A meticulous mind may wish to start with a broad, metaphysical cartography of the worlds described in this work, but the intrepid may prefer to forge ahead to a more visceral experience of the laminae and only later return here to understand how the pieces fit together. The intrepid reader may rely on the glossary where necessary.
The nine facetsAbstract forces that drive beings and cultures, divided into three spectra: Hierarchy opposite Autonomy, Empathy opposite Power, and Creation opposite Dissipation. and twenty-seven laminaeAfterworlds that are each aligned with a particular set of facets. The twenty-seven laminae are layered on top of our reality and interact with it in myriad ways. are familiar to all thoughtful beings, though you may not know their names or the extent of their forms. Facets are the philosophical undercurrents that gird our actions, and laminae provide essential conceptual substance to mortal minds, their residents carrying out work that sustains the nature of cardinalThe cardinal worlds make up our foundational, everyday reality over which the laminae are layered. worlds. The BaubleThe referenced text has not yet been translated. fuels the imagination of every artist, the InevitabilityAn otherwise-empty wasteland graced by the exuberant and chaotic Procession in which Unravellers joyously manifest the forces of entropy, that universal and implacable slide from order into disorder. Troupes each pursue their own flavors of entropy: rotting food, aging, combustion, romantic miscommunication, broken furniture, political dissolution, and myriad others. ensures the physical laws of entropy, the AsymmetryAn endless cliff face, with no known ground or top or sides, into which the Grains have quarried for aeons as they craft and sculpt and adjust essential creations for introduction into cardinal worlds. crafts the intrinsic shape of every physical object—our environments depend on these sources. On each lamina, manifestations of its facets are carried out to their logical extents in marvelous and terrifying ways, and each is a lens through which to understand the strategies that guide and organize existence.
Each of the twenty-seven laminae is shaped by its location at the intersection of three axes that form the nine facets. These are described in detail in the following chapter, but in brief they are:1
These are forces that vary in strength and nature in any given place or mind, and in combination form a unique and coherent philosophy. Imagine a region that varies from hot to cold, from wet to arid, and from mountainous to coastal plain. Each grouping forms a climate and ecosystem, and you might expect inhabitants of the cold misty hills to present distinct in character from inhabitants of the hot arid lowlands: they each face unique challenges and develop forms and techniques with which to face them. The twenty-seven laminae are every such grouping:
And each is its own world.
The twenty-seven laminae are afterworlds: they are among the destinations that souls, untethered from material concerns, drift towards. The laminae are also however fully tangible realms—while some have outlandish properties, most provide solid ground, breathable air, and recognizable forms—and as such souls gather laminal substance upon arrival, gaining new form with which to carry out an indeterminate existence in pursuit of the shape and ideals of that particular lamina. These re-formed souls are known as petitionersSouls of the dead that have re-manifested on the most well-suited lamina, where they perfect and reshape themselves while carrying out pursuits in accordance with that lamina's principles..
Petitioners choose their laminae in the same manner that an object chooses whether to float or sink in water: their nature determines their direction. The notions of intention, merit, punishment, or reward—common to many conceptions of afterworlds, the veracity of which this visitor cannot confirm—are absent in this understanding. The log may not wish to float upon the surface, but there is neither surprise nor blame in finding that it does. Most petitioners see themselves suited to their new homelands (far better suited than they were to wherever they left) and every lamina’s nature lends itself to the execution of the consequences of its facets.
And so the laminae are populated, but they are far more than resting places for souls. Each lamina is a wholly self-contained world, with landscape and seasons, ecosystems and cultures, history and purpose. Yet each lamina is also intrinsically linked to the rest of the multiverse: as rainwater rises from the oceans and cold air blows from the east, conceptual and material forces emanate from the laminae in manifold expressions. You have surely encountered individuals possessed of total conviction in a particular logic of being: those who see all social interactions through a lens such as social status or physical dominance, or those who are entirely driven by an essential motivation such as the desire for communal belonging, creative production, or exhaustive categorization of their environment. The farmer with the perfect knack for predicting rain, the orator with the gilded tongue, the blind girl with perfect vision, the dance troupe with inhuman coordination—in their own ways they all channel laminal currents without (and occasionally with) their knowledge.
These currents can swell into great movements. While on laminae civilizations rise and fall and transform, each carrying out the essential nature of their lamina in varying ways, great arcs of culture across cardinal worlds ebb and flow, resulting in dark ages and revivals, stagnation and revolution.
