Cosmology: The Omniverse in View
The cosmology of Aeva, as it is known today, was developed long before the birth of the Saelmarian Empire and was supposedly charted by a conclave of Pyrosian wizards known as the "Planographers of the Superior Globe."
Exactly what methods they used to carry out their studies is a detail lost to the ravages of time. It is believed that these men and women were masters of extraplanar travel and that they personally moved from one reality to the other with a mere thought. The veracity of this claim is, of course, impossible to prove. However, the fruits of their labor are pictures of existence that have endured for over a thousand years, even surviving the ravages of the Wizard Purges, as the "true and accurate depiction" of the way the omniverse is arranged.
The "Planograph," shown here in a simplified form, explains the relationships between the various planes of existence. While it has not been able to explain all aspects of the many realities and their relation to the Prime Material plane, it has served as an excellent teaching tool to clerics and psionicists. It would also be an excellent teaching tool for sorcerers and wizards, were such tools allowed to be placed in their hands. Of course, as with any arcane knowledge, possession of diagrams or likenesses of the Planograph by students of Arcanum is an offense punishable by death.
The Planograph contains (as does reality itself) the Prime Material plane at the center of all existence. The Prime, as it is simply called, is the only reality that most living Saelmarians will ever know. While the provincial Saelmarian population is aware of nothing more than the world on which they live, the Prime plane actually contains other physical places. The Prime plane is envisioned as a massive sphere that contains the planet Aeva, as well as other material bodies. Saelmarian astronomers are still working to formulate and understand the nature of these other bodies on the Prime. They have distinguished between stars and other planets, but have yet to fully understand what mysteries may exist beyond the reach of mortal hands.
Early in their studies, the Planographers recognized that four planes are coterminous with the Prime. The Plane of Shadow, the Plane of Radiance, the Ethereal Plane, and the Astral Plane are all somehow part of, but separate from, the Prime Material plane. They dubbed these three planes the Transitive Planes. The Transitives permeate, as well as reflect, the Material world in such a way that they almost seem to be a part of the Prime plane. It is theorized, and evidence strongly supports the theory, that these three planes permeate all existence such that every plane has some contact with them. While the Outer Planes have never been proven to have contact with the Plane of Shadow, the Plane of Radiance, or the Ethereal Plane, it is firmly held that they do connect to the Astral Plane. According to Triadic teachings, it is through the Astral Plane that souls pass from the realm of the living to their final reward (or punishment) in the Outer Planes.
According to the Planographers, the Prime and the portions of the Transitive Planes that intersect with it are encircled by the Inner Planes. The connection of the Inner Planes with the Prime is such that no diagram can fully explain it, but the Planographers decided to display the elemental planes as oblong spheroids which encircle the Prime, touching its outer edges as they constantly turn as on a wheel with the Prime as the hub. It is theorized that the elemental planes provided the pure elements that eventually mingled to create the materials of the Prime Plane.
Additionally, the energies from the Positive and Negative Energy Planes surge through the world in a never-ending swirl. This interaction is displayed in the black and white swirl pattern centered, of course, on the Prime. This swirl of light and dark energy reacts with the Prime, Transitive and Elemental planes, creating different types of materials, energies, substances, and beings too numerous to count. It is through the strange and wondrous interaction of these planar forces that all known (and much unknown) creation gets its motivation and existence.
Outside of this great interaction exist the Outer Planes. The Outer planes have been divided by the Planographers into two separate parts--the Upper (Celestial) and Lower (Abyssal and Infernal). It is in these domains that many great and powerful beings of spirit make their homes. As mentioned above, it is also to these places that mortal souls journey, via the Astral plane, after they die and are judged by their patron deities. The Outer Planes definitely connect to the Astral Plane and most likely connect to the Elemental Planes, allowing the beings that live there to draw from those planes to create regions of permanent matter on which to build their great (be they celestial or diabolical) domains.
