energy that represents their souls continues to exist long after their physical bodies have passed away into dust--long after it is possible for life to even exist in the universe. While they remain alive, as the universe dies around them, they might struggle to sustain their material existence through technology. Yet no technology can stave off the death of a universe forever, and in the end the life they hold so precious will slip from their grasp.
Such is the nature of Qlippoth, frozen, lightless realms populated by the lost souls of sentients that were unable--or unwilling--to let go of their physicality and return to the fires of creation in which their were born. Each Emanation of Qlippoth represents a dying universe in a progressively advanced state of decay. The oldest universes, those farthest from the warmth and light of creation, are almost entirely dark. There dwell the most ancient of intelligences, souls left adrift in cold and darkness for untold billions of years--and all that time, hating the warmth denied them by their own selfishness.
For the souls trapped in a dying universe, bereft of light and warmth, denied any hope of salvation, rage is the one emotion left to sustain them. Survival for these souls is a bitter struggle, a contest to scavenge what little free energy remains left to fuel their continued existence. It is a contest in which the strongest prey upon the weak, absorbing their very essence into themselves. They exist thereafter as corporate entities, many parts bound into one being, dominated by the will of the strongest member. These collective creatures gather up the entropic matter that surrounds them to form crude bodies for themselves.
Labeled "demons" by the Universal Church, these entities are unimaginably ancient, the leftover husks of life that existed countless billions of years ago in universes that have long since become cold, lightless hells. They are utterly lacking in the finer sentiments that once gave them pleasure as living sentients. Now, all they know is anger, and an abiding hunger for energy--in particular, the rich, sweet life-essences of other sentients. The oldest of these demons, those that dwell in the farthest reaches of Qlippoth, are incredibly powerful, consisting of the combined energy of billions of lost souls.
Yet as much as they crave energy, demons are vulnerable to the light and warmth of a living universe. The entropic matter of which their bodies are composed acts like a sponge, soaking up energy from all around it; when a demon is summoned into a living universe, its very presence drains the life force from all around it. If it absorbs too much energy at once, the demon weakens, and its component parts might well gain sufficient power to break free. This is why demons usually require a host to possess if they are to abide long among the living, leaving behind their entropic flesh as they use the host like a puppet.
The motives of such ancient beings are difficult to fathom. Some hunger for the life force of living sentients that abide in a universe that still thrives. Others are eager to escape the chill prisons in which they dwell and live again in a warm, living universe. Still others have more ambitious plans. The oldest, most powerful demons seek to invade the Empyrean itself, to manipulate the process of creation and build a universe in which they could thrive eternally. If they were to succeed in such a plan, creation itself might well be undone, and all that lives would be enslaved to the demons' insatiable hungers