Petitioners are the re-manifestation of souls that found their way to the lamina that best suits their mortal dispositions, where they attempt to perfect and reshape themselves according to the principles of that lamina. They retain to some extent an idealized character and appearance they had in life, but are varyingly altered to match the nature of their resting place: Precepts of the LucidityThe referenced text has not yet been translated. for instance are all similarly neutral-featured and slight, but Unravellers of the InevitabilityAn otherwise-empty wasteland graced by the exuberant and chaotic Procession in which Unravellers joyously manifest the forces of entropy, that universal and implacable slide from order into disorder. Troupes each pursue their own flavors of entropy: rotting food, aging, combustion, romantic miscommunication, broken furniture, political dissolution, and myriad others. take on fantastical forms of sprites and demons.
No memories follow souls into the laminae (dashing mortal hopes of persistent consciousness after death); some claim glimpses of their former experiences, but these are impossible to judge. Their method of arrival varies from lamina to lamina. On the InevitabilityAn otherwise-empty wasteland graced by the exuberant and chaotic Procession in which Unravellers joyously manifest the forces of entropy, that universal and implacable slide from order into disorder. Troupes each pursue their own flavors of entropy: rotting food, aging, combustion, romantic miscommunication, broken furniture, political dissolution, and myriad others. petitioners appear confused and alone in its grey wastes until the Procession crashes upon them, while the ConcordanceThe referenced text has not yet been translated. welcomes its citizens as they traverse the Gossamer Arch that descends from the sky into that land’s great metropolis.
Except for in in the BloomA dazzling and hideous jungle in which everything blossoms and transforms and regenerates unpredictably. To its children, the Florets, it is a paradise garden for endless play within the forgiving embrace of their Mother., petitioners appear as adults, and all the cycles and necessities of mortal life are superfluous. Some may eat or drink or make love, but to little material effect. They are not immortal, but persist for long timespans before gradually or suddenly, due to fading relevance or injury, disperse into the background substance of their lamina. In the interim, petitioners inhabit their worlds in ways as varied as mortals do, from the solitary life of a hermit to the structured citizenry of a military corps, depending on the nature of the lamina and their role within it.
Mortals are those that, for the most part, live out their short lives of joy, struggle, and complexity on the cardinalThe cardinal worlds make up our foundational, everyday reality over which the laminae are layered. worlds of the multiverse. There is additionally no small number of mortals who reside on the laminae, either as visitors or as native descendants of mortals who established permanent homes there. These are known as laminal mortals, in contrast to cardinal mortals that for the most part remain oblivious to the laminae. Many laminal mortals align their philosophy and purpose with that of their chosen lamina in the same way petitioners do, sometimes working alongside them, while some mortals reside on laminae for their own purposes that may be unrelated or even contrary to those of that realm.
There are presences on the laminae that are neither mortals nor the transformed souls of mortals, but instead seem to be native beings born from the material of the lamina itself. These are known as laminals, and nothing can be said to be common to them all. They range from the huge and silently elegant wind shiftersTowering entities of crystalline rods arranged in complex patterns, wind shifters meander across the Unfolding driven by currents in the wind. that roam the the UnfoldingArtists and engineers that have architected all of the most famous constructions in existence, original copies of which fill archipelagos that spread across the Glass Ocean, where the enormous automaton wind shifters interlock and glide across empty waters., to the oracular Looms that guide petitioners on The ReticulumThe referenced text has not yet been translated., and have varying relationships with petitioners and mortal worlds: some live among petitioners and play a role in their societies, while others merely share the realm but form their own groups or roam as flora and fauna in native ecologies.
Various elegant cartographies have been proposed for the twenty-seven laminae, but this visitor has found little to support them. The analytical arrangement used in this work is convenient for comprehension, but it is best to think of each lamina as coterminous with each other lamina and all of reality, but varying in presence and strength like an uneven blanket of rain and snow.
The laminae are divided from us and each other by a substance known as the Ordial Plane, also named the Plane of Proof, the Plane of Permeation, and many others, though whether it is an actual barrier or instead just a turn of phrase to describe the shape of connections between realms is unclear. The result is that our everyday reality is separated from the laminae in the way that the passage of time separates a quandary from a sudden realization some time later. It is a passage that is difficult to describe precisely, but some travellers have an intuitive grasp of its mechanics and can shepherd the process along nearly at will. Such experts report that once you have learned to lift the shroud of the Ordial Plane2 and seen nature refracted by overlying laminae, you will gain an eye for the myriad folds where barriers are thin enough to ford the Ordial into a particular lamina. It requires an oneiric state of mind and an acrobatic touch.