For whatever reason, the Outer Planes were largely unexplored by the Planographers of the Superior Globe. Their works were published for many years and were copied by illuminators all over Saelmaria, but there have been no discoveries of any works beyond 418 A.I. Some scholars believe that the Planographers ran afoul of some extraplanar being on their otherworldly travels and brought about their own destruction. The Church of the Holy Triad teaches that, while their works are of intellectual value, the Planographers paid for their knowledge with their own souls, learning things they were not meant to know and bringing doom upon themselves as a result. Of course, some Triadics even suspect that it was the Planographers themselves who allowed the Chaos Flood to take place. According to this theory, the Planographers' wanton disregard for the boundaries between the planes caused those boundaries to weaken, thus allowing the Chaos Rift to form. While the theory is not really accepted by any scholar with good knowledge of such things, there are too few such scholars to refute the general belief. In the end, it was such beliefs as this that led to the Wizard Purges of the 2nd Century SA.
The Divine Barrier
Whatever the truth of the rumors, travel between the planes was made impossible by the latest addition to the Planograph--the Divine Barrier. The Barrier, a creation of the so-called Holy Triad of Khemed, Ashvi, and Tavril at the request of thousands of their followers, now surrounds the Prime Plane. Due to the nature of the Transitive Planes, the gods were not able to prevent passage to and from those realms. To do so would have totally disrupted the fabric of the Omniverse and would have stranded the souls of the dead on the Prime plane for all eternity.
The nature of the Barrier has been largely unexplored by anyone since its creation. The Wizard Purges helped to eliminate the vast majority of those with the ability to do so. Additionally, the teachings and control of the Triadic church over its followers ensure that anyone with an interest in arcane lore spends as much time hiding his activities from the Crusaders as he does actually investigating forbidden secrets.
The most that is known about the Barrier is only that which is important to the people of Saelmaria. The Barrier prevents the passage of unwanted objects or beings into the Prime plane from other planes and vice versa. Exactly how this is accomplished without prohibiting the channeling of divine power from the gods and without preventing souls from passing into the Astral Plane and on to the Outer Planes is a secret that many would like to learn. If a soul can pass freely into the afterlife, how does the Barrier prevent other creatures, like demons, devils, and celestial beings, from crossing the Barrier? Some have theorized that the Barrier functions only in one direction, preventing passage into, but not out of the Prime. This may be partly true, since it is still possible for those of sufficient power to banish outsiders to their home planes.
But it is also possible for some clerics to call upon the power of their gods to summon, for a limited time, outsiders to their side. If the Divine Barrier truly worked only in one direction, then such a thing would not be possible. Of course, there are also arguments that the outsiders a cleric can summon are actually manifestations of the god's power, and not actually creatures from another plane. Since the gods of Aeva are actually part of Aeva, their power would still be permitted to pass through the Barrier, regardless of the location of their heavenly domain. The answers are for the most part the subject of theological debate and have little bearing on the life of the average citizen. Only during the first Dragon War was the question truly one of daily concern.
It was during the 3rd Century SA that the dragons retaliated against the Church for the creation of the Barrier. The Barrier closed off access to the Elemental Planes, meaning that no more elemental matter could rush into the Prime plane without the direct interaction of a deity. The dragons had to rely on the remaining pools of pure element in the world to procreate. Such pools are hard to find and partially consumed when a new dragon is conceived. The loss of the ability to procreate obviously infuriated the dragons, who attacked the land of Saelmaria in a blind rage, killing thousands before the dragonslayers and their fantastic weapons were brought to bear. Triadics are taught that it was these holy warriors who finally drove the enraged dragons from the land, but there are some scholars who question the truth of that claim. Regardless of what finally caused the dragons to leave, the end of the War meant the end of dragons in Saelmaria, and the heroic dragonslayers passed into legend. Finally, worries about the true nature of the Divine Barrier drifted away in the face of more mundane concerns, like the harvest or trade.
The fact of the matter is that no massive flood of outsiders has assaulted Saelmaria for almost a thousand years. Triadics firmly believe that this is due to the power of the Divine Barrier. The Church and its Crusaders continually try to ensure that no sorcerer, wizard, or opposing cleric gains the ability to test fully the strength of the Barrier. In that effort, all attempts to explore the Barrier's nature are seen as high treason, an attack on all the people of the Empire and punishable by death. So far, the Church's work seems to be paying off. As long as the Church remains powerful, the people of Saelmaria need not worry about another incursion of outsiders into their home world. Of course, there are always forces seeking to undermine the Church's power and bring both the Barrier and the Empire crashing down, if for no other reason than to see it fall.