This visitor has not successfully cultivated this skill, and so like most travellers instead relies on established apertures, found and waymarked for the uninitiated.
Apertures are locations where two realms are close enough to each other that you may easily slip between them. The largest are striking. They resemble a region of space, solid like a sphere though the shapes vary wildly, through which you can see the realm on the other side. It is not like a window, offering a flat and neatly cropped view of what lies beyond, but rather the view is distorted as if through a glass bead, such that you will see the sky, the earth, and a whole panoramic landscape warped through the contours of the aperture, as likely to be sideways or upside-down as it is to be right side up. It is a staggering thing to see for the first time, violating the comfort of a lifetime’s understanding of the shape of things.
Passing through an aperture—especially an uncharted one—is equally unnerving, and occasionally hazardous. You should approach it very gingerly, for the edge is unclear, and as it nears your view of the world gets gradually more deformed and it becomes hard to keep balanced. If you are lucky there is a solid path through, but far more often you will reach a sort of precipice where no further step makes sense. At this point, if you can still see straight, a tossed rope or rock will grant a sense of the distance remaining to solid ground on the other side, and the only choice is to step, leap, or tumble forward and hope for the best. While apertures are bidirectional, they are sometimes more challenging to maneuver one way than the other, requiring for instance climbing instead of falling.
A few very-established and stable apertures have bridges or staircases that pass from one side to the other. From the outside these appear to take a misshapen path, and when passing through you will feel a sense of walking straight while the world reorients around you with each step. Smaller apertures can be nearly impossible to spot, even with someone directly pointing one out, appearing as the most subtle of distortions unless examined closely. Such apertures are much harder to pass through, perpetually tucked away out of sight and requiring a passenger to back or crawl into them.
Apertures are quite rare, though in the appropriate circles they are not uncommon, and maps and directories have been created and held closely. Many are locked away or heavily guarded as they may provide great power or great danger, and others are impossibly remote. They may be short-lived, varying in size and location, or ancient and unchanging. Some over the years have been enshrined by structures, while nature has sculpted itself around others: whirlpools and forest clearings and mountain plateau-tops. While many are naturally occurring, they can created artificially, either intentionally with years of procedure, or sometimes unintentionally over generations of shared purpose or ritual that over time wears the Ordial thin along a particular axis.
Soblei is at once one of the most important and one of the most cursed places in the multiverse. The first thing you will hear about Soblei is that it is full of apertures to the nearest and farthest reaches of existence—that is of course what makes it important. But it is a wretched place. It appears to be a wild metropolis the spectacular destruction of which was averted moments too late and then frozen in a suspended apocalypse. A blinding white light suffuses the sky, flattening everything in muted shades of gray and casting sharp, jet black shadows downwards. Geysers of rubble hang in the air and light blasts through the fissures that cleave every structure. There is a constant, howling, frigid wind, though only visitors seem to suffer it; all the matter of the city—torn awnings and splintered wagons and shards of glass—are unyielding, unaffected, even when the winds rise to unstoppable force.
By all accounts and investigations Soblei exists outside of every laminaAfterworlds that are each aligned with a particular set of facets. The twenty-seven laminae are layered on top of our reality and interact with it in myriad ways. and cardinalThe cardinal worlds make up our foundational, everyday reality over which the laminae are layered. world in its own crease of reality. It has an unusual topology: though the light always strikes from above, the land curves slightly upwards underfoot, and it is said that a long enough journey may bring you back to where you started, if you are able to work around the massive edifices blocking many paths. There is no trace of the organic life that must have once been here. There are no bones or bodies (except those of occasional recent arrivals succumbed to injury or exposure, whose remains lie in undecaying stasis) or animals or even food to be found, but other artifacts of city life are plentiful. Inside most buildings is an immovable maelstrom of their contents: kitchenware, clothes, books, merchandise, and tools clutter the air of pitch dark interiors in which the wind whips even more furiously.
No living creature wishes to spend time here. The wind can kill through cold or a rubble-wards bludgeoning gust. Outdoors the light can blind, while indoors the wind intensifies, the noise driving one mad. It is far too loud to allow verbal communication, and written communication is unwieldy in the gale—only gestures are possible. Coordination difficulties mean that most pass through alone or in very small groups. But those that tread widely always pass through here, for nearly every lamina is connected to Soblei, and the shortest path from one place to another usually passes through it. This visitor knows the city far, far, better than she would like to.
Apertures are everywhere: in city square fountains, in cellars and back rooms, stables and markets, palace halls and libraries. To reach them you must clamber and squeeze through hurricane rubble, and many seem inaccessible. Despite the potential power of such a connected place, no one has conquered its hazards,3 and it continues to function as a welcome point of friction in interlaminal affairs. Though guides and strategies abound, there is no comfortable or remotely safe way to shepherd a sightseeing aristocrat or an invading army through this place. At the same time it is not so impossibly hazardous a place as the KnotPossibly the most dangerous and unintelligible of all laminae, the Knot is a maelstrom of cloud, mud, ocean, rock, and fire through which towering alien behemoths stumble and squirm, striving to devour themselves. or the CartographyA lifeless and lethally suffocating expanse that contains every moment of every location in the multiverse, frozen and duplicated here in shades of grey. such that elaborate expedition planning is required to survive at all: an individual with warm clothing, a helmet, steady balance, and directions could, with some luck, make the journey between two nearby apertures. It is also an unshakably neutral place, with no possibility of building fortifications, laying traps, or setting up preparations of any kind that won’t be swept away in a moment, and so over the ages Soblei has been party to a significant number of duels and high-stakes or clandestine engagements.
A handful of accessible and central apertures have way stations on their non-Soblei side, a few hosting assortments of guides, explorers, diplomats, and lunatics, but most little more than deserted shacks offering respite and the detritus of past travellers. A handful of guides are known to offer their services, along with protective gear, but there is no such thing as a comfortable journey here. Navigation is particularly difficult. Maps have been made, but their usage and updates must be committed to memory so as not to be destroyed by wind. Stone tablets are more resilient than parchment but are hard to maneuver through the gale and likely to cause injury or get smashed. Etchings on animal hide are sufficiently resilient, but must be small or incorporated into clothing, as holding up a sheet of any size catches the wind uncontrollably. It is a difficult realm to map anyway, the notion of streets having been laid to waste. The primary subjects to map are landmarks, though it is hard to recognize them through a glaring squint. Up close there is an incredible diversity of building styles and materials, but when struggling through the streets everything appears the same.4
Absolutely no stories remain of Soblei before its destruction. It is presumed to have been a resplendent and powerful metropolis at the crux of the multiverse; various legends are associated with it, but none with even a crumb of evidence that would warrant their inclusion in this work.
Translator’s Note: Each of these “facets,” like many Karedian words, is represented by a single glyph, and the Order has no record of these nine glyphs in any of our dictionaries or extant Karedian texts. I have done my best to choose a single translated word which approximates each glyph’s range of nuances as revealed in this work, but I will leave the original glyphs present as a reminder of the multi-layered concepts behind each. ↩︎
A shroud which is immaterial to the unencumbered souls of the dead, who cannot help but waft through.↩︎
There of course have been innumerable attempts. The merchant king Haradaw sponsored a formidable effort to construct walls of imported stone with which to cordon off wind-free avenues to connect major destinations, and while a handful of sections were successfully built to withstand Soblei’s forces, the number of lives lost during construction quickly exhausted the will of everyone involved. An unrelated attempt involved tunneling, which reportedly faced insurmountable challenges from unstable underground apertures.↩︎
This visitor has over time crafted something of a personal map, using a web of small beads connected by fine chain links. Each bead is carved on one side to represent a landmark and on the other side with the glyphs that denote the destination of nearby apertures, if any. These carvings can be understood by touch. The beads are chained to each other in a way that matches the orientation and proximity between landmarks, notched to indicate direction. For instance, when facing the central peacock head on a particular fountain, behind you is a library with an aperture to the EssentialismThe referenced text has not yet been translated., to your the left by the corner of a florid-tiled building on the edge of the plaza is an aperture to the deserts of Koratia, while ahead on the ground where the gargoyles have toppled off some sort of temple is an aperture to the BrinkExultant yet mindful hedonists who form a kaleidoscopic community of explorations in creation and destruction, joy and suffering, exertion and renewal. Visitors are welcomed into the fold, and it is impossible not to be overwhelmed., but that is quite some ways—four chain links as opposed to the usual one. At the time of writing this web has roughly forty beads, though in a mnemonic fashion this is a scaffold upon which this visitor’s cartographic knowledge has grown somewhat larger.↩︎